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Saturday, April 28, 2007

PREMIER REPORT

Mourinho continues shameful campaign of complaints against referees


LONDON -- Not for the first time Jose Mourinho got it hopelessly wrong when criticizing a referee.

Christopher Davies

Two years ago the Chelsea manager was banned for two games by UEFA after unfounded accusations that Anders Frisk allowed Barcelona coach Frank Rijkaard into his dressing room at halftime during a Champions League tie at Nou Camp.

On Wednesday, Markus Merk was the target of Moaninho after the 1-0 win over Liverpool in the Champions League semifinal, first leg because the German referee did not award a penalty when Alvaro Arbeloa handled the ball.

The Spanish defender was almost two meters outside the penalty area and even Mrs. Mourinho would have been hard pushed to have pointed to the spot.

"I don't know why," said Mourinho about the non-penalty. "To be fair to Mr. Merk he had a comfortable game . . . top-class referee. But it's a penalty and a penalty is a big chance for 2-0. That makes it a completely different game. Again I feel it's not fair."

When told that even if Arbeloa had deliberately handled -- and it was far from clear cut -- it could only have been a free-kick Mourinho moderated his initial criticism.

"If it's a free-kick it reduces the possibility of us scoring," he said adding with customary paranoia and hinting at a darker conspiracy: "He made a mistake, but mistakes are normally against Chelsea."

Last weekend, the Special One claimed Manchester United received special treatment from referees, saying the Reds had fewer penalties awarded against them than Chelsea. Facts proved this not to be the case with six against United compared to four against Chelsea.

Mourinho is a brilliant coach, a master tactician and a supreme motivator.

He should be held in the highest esteem but his constant bitching, bullying, boorish behavior and incorrect criticisms of referees have made the Portuguese at the same time grudgingly admired yet probably the least popular manager in Premier League history by neutrals.

It was embarrassing to hear him talking about the phantom penalty against Liverpool at Stamford Bridge.

"If he says it's a penalty then I'm sure it's a penalty," said Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez with heavy sarcasm.

What is not in doubt is that both second legs next weeks are finely balanced after Manchester United's 3-2 victory over AC Milan on Tuesday night, a memorable night at the Theater of Dreams.

Joe Cole's winner for Chelsea was the first goal scored by the Blues against Liverpool in five Champions League meetings.

Intriguingly, the only time Chelsea has been beaten by two goals this season was at Liverpool in January.

While the statistic is less relevant for an all-English tie, Liverpool has kept a clean sheet in 13 of its last 21 home Champions League ties.

If Chelsea scores at Anfield next Tuesday, Liverpool would need to score three goals to win, which is virtually mission impossible.

In contrast, United only needs to draw at San Siro against AC Milan to reach the final in Athens, but if the game ends all-square it seems likely to be a scoreless draw as the Italians rarely fail to find the back of the net in their intimidating home ground.

Chelsea's Quadruple and United's Treble remain attainable peaks for England's two heavyweights as the contest nears its finale.

The key to Chelsea's win over Liverpool was Didier Drogba, who gave a classic center-forward's display of unselfish running, power in the air and pace, leading his line with brain and brawn. What a pity this giant of a player still falls over like Bambi on ice too often.

Drogba was immense and not even Liverpool's lighthouse striker Peter Crouch could unsettle the Chelsea defense as the Cote d'Ivoire international terrorized the visitors.

The way Drogba muscled his way past Daniel Agger to set up the pass for Cole's winner will haunt the Liverpool defender.

From Europe to the Premiership, and managers Sir Alex Ferguson and Mourinho must decide whether to rotate their teams for Saturday's matches against Everton (away) and Bolton (home), respectively.

Last weekend's unexpected draws against Middlesbrough and Newcastle means that with four games remaining United leads Chelsea by three points with a summit meeting to come at Stamford Bridge on May 9, but Saturday's opponents are both pushing for UEFA Cup places.

If Ferguson's side was to win all four of its remaining league matches, it would end the campaign on 94 points -- two more than it has ever accrued before in a Premier League season. United has won eight of its last 10 top flight engagements.

Cristiano Ronaldo is United's leading marksman in the Premiership with 16, three behind Drogba in the race for the Golden Boot award.

Bolton travels to Stamford Bridge where Chelsea has not lost a home Premiership game under Mourinho (won 44, drawn 10).

Combining Mourinho's record with FC Porto, he is unbeaten in 92 home games in the English and Portuguese leagues (won 80, drawn 12).

A special record for a special manager.

SIX PREMIERSHIP players will be walking a disciplinary tightrope next week, with Manchester United's Paul Scholes hoping not to create history by being suspended for a second Champions League final.

Scholes and Cristiano Ronaldo, plus Chelsea's Petr Cech, Lassana Diarra, Didier Drogba and Joe Cole would miss the final if they receive a third caution in this season's competition in the semifinal, second legs.

Liverpool have no such yellow peril worries.

Scholes missed United's 1999 triumph over Bayern Munich because of suspension and is one indiscretion away from an ignominious double.

The Champions League final is European club football's showpiece and it seems wrong that a player can be booked in the opening two matches, go nine games without a caution but miss the final because of a mistimed tackle in the semifinal, second leg.

The proportion of players who COULD have missed the final and those who HAVE is small.

At the highest level professionals should be able to control themselves with such a disciplinary ax hanging over them by a slender thread and a yellow card for dissent would gain no pity.

Roy Keane was banned from the 1999 final when he collected a third yellow card, over-committing himself in a challenge as he tried to gain possession following a poor pass by Jesper Blomqvist against Juventus.

However, the United captain had collected an unnecessary previous caution for disputing a throw-in near the halfway line against Inter Milan.

Finding a balance between the punishment fitting the crime and not letting offenders get away with breaking the laws is difficult. The most obvious solution would be to wipe out all cautions after the group stage as happens at World Cup finals.

It is something UEFA should address to protect the biggest club game of the European season.

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


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