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Friday, June 4, 2004

PREMIER REPORT

Mourinho not lacking in confidence and not afraid to show it


LONDON -- On the face of it English football should be delighted that the coaches of the Champions League and UEFA Cup winner are coming to the Premiership.

Christopher Davies

In Jose Mourinho, who led FC Porto to the European summit, and Rafael Benitez, who guided Valencia to UEFA Cup success -- plus Arsenal's Arsene Wenger -- the Premiership will have arguably the three best club coaches in Europe.

Yet without being a Little Englander, there is concern that once again top jobs have gone to foreign coaches -- it is hard to recall the last time a leading Premiership post was filled by an Englishman.

In the 1980s, a manager such as Alan Curbishley, having proved himself with a smaller club like Charlton, would move up the football ladder as a natural progression. But when the Big Four need a new man these days they go overseas rather than look for homegrown coaching talent.

Of course, fans don't care if the coach comes from Outer Mongolia as long as he delivers trophies, but while it is a compliment to the Premiership that Mourinho, who was confirmed as Chelsea's manager and first team coach on Wednesday, and Benitez, set to succeed Gerard Houllier at Liverpool, it meant a Portuguese replaced an Italian (Claudio Ranieri) and a Spaniard taking over from a Frenchman. The head coach of England, Sven-Goran Eriksson, is a Swede.

Such details should concern the Football Association which clearly needs to look closely at the coaching system in England that is not producing men of the required caliber. The reason the F.A. moved heaven and earth (and £3 million a year) to ensure Eriksson signed a new contract, was because there was no one -- certainly not English -- ready and available to take over.

It also underlines the volatility of English football that Chelsea, which finished second and reached the semifinals of the Champions League, and fourth-place Liverpool, felt it necessary to dismiss the men who had taken them this far.

However, Ranieri can have few complaints because in four years at Chelsea, the last with a £130 million injection of new players, courtesy of Roman Abramovich, he failed to deliver a single trophy. The rules of the game are, in baseball parlance, it is four strikes and you're out.

Ranieri had dinner with Ken Bates on Tuesday and the former Chelsea chairman, who gave the Italian a five-year contract in 2002, delivered another broadside at Team Abramovich for the way they handled his departure.

Bates said: "It's most peculiar, he was summoned here [Stamford Bridge] to discuss next season, he goes back to Italy and following that he's sacked by telephone which is an extraordinary way of doing business.

"The worrying thing is, they're just acquiring mercenaries who come for the dollar -- or the trouble -- but not because of the club or the shirt.

"I don't know anybody else in the world who could have carried out his job with the dignity Claudio did, and to achieve so much, having had about a dozen players dumped upon him that he didn't want.

"Veron, Geremi, Crespo, Mutu -- that's the thick end of £100 million. We haven't seen much for our money, have we? Yet they're quibbling over Ranieri's payoff.

"If you sign a contract it should be honored, otherwise how can you ever get anyone else to come here?

"Let's hope he [Mourinho] has a very good lawyer, a very good agent and a non-interference clause in his contract as well. His advantage is he's negotiating a contract from strength, but there's their [new Chelsea] way of doing things and our ways of doing things."

Whomever did his negotiating for him, Mourinho does indeed have a strong three-year contract, worth around £12 million, while his official title of manager and first-team coach suggests that he will have total control of all footballing matters.

Abramovich and chief executive Peter Kenyon, who failed in his high-profile attempt to lure Eriksson to Chelsea, will be aware that when the Benfica power brokers started to interfere, Mourinho quit after 11 games.

Mourinho also gave one of the most impressive press conferences by a new manager in memory and had the media eating out of his hand.

FC Porto may not have played the most exciting football, but they played winning football, and Mourinho left no one in any doubt he expects this success to continue at Chelsea.

Modesty and a lack of self-belief are absent in Mourinho, but the man is a star. Some have that special quality that sets them apart from the rest and Mourinho has charisma to spare.

Why did he choose Chelsea?

"I find Chelsea has the same mentality as me. They want to win as I want to win. I've had a taste of the biggest success a manager can have and I don't want to lose it."

Mourinho had little sympathy for Ranieri, who received the sort of tongue-lashing from the Portuguese that underlined the new man is not to be crossed.

"Football clubs want success in relation to their potential. Even if a manager does good work in the club, if you don't achieve the targets you are looking for in the beginning, you have failed. You have not reached the objective you are looking for.

"I want to create a team in relation to my image and philosophy. I want to find players who think as I think. I don't want the self-protection of saying I'll bring success in the last year of my contract.

"We have top players and, excuse me if I'm arrogant, a top manager.

"I don't want to be the face of a young manager in the world, but please don't call me arrogant because it's not true, I think I'm a special one. I'm a champion."

Ranieri had suggested Mourinho could struggle in the Premiership because the standard of opposition is higher than that in the Portuguese League.

Big mistake, Claudio, because Mourinho's response was: "I heard that. I don't like to reject people's opinion. What I suggest is if someone has his [Ranieri's] number they can tell him a team that wins the UEFA Cup and Champions League has to play teams from many different countries.

"I played and beat teams from his own country and the country where he worked. To win the Champions League Porto beat Partizan Belgrade, Real Madrid, Marseille, Manchester United, Deportivo La Coruna and Monaco.

"The UEFA Cup was the same kind of story."

It is impossible to imagine an English coach having the confidence and strength of personality to come out with such sentiments.

Mourinho will be a terrific addition to the Premiership and, however Chelsea plays, the man in charge will never be dull.

Christopher Davies covers Arsenal and the Republic of Ireland for the London Daily Telegraph.


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