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Saturday, March 20, 2010

PREMIER REPORT

Mourinho proves Abramovich made wrong move


LONDON — When you are a billionaire I guess it's hard to admit you are wrong.

Christopher Davies

Roman Abramovich has obviously kept mistakes kept to a minimum, certainly in his business career.

It's also fair to assume billionaires have an army of sycophants to keep their egos polished.

But as he walked across the Stamford Bridge pitch after Inter Milan's 1-0 win that ended Chelsea's (and the Russian's) Champions League dreams, did it cross Abramovich's mind that maybe, just maybe, he was wrong to sack Jose Mourinho in September of 2007?

Mourinho is Chelsea's most successful manager, but Stamford Bridge was not big enough for the both of them so one had to go. It was no contest.

We shall never know Abramovich's thoughts as he has not uttered a public word in the seven years he has owned Chelsea, though sources claim the Russian had a two-hour meeting with the players a day later when they were asked: "Are you good players? Are you well-paid players?"

It is hard to imagine any other owner effectively undermining his manager in such a way, but billionaires tend to do what they want.

Abramovich has fired Claudio Ranieri, hired and fired Mourinho, Avram Grant and Felipe Scolari. Guus Hiddink was in charge for a few successful months before returning to coach Russia, and last summer Carlo Ancelotti was brought in.

Understandably, the Italian will now be looking over his shoulder because his boss has a habit of responding in a knee-jerk manner.

There is much I do not like about Mourinho. His attitude toward referees — indeed any authority, including the police, is condescending and dismissive.

He has made rudeness almost an art form, and his Inter team plays with the same snarl and jagged edge his Chelsea side did, using every trick in the book and more.

But Mourinho is a winner and on Planet Football it doesn't matter how much baggage you bring if you keep the W's coming.

As Al Davis, the owner of the NFL's Oakland Raiders says, "Just win, baby."

Inter Milan's victory over Chelsea was a master class of coaching and man-management with all the unacceptable rough edges associated with his teams.

Mourinho, who claimed to have watched a video of the first leg seven times to help his preparation for the return game, calls himself the Special One, but at times he is the Invincible One.

He gave his Inter players such belief in themselves they went into last Tuesday's match thinking they could not be beaten.

A key to Inter's win was the way central defenders Lucio and Walter Samuel kept Didier Drogba, particularly, and Nicolas Anelka quiet. They bullied the Chelsea strikers, and when things get physical you can normally bet on Drogba to come out on top, but not for nothing is Lucio captain of Brazil.

Inter was considerably helped by a woefully weak German referee, Wolfgang Stark, who allowed Inter defenders to perform wrestling acts on Chelsea players.

When Samuel threw Drogba to the ground at one corner, it was such a clear penalty one wonders how an official bound for the World Cup finals could miss it. There were two other similar valid penalty appeals and at 0-0 a Chelsea goal would have changed the whole dynamics of the game.

Stark's dismal display did nothing for the credibility of refereeing because in his own way the German had as significant an effect on the outcome as Mourinho or his players.

Drogba has a disciplinary problem and opposing players (and certainly Inter's manager) know this. They provoked him, he retaliated in the final minutes and was sent off for stomping on Thiago Motta.

Stark saw that yet somehow didn't see the initial foul on Drogba by the Inter player when Motta was all over the Cote d'Ivoire captain that caused his frustration.

As with last year against Barcelona when his tirade toward the referee earned a UEFA misconduct charge, Chelsea's Champions League exit was accompanied by another example of Drogba's flawed temperament.

If Stark was bad he was matched by every Chelsea player except Florent Malouda, while in contrast Inter had many heroes, not least midfielder Wesley Sneijder, who could be a star for Holland in South Africa.

Just before the end of the game Mourinho left the dugout and made his way up the tunnel, an act he would say was designed to keep him out of the spotlight, but of course correctly calculated to have the opposite effect. This guy probably doesn't blink without a motive.

Mourinho and Ancelotti were hired by their respective clubs not so much to win the domestic title but to be champions of Europe. It was game, set and match to Mourinho.

In the ideal world of just about every Chelsea fan, Abramovich would move heaven and earth to bring Mourinho back to Stamford Bridge. That would amount to an admission of a mistake, which billionaires do not have a habit of doing, nor do they go cap in hand to a former employee. Not even a very special one.

The next time Mourinho is back at the Bridge it could be as manager of Manchester City next season. The smart money then would be on another away win.

Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for theLondon Daily Telegraph.


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