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Saturday, Jan. 20, 2007

PREMIER REPORT

Mourinho, Shevchenko rows have Chelsea on defensive


LONDON -- Chelsea chief executive Peter Kenyon said there was no crisis at Chelsea.

Christopher Davies

His statement came after four days when Chelsea had dominated the back pages and sports supplements with stories of the Stamford Bridge family at war.

Jose Mourinho was unhappy with owner Roman Abramovich.

For his part Abramovich was also unhappy with his manager.

Andriy Shevchenko was accused of being "a snitch" -- the other Chelsea players blaming the £30 million misfit (AC Milan must be laughing at the sum it received) for the rows between manager and owner.

It is a familiar scenario in football.

Friends/agents/sources close to the central characters give off-the-record tips to journalists and a few days later, their grievances having been made public, they deny any rift and everything in the garden is in fact rosy.

Mourinho had made it clear in media interviews that "I am only the manager" and decisions regarding bringing in new players are not made by him.

Those who think Mourinho and Chelsea are more crass than class have reveled in this week's headlines.

It is the first serious setback of his career, sparked by a run of poor results and displays, the absence of injured captain and center-half John Terry crucial to the blip.

A problem with buying a side, which is effectively what Chelsea has done, is that when things go wrong there is not the team-spirit that Arsenal and Manchester United can fall back on.

Shevchencko would have barely justified a £3 million fee let alone one 10 times that amount.

Michael Ballack cost nothing -- apart from a king's ransom in wages -- and the Germany captain has looked a pale shadow of the midfielder who has been so dominant over the past eight years.

This column is not a member of the Jose Mourinho Fan Club, believing such an outstanding coach does not need the excesses that have made him so disliked outside of the Stamford Bridge faithful.

Those who believe there have been no rows, political battles and back-stabbing would also believe that David Beckham is not joining Los Angeles Galaxy just for the money.

Kenyon has been thrust into the role of peacemaker in the Mourinho/Abramovich row.

The Portuguese welcomed a show of support from Kenyon on Thursday when the chief executive said: "The board are fully supportive of Jose. He is fully committed to seeing the job out. The owner and the board fully support him."

"I like to hear that," said Mourinho whose contract runs until 2010. "It's not about money and spending on players, it's about real support. I don't change my mind about the love I have for Chelsea or the Premiership. My family are happy here. Everything is good. The support Kenyon says the club have for me . . . if it is real support and respect then I will be happy to see out my contract.

"So if the club is supportive of me it means that it is supportive of my team because my team is completely with me. We are together since the first day, and that hasn't changed, so if the club is supportive, it's very important."

Which stops short of saying he will definitely stay at Stamford Bridge, but Mourinho knows how to play the political and mind games better than most.

Kenyon said: "I think we should be quite clear that Chelsea is not in crisis. I know lots of clubs who would like to be six points off the top and probably the only club in contention for all four trophies this season.

"I think we need to put that in the context of where we are. So I think we're calm, we're clear. The objectives of everybody -- that's the board and Jose -- is to concentrate on following up from what has been two fantastic seasons -- and they have.

"They have been great achievements. The owner and the board are fully supportive of Jose -- of that there is no question. And let me tell you that Jose is fully supportive of seeing the job out.

"I signed him (Mourinho) up to Chelsea with a vision of where we wanted to take it, and he wanted to be part of it, and we're two years into that. His contract runs to 2010, and we're very confident. We'd like everybody to get back to concentrating on what is a huge weekend.

"As I say, he's got the full support of the owner and the board. He's made it quite clear that he loves Chelsea. He and his family love living in London and the job is not done yet, and quite bluntly where else is there that is better than where we are today?"

Milan . . . Madrid . . .?

Many still believe Mourinho will be on his way this summer. He knows Abramovich regards him as no more than a paid employee, because when you are a billionaire, you cease to be in awe of those on your payroll.

Mourinho is also aware that given the amount of money the Russian has allowed him to spend on players of various quality, Abramovich expects (a) Chelsea to win the Champions League and (b) play with the sort of finesse United and Arsenal can.

If Mourinho cannot deliver, Abramovich will show the compassion of a hangman this summer.

IN ENGLISH SOCCER, too often nothing succeeds like failure, and from next season, the team that finishes last in the Premiership will still receive almost £30 million. Premiership clubs will each see incomes rise by between £10 million to £20 million each from next season after the agreement of a £625 million deal for overseas television rights.

The 20 teams competing in the Premiership will share in an astonishing £2.725 billion pot over the next three seasons -- 60 percent or £1 billion more than the current three-year deal.

If anyone wondered why overseas investors want to become involved in Premiership clubs, there is the answer.

Last season's champion Chelsea earned £30.4 million from Premiership TV money, while bottom club Sunderland earned £16.8 million.

From next season, the champions can expect to bring in close to £50 million and the side finishing bottom around £26 million.

It will put even more pressure on managers whose clubs are at the wrong end of the Premiership.

With so much at stake chairmen are likely to have a hair-trigger on the sacking gun. Never has the prize for simply avoiding relegation been so lucrative.

Christopher Davies was a longtime soccer correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.


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