- Chelsea will win Premier League title if they beat Crystal Palace on Sunday
- It will be manager Jose Mourinho’s 25th trophy as a manager
- Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said Mourinho is driven by fear of failure
- AP McCoy and Sir Alex Ferguson cited fear as their biggest motivation
Arsene Wenger had a point, even if Jose Mourinho didn’t appreciate it. Arsenal’s manager lit a fuse when, in February 2014, he suggested his Chelsea counterpart had a ‘fear of failure’.
Inevitably, there was an explosion, prompting Mourinho to label Wenger a ‘specialist in failure’. The feud between the pair continues to simmer. What I can’t understand, though, is why Mourinho – who is three points away from lifting the Barclays Premier League – took such offence.
Fearing failure isn’t a sign of weakness. It is a source of motivation. It keeps you on the edge. Mourinho isn’t afraid of losing a game of football but he doesn’t want to consider a day when his teams are not pushing for the honours that everyone wants.
Arsene Wenger (left) and Jose Mourinho come to blows on the Stamford Bridge touchline earlier this season
Mourinho looks pensive in the dugout before Wednesday night’s win away at Leicester
Sir Alex Ferguson was the same. I remember one day at Melwood, Liverpool’s training ground, chatting with Brendan Rodgers. He told me how Ferguson had sent him a letter after Swansea had won promotion to the Premier League, which contained a significant line: never lose that fear.
The conversation took place in the season that turned out to be Ferguson’s last as Manchester United manager. Some in his position would have relaxed but I found it incredible, after all he had achieved, the anxiety of not being a winner stalked him.
It was interesting to learn, too, that AP McCoy used fear as his motivation for being Champion Jockey 20 years on the run and he retired because he worried about not being able to continue achieving his ambitions.
It was something I could associate with. The feats I achieved as a player could not match what Mourinho and Ferguson have done as managers but a fear of failure was something I carried throughout my career.
Frequently I’d be concerned that the arrival of a new signing would jeopardise my place in the team; if I didn’t play well, it would prey on my mind for days. I couldn’t ever relax in training or switch off after games but that intensity allowed me to stay at Liverpool for as long as I did.
Intensity is a key word with Mourinho. I’m currently reading Alastair Campbell’s latest book ‘Winners’ and there is a chapter in which he interviews the Portuguese. A lot of the conversation is about tactics and strategy but there are also deep insights into his personality.
‘Even if we win a title, I’m never happy,’ Mourinho tells him. In a separate conversation with Campbell, Michael Emenalo – Chelsea’s technical director – says: ‘Jose always wants more. That is how he is.’
There is no settling. If Mourinho walked away from football after Sunday’s game with Crystal Palace, his name could never be scrubbed from the history books. His teams may not be remembered with the same affection as others but his achievements have been magnificent.
Champion Jockey AP McCoy – seen here after retiring last weekend – used fear as his motivation
Yet he wants to be remembered as the most successful coach of all time and when he gets the Premier League trophy in his hands, it will be the 25th major honour of his career. That is a staggering number but he will be relentless in his ambition to keep increasing that figure.
We live in an age where managers will talk about five-year plans and long-term projects but that is not Mourinho. He wants to win now and puts himself under massive pressure to do so.
It struck me after Chelsea won the Capital One Cup exactly what winning means to Mourinho. In the grand scheme of things, it couldn’t be compared to leading Porto and Inter Milan to the Champions League or winning La Liga with Real Madrid but that day showed what he is about.
Mourinho spoke of his ’embarrassment’ that he had gone two seasons without silverware – the wait, he said, felt like 20 years – and how he ‘felt like a kid’, such was his joy after the 2-0 victory over Tottenham Hotspur.
Mourinho celebrates wildly as Chelsea win the Capital One Cup trophy back in March
It was Mourinho’s 25th major trophy and came off the back of two barren seasons in England and Spain
In some ways, Tottenham have been the key team in Chelsea’s campaign. Something definitely changed after they lost 5-3 at White Hart Lane on January 1, a night that Manchester City drew level with them at the top of the table.
Was that the night he felt ‘the fear’? Chelsea had been open to that point but, since then, they have played 13 games and only conceded seven goals in the Premier League, getting back to defensive standards we expect of a Mourinho team.
But have they been boring? No. It intrigues me how Mourinho sets Chelsea up to play in big games. In total, he has faced Manchester United, Arsenal, Manchester City and Liverpool 30 times since he has managed in England but only conceded two goals in one match against them once.
His first thought, undoubtedly, is how to nullify the opposition – ‘finals are for winning, not for playing’, he said at Wembley on March 1 – and, as I have said before here, that approach means he may never be loved by a wider audience.
Tottenham celebrate their fifth goal in the 5-3 win over Chelsea at White Hart Lane on New Year’s Day
But he is a coach that constantly adapts. The way he sets his teams up depends on the opposition and he once said that it would be ‘stupid’ not to play in a certain way if knew that he could exploit another team’s weakness. If you asked him what his philosophy was, he would tell you it was to win.
And that is what Chelsea will do this season. Winning the league for the third time has been the main ambition and who knows? Given how impatient Roman Abramovich can be, a failure to deliver that target might have ended with him being sacked.
The reality, however, is Chelsea have been in full control of this race since August. For the last three or four weeks, they have had the prize in the bag but you can see what influence Mourinho has had on his players from the way they have been reacting at the end of games.
It shows not only how much they want it but how Mourinho has never let them think the job is done. Once this trophy is won, it will be on to the next one. That will always be the Mourinho way.
Howe must make sure the fairytale goes on
The scenes in Bournemouth on Monday night when they effectively secured a place in the Barclays Premier League next season were tremendous.
It was fitting they did so with an emphatic 3-0 win over Bolton and it was a throwback to see the crowd pouring on to the pitch in celebration and the players over the moon.
Jeff Mostyn, the chairman, revelled in the moment with the number of interviews he did and Maxim Demin, the club’s Russian owner, certainly looked as if he had enjoyed himself when the television cameras cut to him in the stand!
Eddie Howe celebrates a rousing win over Bolton which all-but guarantees Bournemouth’s top flight status
Howe celebrates with his players after masterminding Bournemouth’s incredible rise through the divisions
Keeping a low profile through it all was the man who masterminded Bournemouth’s success. Eddie Howe is a contender to be named LMA Manager of the Year but it shouldn’t have come as a surprise to me that he was able to appear so reserved.
Eddie and I were part of an England Under 20 squad that went to the Toulon Tournament; he wasn’t a regular in the squad, so the experience of being away was all new to him and it’s fair to say he didn’t utter more than two words on the trip!
He has changed now, when you consider the enormity of Bournemouth’s achievement.
Eddie is clearly still level-headed, as when he was asked how it felt that his club had reached the top flight, he replied that he would ‘never be so arrogant to think this club was mine’.
Howe is level-headed and has the Cherries playing in an entertaining, fluid fashion
That is a quality he will need to keep next season. Bournemouth have been the Championship’s great entertainers this year, scoring 95 goals, but they have also conceded 45. We are going to enjoy watching them play but if they continue to be so open, there will be some heavy defeats too.
It is becoming more difficult for promoted teams to stay up.
Of three who came up last year, Burnley and QPR are on the brink, while Leicester are still in deep trouble, and the odds will be short on the same thing happening in 12 months.
Somehow, Bournemouth have got to be more than just a romantic story. They don’t want to be the next Blackpool, the little club that came into the Premier League, had a go and scored a lot of goals but were relegated. The most important thing is not how they are seen. It is about staying up.