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Saturday, Sept. 22, 2007

PREMIER REPORT

Battle with Abramovich one of the few Mourinho lost


LONDON — Jose Mourinho left Chelsea by mutual consent.

Christopher Davies

And the cow jumped over the moon.

Stamford Bridge could not accommodate the egos of the owner Roman Abramovich and Mourinho and even though the Portuguese has been Chelsea's most successful manager ever, the billionaire was always going to win this particular battle.

The Special One was not special enough for Abramovich, but mutual consent?

Mourinho would not walk on the remaining three years of his contract worth £18 million.

Mutual consent is the politically correct way of saying fired.

Can you imagine Mourinho going to see Abramovich and saying, "I want to leave" and the Russian replying "amazing . . . I was just going to sack you, it must be mutual consent then."

Clubs are also aware of the potential damage an ex-manager could cause so with the payoff comes a silence clause that no dirt is dished. And the suspicion is Mourinho, who can expect a payoff in the region of £15 million, could dish up a banquet from his three years at Chelsea.

As with most divorces the split is gradual and involves a number of issues.

Mourinho has delivered the silverware — two titles, one second-place finish, plus a sprinkling of cups is undeniable success.

But Chelsea was pragmatic rather than pretty, functional above flair and the 21,000 empty seats for last Tuesday's visit of Rosenborg was probably the last straw for Abramovich. The Norwegians are not the Champions League's most attractive visitors, but Arsenal, Manchester United and Liverpool would have been sold out for a European night.

Mourinho believed winning was the ultimate entertainment and the only thing that mattered.

Wrong.

Real Madrid fired Fabio Capello after being crowned champions of Spain last season because their football lacked the flair and excitement the club expected.

Abramovich has bankrolled an investment of £250 million million during the Mourinho era and wanted spectators to be on the edge of their seats, not empty seats. He had a vision of Chelsea winning the Champions League playing football that would captivate the world.

In that case, Abramovich appointed the wrong man.

Mourinho has never been a manager in the mode of Arsene Wenger or Sir Alex Ferguson.

He prefers Michael Essien and Jon Obi Mikel who have a physical presence in midfield. Ball players such as Joe Cole, Shaun Wright-Phillips and Arjen Robben have been marginalized or released.

Mourinho probably made winger Damien Duff into a decent left-back.

He was clearly unhappy with the £30 million arrival of Andriy Shevchenko from AC Milan, which is probably still celebrating receiving so much for a player who has subsequently produced so little for the Blues.

Shevchenko, like Michael Ballack, was the owner's choice rather than the manager's, likewise the appointment of former Israel coach Avram Grant as director of football.

Grant will assume control with Mourinho's assistant Steve Clarke until a successor is found. If Russia is eliminated from Euro 2008 expect Abramovich to return to his homeland to bring its coach Guus Hiddink to Stamford Bridge.

Mourinho's departure was, typically, shrouded in mystery. The Portuguese sent text messages to several senior players saying he was leaving and at 1:45 on Thursday morning the club put out a statement that Mourinho had left "by mutual consent."

In many respects, English football will miss Mourinho. Dull he wasn't.

When he breezed into town in 2004, he announced he was the "special one" — the ego had landed. The media thanked the lord.

Mourinho is a brilliant coach, a master tactician and motivator, but has little idea of hypocrisy or public relations.

His attitude toward anyone and everyone tends to be confrontational which means when things go wrong — very seldom in Mourinho's career, in fairness — he never receives the sympathy vote.

By contrast the press has given the charming Wenger an easier ride when Arsenal has had the occasional hiccup.

What you reap . . .

We shall remember Mourinho for as much bad and ugly as good.

In 2005, he was banned by UEFA after wrongly accusing referee Anders Frisk of allowing Barcelona coach Frank Rijkaard into his dressing room at halftime at Nou Camp during a Champions League tie.

Mourinho's comments about Frisk prompted death threats from some mindless morons, and the Swedish official quit refereeing prematurely.

Mourinho has been found guilty of various disciplinary offenses by the Football Association and was punished by the Premier League for his role in tapping up Arsenal's Ashley Cole.

He's been there, seen it, done it and been fined.

Last Sunday saw Mourinho at his worst when he blamed Chelsea's 0-0 draw on assistant referee Peter Kirkup, who flagged for offside as Saloman Kalou put the ball in the Blackburn net.

"It was a massive mistake by the linesman," said Mourinho. And yes it was a human error.

Two weeks previously, when referee Rob Styles had awarded Chelsea a non-existent penalty, Mourinho said: "Overall I thought Mr. Styles had a positive game. I think it is difficult for referees."

In 2004, FC Porto knocked Manchester United out of the Champions League when an assistant referee ruled out Paul Scholes' potential late winner — the United forward was at least a meter onside.

Without that raised flag Porto would not have won the Champions League and maybe, just maybe, Mourinho would not become manager of Chelsea.

Three years later, he came and went on the night when Blue Revolution, a DVD showing behind the scenes at Chelsea, was launched. Elsewhere, a Russian revolution was going on and Mourinho was the victim.

Grant starts his Chelsea managerial career at Manchester United on Sunday. Old Trafford might be a more peaceful place for Mourinho's absence, though those who like an edge to their football will miss the presence of the special one.

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


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