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Friday, March 4, 2005

PREMIER REPORT

Poor loser Mourinho in danger of losing the plot altogether


LONDON -- If, and it is a huge if, I decide to make a less than flattering gesture to someone in a bar I would make sure I knew where the guy was standing. Otherwise, I might find myself explaining my actions to a few people who were less than happy with what they saw.

Christopher Davies

Last Sunday, during the Carling Cup final, Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho put his finger over his mouth as he turned toward Liverpool fans after Steven Gerrard had scored a 79th-minute own-goal equalizer.

Mourinho was expelled from the technical area on a "public order issue" and had to watch the rest of the final, which Chelsea won 3-2, from a television interview room.

Mourinho claimed he was not gesturing at the Liverpool fans "who I respect" but the English media, who he does not and that is putting it mildly. His excuse that he did not know where the press box was situated proved that while Mourinho may be a tactical genius, he had better not go home with lipstick on his collar if that's the best he can do.

The Portuguese has been a breath of fresh air to English football since arriving from FC Porto last summer.

Obviously talented, Mourinho is eloquent, multilingual, successful, rich, charismatic and, damn him, good looking too. No man should have that much.

Behind his brashness one senses a desperation to be loved, but Mourinho has scored a couple of own-goals in the popularity stakes and maybe it is because he has had so little experience with defeat that he appeared to be a bad loser in Barcelona last week.

In the wake of the 2-1 loss at the Nou Camp, Mourinho refused to speak to the media (and banned his players from doing likewise) because Chelsea was making an official complaint about a tunnel incident. In fact, the tunnel incident is a figment of his own (or someone he knows) imagination -- accusing Barca coach Frank Rijkaard of spending five minutes in the dressing-room of referee Anders Frisk is ludicrous and it is incredible that someone of Mourinho's intelligence should believe what he was apparently told by two of his staff.

Rijkaard, who had not seen Frisk before the game, took the chance to welcome the Swedish official to Barcelona as the teams left the field at halftime -- it was a 15-second "hello" yet somehow this has become a dark and dangerous liaison in Mourinho's mind.

"It was no surprise when [Didier] Drogba was sent off in the second half," he said, a comment which doubts the honesty and integrity of Frisk and which UEFA should investigate.

The official complaint has since been downgraded to a complaint, then to a report and now part of a reply to two UEFA charges that Mourinho did not fulfill his mandatory media duties and that Chelsea was late out for the second half, which will bring fines.

Even though UEFA has effectively dismissed Mourinho's claim before it arrived he would not back down.

Mourinho doesn't do humble pie and those who believe his "silence" finger-over-the-mouth gesture is harmless should speak to the police or safety officers.

Such an action can incite supporters whose team has just conceded a goal. Emotions run high at such times and there is every chance that a supporter could let his frustrations get the better of him and seek revenge for what he perceived as a derogatory gesture.

The pity is that Mourinho is a star, the best thing to happen to English football since Arsene Wenger arrived at Arsenal an unknown Frenchman almost 10 years ago. The game needs characters rather than the stereotype we-take-each-game-as-it-comes manager and Mourinho has given the media some of its best quotes and headlines for years.

Maybe we ask too much of our managers and footballers, we should accept the odd excesses because the bad bits are more than outweighed by the good stuff. However, one of the incredibly well-paid officials at Chelsea should have advised Mourinho that his accusations about Rijkaard and not speaking to the media in Barcelona were not the best public relations stunt of the season.

On the other hand, perhaps they were wary of the consequences of standing up to the boss who showed the Chelsea doctor the red card a few weeks ago after a disagreement. The official reason -- I promise you I'm not making this up -- was that the doctor left "on health reasons."

Hopefully, Mourinho will be around the Premiership scene for a few years, but it is a pity the Portuguese said he is ready to "fight" the media. Like all managers, Mourinho forgets the small rain forest of praise he has received but jumps at the first slap across the wrist.

When Jermaine Pennant joined Arsenal from Notts County six years ago for £2 million it was a British transfer record for a teenager. Earlier this week Pennant was sentenced to three months in jail for drunk-driving with a suspended license and using a vehicle without insurance.

It is a sad demise of a boy with a troubled upbringing in Nottingham and who could barely read or write when he signed with Arsenal. At the same time, there can be no sympathy for Pennant who was arrested in January after he was spotted in a car park in Aylesbury driving a Mercedes with a lamp post dragging beneath it at 6:05 a.m.

A breath test found he was almost two-and-a-half times above the legal alcohol limit. When arrested Pennant gave a false name because he was "scared." The former England U-21 star had been banned from driving for 16 months in February last year after being seen traveling in the wrong lane in Paddington, west London.

Pennant joined Birmingham on loan in January, Arsenal having decided his contract would not be renewed this summer. There is no doubting Pennant's potential but a difficult childhood is no excuse for driving while unfit when you are banned. The lamp post could have been a child and as he starts his first weekend in jail, Pennant should reflect on the alternatives facing him when he is released, probably in six weeks' time.

His £20,000 a week wage packet has given him the sort of security few who pay to watch him enjoy. Perhaps too much, too soon and teenage stardom made Pennant believe he is untouchable, but he now knows his footballing status counted for nothing in a court of law.

Pennant is fortunate that Birmingham, which knew the winger was likely to face a custodial sentence when it signed him, will stand by the player. Many people, not just footballers, have done the time after the crime and rebuilt their lives and careers.

Few would have had the platform afforded to Pennant and let us hope that his spell at Her Majesty's pleasure makes him realize what he could go on to achieve and what he could throw away.

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


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