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Sunday, Feb. 26, 2006

PREMIER REPORT

Mourinho should take a media lesson from Wenger


LONDON -- When Arsene Wenger left the press conference in Bernabeu Stadium after Arsenal's 1-0 win over Real Madrid in the Champions League on Tuesday night he smiled as the assembled media gave him a round of applause.

Christopher Davies

The UEFA translator had failed to take a note of Wenger's first answer so she asked if he would mind repeating it.

"Just as well we've won," joked Wenger who was later questioned about the possibility of Thierry Henry joining Real and when his own contract ends.

"Are you trying to get everyone to leave Arsenal?" he asked with a twinkle in his eye.

While it is easy to be in good humor after your side have beaten Europe's most successful club in its own backyard, the Frenchman is always friendly and amiable with the media. In return, Wenger and by extension Arsenal are treated with respect by the press, who do not go in with studs showing when the Gunners lose a game or two.

Fast forward 24 hours to Chelsea's 2-1 home defeat by Barcelona and Jose Mourinho's predictably sour response.

The Chelsea manager has achieved an ignominious double by being both a bad loser and a bad winner. If this column has been Mourinho-heavy in recent weeks, it is because the Portuguese continues to dominate the English headlines, usually with another hypocritical outburst which too many accept without questioning his views.

He accused Barcelona's Leo Messi of play-acting to get Asier del Horno sent off -- given Arjen Robben's theatrics when Liverpool goalkeeper Jose Reina was shown the red card recently, it was remarkable that Mourinho managed to keep a straight face.

Mourinho had also reminded us that it was simulation by Victor Valdes that saw Didier Drogba shown a second yellow card in the Nou Camp when the teams met last year, the weakness in this argument that the Barcelona goalkeeper spent the night in hospital suffering from concussion as a result of being clattered by the striker.

The mother of all simulations then, feigning concussion.

When Chelsea beat Barcelona last season with a headed goal by John Terry after Ricardo Carvalho had clearly impeded Victor Valdes as he came for the ball, which was missed by referee Pierluigi Collina, Mourinho failed to mention this particular indiscretion by the match official.

Before the tie Mourinho had put pressure on referee Terje Hauge by warning he should beware of Barcelona divers planning to con the official into cautioning Chelsea players. This appeared to hide the reality of what turned out to be a physical approach to the match by Chelsea, which committed twice as many fouls as the visitors.

Wenger has often defended the indefensible but he never has the school ground bully approach that Mourinho shows, his stop-at-nothing attitude in the pursuit of success obviously condoned by Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich.

Mourinho hinted that he may as well send his B-team to Barcelona for the return leg, a reference to being the victim of more perceived refereeing injustices.

Apart from del Horno, Michael Essien will also be missing at the Nou Camp as he completes his two-game UEFA ban for his two-footed tackle on Liverpool's Didi Hamman.

And who did Mourinho believe was responsible for the suspension?

Sky Sports television -- for showing the challenge so often.

You can just imagine the disciplinary officials at UEFA's headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland, watching Sky Sports News and saying: "We have seen this tackle 100 times now. We must charge Essien."

"How do you say cheating in Catalan?" Mourinho asked at the press conference last Wednesday.

Neutral observers will remember Messi's display of dazzling footwork and pace rather than any alleged cheating at what the Spanish media called Stamford Beach because of the poor surface.

"Mess-meric" ran one headline and while there have been numerous young players hailed as "the new Diego Maradona" the man himself had no doubt Argentina has at last found his successor.

"I've seen the player who will inherit my place in Argentine football and his name is Messi," said Maradona who also played for Barcelona.

"He is beautiful to watch, my kind of player in our blue and white jersey. He's a leader and is offering classes in beautiful football. He has something different to any other player in the world at the moment."

The Spanish champion rates Messi, 18, so highly that he has a contract that pays him £2.6 million a year at present, and which runs until 2014 with a buyout clause of £100 million.

His progress is even more astonishing because as a youngster he developed a hormonal illness which meant he did not grow as he was supposed to.

The Messi family moved from Argentina to Spain to raise the money for treatment which proved successful and at 13 he joined Barcelona -- five years later he is playing in the Champions League and will be part of Argentina's 2006 World Cup finals squad.

Not bad for a diver.

* * *

THE MONEY MEN at Manchester United will be hoping for a Real Madrid victory at Arsenal in two weeks because David Beckham's transfer fee to the Spanish club includes a clause relating to its success in the Champions League.

When Beckham signed with Real in 2003, United received £5.25 million on completion of the move, with £12 million in installments over the four-year period of his contract. United was also to receive £875,000 if Real qualified for the Champions League, with a further £875,000 if it reached the quarterfinals.

Real has already had one failure in the Beckham era to qualify for the last eight when Juventus knocked it out, and should Arsenal end the Spanish club's European hopes for 2005-06 it would mean the loss of a second payment of £875,000 -- £1.75 million to date.

Assuming Real does not slip up again next year, United would receive a maximum of £22.5 million for Beckham and despite its failure to win any silverware with the England captain, he has been a success on and off the pitch in Madrid.

Beckham, goalkeeper Iker Casillas and midfielder Thomas Gravesen were the only players to escape some vitriolic criticism in Spain from the fans and media in the wake of Arsenal's 1-0 win in Madrid, while in marketing terms sales of the former United midfielder's No. 23 jersey have helped Real overtake the Premiership club as football's richest outfit.

Real will consider £22.5 million -- roughly what Chelsea paid Manchester City for Shaun Wright-Phillips -- a bargain for Beckham.

However, United fans may question their club's negotiating powers, not least a fee ultimately dependent on another club's achievements, while pointing out the player who supplied the constant supply of crosses from the right wing has not been properly replaced.



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