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Saturday, April 14, 2007

PREMIER REPORT

Hard to envision Mourinho leaving Chelsea, despite friction with Abramovich


LONDON -- I am not a billionaire. I do not own a number of hugely profitable companies. Unlike Roman Abramovich, I am not the owner of Chelsea Football Club.

Christopher Davies

If we believe what we read and hear, Abramovich and Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho do not particularly get on.

It has been reported that even if Chelsea wins the Champions League, the rift between owner and manager is so wide Mourinho will be on his way out of Stamford Bridge.

Abramovich does not speak to journalists and has never been interviewed since taking over the club four years ago.

Information comes from "sources" and "friends," and while Mourinho had admitted some friction exists, no one outside Abramovich's close and trusted circle of confidants really knows the Russian's thoughts.

I would imagine Abramovich has been pretty shrewd in appointing staff during his rise from pauper to billionaire.

I don't know how he views Mourinho, but if I were the owner of a big company it would not bother me if I didn't get on with a senior executive as long as he or she did the job well.

On that count, Mourinho, who has almost made an art form of rubbing people the wrong way, cannot be criticized.

He has won two Premiership titles and could lead Chelsea to an historic quadruple this season -- the League Cup (already won), Premiership, F.A. Cup (Chelsea plays Blackburn in the semifinals on Sunday) and Champions League (the Blues meet Liverpool in the semifinals).

It would be a tough call to fire someone who rewrites football's history books just because you don't see eye-to-eye on everything.

I seem to be in a minority, but I would be staggered if Abramovich showed Mourinho the red card whatever the additions to Chelsea's trophy cabinet.

The Portuguese is understandably hugely popular with Chelsea fans who have been given long-awaited success (yes, Roman's rubles helped) beyond their wildest dreams under Mourinho.

Abramovich must know what a massive public relations own-goal it would be to replace Mourinho, who has massive and public support of his players.

There are one or two journalists I don't particularly like, but if I were a sports editor such personal feelings would not stop me from employing them if I felt they could make the newspaper offer the best coverage.

Abramovich may not like Mourinho -- not too many people outside the Chelsea family do -- and while I have criticized the Portuguese for his boorish behavior, I have only admiration for his ability as a winning coach.

It is impossible not to respect a man who won everything domestically with FC Porto, plus the UEFA Cup and Champions League, before bringing his Midas touch to Stamford Bridge.

Under Mourinho, Chelsea has played 168 games, winning 117, drawing 32 and losing 19 -- a winning percentage of 69.64.

It would be wrong for Mourinho to assume that because of such statistics Abramovich regards his manager as some sort of messiah. When you are as rich as Roman, people are in awe of you, not vice versa.

The biggest criticism of Mourinho the manager is that Chelsea does not play Hollywood football. It is more pragmatic than pretty, effective rather than exciting.

But then Mourinho may well ask if winning the Premiership and goodness knows what else is not entertaining, then what is?

Chelsea does not play ugly football, but Manchester United and Arsenal are significantly better to watch week-in, week-out. But never mind the quality, feel the trophies, says Mourinho.

IT WAS A memorable week for the Premiership in the Champions League.

Chelsea came from behind to achieve another mission impossible, becoming the first English team to beat Valencia at Mestalla Stadium.

Michael Essien's last-gasp strike, which gave Chelsea a 2-1 win, was the 25th goal the Blues have scored in the last 10 minutes of a game this season.

It set up a mouth-watering semifinal against Liverpool, which beat PSV 1-0 to go through 4-0 on aggregate.

The mind games between Jose Mourinho and Rafa Benitez have already started -- "we were good friends until we started beating them," said the Spaniard firing the opening psychological shot.

Mourinho believes Liverpool beat Chelsea in the Champions League semifinal two years only because of a "ghost goal" scored by Luis Garcia (television replays about whether the ball had crossed the line were inconclusive, but Mourinho would never take the word of the well-placed assistant referee who was convinced it had).

Manchester United stunned AS Roma (and probably itself) by winning 7-1 on an unforgettable night at Old Trafford. United will meet AC Milan, which beat the Premiership leader in 2005 with two single-goal wins.

United, which plays Watford in the F.A. Cup semifinals on Saturday, is on for another treble, which it achieved in 1999 when it won the Premiership, F.A. Cup and Champions League.

Man United could meet Chelsea three times in May -- on May 9 in the Premiership, May 19 in the F.A. Cup final, and May 23 in the Champions League final.

Three heavyweight bouts in 15 days -- the television companies have their prayer mats out already.

One English club will definitely be in the final in Athens, and while some will say this is a less -than-vintage season in the Champions League, with the decline of Barcelona and Real Madrid, plus the fallout from the match-fixing scandal in Italy, the Premiership can still give itself a well-deserved pat on the back.

Three out of the last four in Europe's premier club competition is still an outstanding achievement.

Richard Scudamore, chief executive of the Premier League, was entitled to say: "Other leagues envy what we are doing.

"The Premiership is the best it has ever been in terms of success (in Europe) and the quality of football played."

Less credible was Scudamore's plan to help Premiership club form be reproduced by the underachieving England national team.

Scudamore believes FIFA's international calendar should be "rationalized" and wants England to play all its internationals in two three-week periods after Christmas and at the end of the season.

While Scudamore has been an outstanding chief executive, this scheme is totally unworkable -- and how arrogant to think the rest of the world should change to suit England.

It is not rocket science to realize that many countries in eastern Europe play spring-to-autumn domestic leagues because of the severe winter.

The German Bundesliga takes a winter break because of extreme weather conditions.

Does he expect countries such as Russia to play World Cup qualifying ties in the middle of their close season?

And how could Moscow stage a game in January when the temperature in the Russian capital could be dangerously cold?

What about countries like Spain, whose league finishes after the Premiership?

The Primera Liga would have to cancel games to accommodate internationals.

FIFA's coordinated international calendar can never suit everyone all the time, but even thinking about playing matches in January is madness.

As mad as Mourinho leaving Chelsea.

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


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