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Friday, March 10, 2006

PREMIER REPORT

English fans shed no tears over Chelsea's ouster by Barca


LONDON -- Rarely if ever have English football fans cheered a victory by a foreign side over one of their own as Barcelona's Champions League knockout of Chelsea was greeted on Tuesday night.

Christopher Davies

Chelsea is probably the least popular team in Premiership history, with Jose Mourinho the most disliked manager.

The Blues may be champion of England but they would be hard pushed to win any popularity contest.

It is not that people hate Chelsea, more the contempt in which Mourinho is held, the Portuguese's arrogance, rudeness and hypocrisy turning the media and just about everyone involved in football against the club.

There is sympathy for the team whose incredible domestic achievements are consistently overshadowed by their manager, whose love of the limelight knows no boundaries.

Does he not realize that with every outburst, rant or insult he is damaging the credibility of the team and club?

Does he care?

It is sad that so many English fans wanted Barcelona to beat Chelsea, probably unprecedented.

Manchester United has, at the same time, been the most and least popular team in the country, but many neutrals wanted them to beat Bayern Munich in the 1999 Champions League final, with Liverpool enjoying similar support against AC Milan last May.

The love affair with Mourinho has been wavering but divorce proceedings started after the first leg against Barcelona when he accused Lionel Messi of cheating and play-acting as Asier Del Horno was sent off for an ill-advised challenge on the Argentine.

The English media turned en bloc, fed up with his pathetic bleating and unfounded accusations against opponents and referees.

Mourinho put the boot into Messi yet failed to mention Geremi's handball just before halftime or a nailed-on penalty when John Terry pushed over Messi, both of which referee Terje Hauge failed to give.

Last Saturday, his players harassed referee Mark Halsey, who correctly (not in Mourinho's eyes of course) sent off Arjen Robben, to an extent that, for the second time in a year, the Football Association charged Chelsea with failing to control its players.

Mourinho and West Bromwich manager Bryan Robson were lucky not to have been sent to the stand for their technical area spat, but Chelsea's spin doctor was soon at work, telling those in the media sad enough to listen that "after 57 seconds Robson was out of the dugout and insulted our players throughout the game."

Fifty seven seconds!

Was someone told to watch events in the technical area with a stop-watch?

This is not so much spin-doctoring as paranoia.

The fact is so far Mourinho, spending £50 million of Roman Abramovich's limitless funds, has a team that dominates England but has gone backward in European terms.

Mourinho blames referees of course, overlooking the possibility that his team selection and tactics plus his needless outbursts could also be responsible for Chelsea's Champions League knockout.

How long Mourinho will hang around in the wake of such vitriolic criticism remains to be seen.

And with Chelsea trying to sell itself as a world brand, the suits at Stamford Bridge may discover sponsors and advertisers are reluctant to be associated with a club that attracts such negative publicity almost on a daily basis.

ARSENAL DID NOT have an Englishman in sight as it overcame Real Madrid, but English football owes a debt to the Gunners as Arsene Wenger's multinational side carried the flag of St. George into the Champions League quarterfinals.

It was one of the most exciting 0-0 draws one could imagine, with none of the nastiness or baggage that Chelsea takes into matches.

When the final whistle went, the scenes of celebration at Highbury were shared by neutrals (Tottenham fans a notable exception) because Arsenal had played outstandingly over 180 minutes against the nine-times European champion.

Arsenal might lie 28 points behind Chelsea in the Premiership, struggling to qualify for Europe's most prestigious club competition by its league position, but at its best Wenger's team always wins the style award.

In Thierry Henry the Gunners have the sort of showman Chelsea does not possess, a true world star with talent and charisma in equal proportion.

With Liverpool's knockout by Benfica, Arsenal is flying the Champions League for England without an English player in its team.

It is irrelevant because Arsenal's league of nations has done its adopted country proud.

Chelsea please take note.

ASHLEY COLE, the Arsenal fullback, will change "the rules" of how newspapers report stories involving well-known personalities if he is successful with his legal action against the News of the World and the Sun.

Last month the NOTW ran a story with the headline "Gay as you go" claiming to have seen pictures of two Premiership footballers and a disc jockey engaged in "a bizarre sex act."

No names were mentioned, but a few days later its sister paper the Sun jokingly (a bizarre joke, too) hinted Cole may have been involved. A second NOTW story with further allegations gave more clues about the identity of those involved but inevitably Internet sites named Cole.

His lawyers are not suing for libel where the burden of proof is on the defendant rather than the plaintiff, but instead are citing false privacy -- the NOTW has an ignominious hat trick of international actions pending against it by Cole, England captain David Beckham and manager Sven-Goran Eriksson.

Lawyers acting for the Beckhams are suing the NOTW over its coverage of the alleged affair the Real Madrid midfielder had with Rebecca Loos. A judge ruled they could sue without having to reveal whether the claims were true or not -- an American singer successfully blocked the publication of a book about her on the same grounds, the ruling becoming known as "false privacy" and it is this that Cole hopes to exploit.

He is likely to claim no Web site could have identified him had the NOTW not run the original story, though the paper will argue whether it should be responsible for Internet tittle-tattle.

Cole's lawyers have launched a special online survey asking people if they read the stories and whether they identified any of the unnamed men in the articles or if they used the Internet to hopefully discover their identities.

What is certain is that if Cole is successful, newspapers will have to be far more careful and subtle when hinting at the identity of a star whose rights they could be deemed to have violated.

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


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