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Saturday, Dec. 24, 2005

PREMIER REPORT

Mourinho alienating everyone but his players, Chelsea fans


LONDON -- Jose Mourinho seems to have found the 30-hour day.

Christopher Davies

How else can the brilliant coach, who has made Chelsea nearly unbeatable, find the time to think of new ways to wind-up opposing managers, accuse referees of perceived mistakes or blame Sky Sports for getting Michael Essien banned?

You would think keeping Chelsea at the top of the Premiership and planning to conquer Europe would be more than enough to occupy Mourinho's schedule.

Wrong.

He also appears to devote time and energy in making an art form of being sour, insensitive, insulting and charmless and, while most managers can be bad losers, the Portuguese man o'war is also a bad winner.

Mourinho has turned his attention from Sir Alex Ferguson to Arsene Wenger this year.

The Chelsea manager's style is to praise someone -- "a brilliant manager . . . a fine referee" -- but you know it is the calm before the critical storm.

The Arsenal manager has been in Mourinho's sights for most of 2005 and the worrying aspect of his battle against Wenger and the world is that the Chelsea manager seems not to care one iota about what he says or any subsequent punishment.

From his viewpoint perhaps there is method in his verbal madness.

Chelsea won the Premiership and League Cup last season and their name is as good as on this season's title, too.

So what if he picks up the occasional fine (a few grand is loose change to a multimillionaire) or touchline ban?

Such things are a small price to pay if you win things.

Where Wenger likes romance and beauty to go with success, Mourinho's vision is more blinkered.

His Chelsea team is built on a Fort Knox defense and a midfield triangle of Frank Lampard, Claude Makelele and Michael Essien, which is power personified.

Wenger also knows how to charm the media, probably because he is a charming man, whereas, Mourinho rarely smiles, is confrontational and if the media upsets him, the rattle is thrown out of the pram and he refuses to speak to the press.

Mourinho has asked why Wenger and Arsenal receive better newspaper coverage than Chelsea. The question suggests a jealousy, because the red corner of London is still more loved than the blue corner, which maybe why Wenger has been Mourinho's target this year.

Mourinho called Wenger "a voyeur" a few months ago, while last weekend the pair was involved in a spat that would not have been out of place in a school playground.

After their 2-0 win at Arsenal last Sunday, Mourinho did not shake hands with Wenger -- "is it important?" asked Mourinho, and as the answer is so obviously "yes" it said much about the Portuguese that he should even pose the question.

It later emerged that Mourinho was upset because he thought Wenger had ignored him before the match, the Chelsea manager further angered when his counterpart did not apparently go down on his knees and thank him for the Christmas card with a personally written message.

Mourinho refused to speak to Sky Sports after the match at Highbury because, in his mind, they were responsible for influencing UEFA, whose control and disciplinary body had given a two-game suspension to Essien for his potentially leg-breaking tackle on Dietmar Hamann.

"They love you in Barcelona," said Mourinho to the Sky team -- the Ghana international will be suspended for the two Champions League ties against Barca.

Does he seriously believe that UEFA's disciplinary officers, who reside in countries such as Austria, Hungary and Luxembourg, are glued to their sets watching Sky Sports News?

Obviously, he does.

And the fact that, had Essien not launched himself at the Liverpool player, there would have been no footage to show was incidental.

Sky merely broadcast a horrendous tackle, and had one of Mourinho's players been the victim rather than the perpetrator, heaven knows how the Portuguese would have reacted.

Given the bottomless financial pit that Roman Abramovich supplies, there will always be jealousy of Chelsea's vast spending power from others. At the same time Mourinho has the intelligence and eloquence to influence people and make friends, but he has chosen to take on the world rather than befriend it.

His headline-grabbing excesses also take the attention from a fabulous side that is rewriting the record books.

A man who preaches team ethic does much to ensure only one person is in the limelight, and the negative publicity Mourinho attracts inevitably means the side is similarly unloved.

Ferguson and Wenger can be spiky, too, but they have never quite adopted the siege mentality of Mourinho. All three are truly outstanding managers, with Wenger not able to claim greatness until he wins the Champions League as Ferguson and Mourinho have.

Yet it is impossible to imagine the Scot or Frenchman behaving as Mourinho has, not least with his unfounded allegations last season regarding Anders Frisk, which saw the Swedish referee retire prematurely in the wake of death threats to his family.

In defeat or victory, Mourinho invariably has a verbal hand grenade ready.

When Liverpool beat Chelsea 1-0 at Anfield in the Champions League semifinal last season, Mourinho claimed the ball wasn't over the line for the decisive goal, yet had the goal not stood, goalkeeper Petr Cech would surely have been sent off for a foul on Luis Garcia and a penalty awarded.

That, however, was conveniently overlooked in the vineyard of sour grapes that followed Chelsea's defeat, along with the fact the Blues failed to score in 180 minutes over the two legs.

Mourinho will not change in 2006, because he can see no wrong in what he says or does. He also does not give two hoots what anyone thinks of him.

"It is important to have an opinion, and not be afraid to express it, knowing you will be criticized for it," he said.

Many would add that such opinions should not be so one-eyed, cynical and, when it comes to talking about the laws of the game, lacking of knowledge on the subject.

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


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