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Saturday, Sept. 9, 2006
Continuing antics of Mourinho, Chelsea starting to wear thin
LONDON -- Three years after Roman Abramovich rode into town with his billions and bought Chelsea, the Russian's popularity is dropping faster than hopes of Wembley ever re-opening.
Rarely a week goes by without Chelsea being involved in some new scandal or row, the latest involving William Gallas, who moved to Arsenal as Ashley Cole made the reverse journey.
Chelsea accused Gallas of threatening to score an own-goal or being sent off if it did not facilitate his move across London.
"It doesn't surprise me as it comes from the club's new officials," said the France defender. "Even if these people have a lot of money they lack style."
The "these people" is really one person, yet during Abramovich's first year at Stamford Bridge, when Claudio Ranieri was the manager, Chelsea barely had a disciplinary blemish to their name.
It is only since Jose Mourinho replaced the eccentric but likable Ranieri that the club has been in trouble with the Football Association, Premier League and UEFA while alienating other clubs with its attitude.
There can be no doubt there is an arrogance at Chelsea that makes it so disliked, yet it has too often been Mourinho-led incidents that have seen the Premiership champion hauled before the footballing beaks.
As the club's owner, Abramovich could be said to be ultimately responsible for the behavior of his senior staff, but while Ranieri rarely criticized anyone, especially referees, Mourinho has been happy to take on the world.
"Oh yes, he loves a confrontation," said Chelsea and England captain John Terry this week. More like thrives on them, almost not being able to live without an ongoing row with someone or other.
We had a taste of things to come a few months before Mourinho arrived at Chelsea when his FC Porto knocked Manchester United out of the Champions League.
"I can understand Sir Alex Ferguson being sad," said Mourinho at the time. "His team was knocked out by one which has perhaps 10 percent of his budget."
He was only warming up then. Mourinho has since been in overdrive.
During his two years as manager, Chelsea has been charged three times with failing to control its players; fined by the Premier League for illegally tapping up Cole before his recent transfer; Mourinho has been banned by UEFA for accusing Barcelona coach Frank Rijkaard of having words with referee Anders Frisk at halftime at Nou Camp (there was not a shred of evidence to support the claim); the manager was sent to the stand during the League Cup final for excessive behavior; he was also fined by the F.A. for making "cheat, cheat" remarks concerning a referee; last season Mourinho accused Lionel Messi of playacting when Asier del Horno was sent off for fouling the Barcelona winger; the club was fined by the F.A. for improper doping procedures; Chelsea has been accused of poaching Leeds United youngsters, while last week the Portuguese claimed Claude Makelele was "a slave" because France would not let the midfielder retire.
Makelele said that what Mourinho said to him in private and what his manager said in public were not quite the same.
Adding to an ignominious "charge sheet" that would do no club proud, Gallas is the latest to be involved in a war of words with Chelsea. Goodness knows what will be said when Gallas and Arsenal come to Stamford Bridge for a Premiership match in December.
With so much at stake at the highest level it would be naive to think clubs and coaches can live by the Corinthian spirit, but Chelsea could almost be reported to the monopolies commission for the way it has collected so many confrontational headlines.
Gordon Taylor, chief executive of the Professional Footballers' Association, believes Gallas could have a strong case for libel against Chelsea, but while the player is a millionaire and could afford the best lawyers and barrister, he is unlikely to go down the legal route.
The problem is -- and this says more about the sport than any individuals -- we are not really sure whom to believe in football these days.
Gallas and Cole, who were both under contract to Chelsea and Arsenal, effectively engineered the moves to the clubs they wanted, with Chelsea (for all its wealth) and Arsenal seemingly helpless to prevent what most see as anarchy.
Mourinho's evidence to UEFA in the Rijkaard-Frisk case was discredited, though it would probably be a mistake to pre-suppose he cared about such matters.
He loves the mind games and given that Chelsea has won the Premiership twice during his two years in charge he probably thinks everything has been justified -- the good, the bad and the ugly.
It is just that Chelsea would have won the title even had the club's powerbrokers showed more class and less crass.
PRAISING Sven-Goran Eriksson has been banned by those who cover England -- or even those who played under the vilified Swede it seems.
Putting aside the argument of whether Eriksson was a success or failure, what is undeniable is that the two players he was most criticized for not only picking but staying with -- Peter Crouch and Owen Hargreaves -- have been England's best performers over the past three months.
Crouch's winner in the 1-0 victory in Macedonia was his 11th in 14 internationals. The 201-cm Liverpool striker may not look the part but as he said: "Judge me on what I do not how I look."
However ungainly Crouch may appear, they are statistics that any striker in the world would be proud of, and the absence of the injured Michael Owen or the suspended Wayne Rooney has not been noticed in terms of goals.
Five of Crouch's goals have come in the three matches England has played under Steve McClaren, and the new England manager confirmed that the striker was now a central figure in his planning.
"Those figures will not have gone unnoticed around the world," said Steve McClaren. "Peter has become a big player for us since his emergence and since he's come into the team. He's a good impact player and he's proving that he can start a game and contribute as well."
There were columnists asking: "What is the point of Owen Hargreaves?" before the World Cup finals.
Any player who has been a regular for Bayern Munich for three years deserved better than that, and finally given his chance by Eriksson, Hargreaves was rated England's best player by many observers in Germany.
Manchester United was willing to pay £17 million for the midfielder last month, a remarkable figure for a so-called no-hoper.
However much or little Eriksson knew about the game, no one can argue that when it comes to Crouch and Hargreaves, the former England manager's judgment was spot-on.
It's just that no one on the England beat wants to say it.
Christopher Davies covers Arsenal, Chelsea and the Republic of Ireland for the London Daily Telegraph.