The Mourinho factor: rebel with a cause

LOVE HIM or hate him, Chelsea’s Portuguese paragon, José Mourinho, has certainly shaken up the English football batting order, dominating the sporting headlines almost on a daily basis.

If we read between the lines, his management style contrasts sharply with the persona the 44-year-old presents to the public. Smouldering, slightly sullen eyes dominate his unkempt appearance, a trademark grey coat draped around the stooped shoulders, an arrogant snarl more often than not firmly in place.

Although jubilant following Chelsea’s Premiership title win at Bolton, the ‘Beethoven’ of the modern game soon escaped the public eye leaving his players to bask in the glory of the moment. At Anfield, Mourinho, the driven man for whom only success counts, was less graceful. Liverpool had overcome Chelsea at the fourth time of asking this season, to make it to the Champions League final in Istanbul on May 25. The strategy, which had so narrowly failed at Stamford Bridge the previous week, had now born fruit. The advantage of an early Garcia goal, which was given by the referee although it remains unclear whether the ball crossed the goal-line or not before being cleared by William Gallas, was held by the passionate Reds.

Second-best not an option

For Chelsea’s manager, the unthinkable had happened. Ignoring the fact that his team had mustered only one meaningful shot on goal over the 180-odd minutes of both games, he repeated over and over again, to anyone who would listen, that “the better team had lost”. This attitude does not endear him to the British public, who traditionally love to support the underdog. Mourinho is not an underdog and he doesn’t care that his winner mentality does not win him any popularity contests. Together with his patron, Roman Abramovich, who holds the keys to the war chest, Mourinho intends to bulldoze his way to the pinnacle of world club football. Second-best is clearly not an acceptable option for the man who would surely agree 100 per cent with the late Bill Shankly, who said: “For some people, football is a matter of life and death. For me, it is much more serious than that.”

The man who won the UEFA Cup and Champions League with rank outsiders Porto, in successive seasons, will have noted that his team’s failure to score in either game against Liverpool highlights the lack of a truly world-class striker in his otherwise fantasy football ensemble.

With Arsenal’s Thierry Henry and Manchester’s pair of van Nistelrooy and Rooney out of reach, Inter Milan’s Adriano and AC Milan’s Shevchenko would fit the bill. Either would virtually be assured a flood of goals at Chelsea.

Another five years with Chelsea

José Mourinho has agreed to stay in London with his wife and two children until at least 2010. A new five-year contract worth seven million euros, plus bonuses each season has been signed and Mourinho is sure to plug the gap in his front line this summer before plotting his 2005/’06 campaign of world domination.

You can be sure that the self-appointed “Special One” will have his hands on the European Cup this time next year, in addition to every other piece of silverware that’s going. Not bad for a man who used to translate for Bobby Robson at Sporting and Porto, a man who was vilified while still active in his home town, a man who is now worshipped by his fellow Portuguese countrymen.

In England, Mourinho’s nemesis is now not Arsene Wenger or Alex Ferguson, but his Iberian cousin Rafael Benitez. After winning La Liga in his first season with Valencia three years ago, the current Liverpool manager whispered to his wife, Montse, that, one day, he would go on to triumph in the Champions League. That day could be just around the corner. Ironically, Mourinho had also been in Anfield Chief Executive Rick Parry’s sights to replace the flagging Gerard Houllier but the 45-year-old Spaniard got the job.

“Hunger, knowledge, determination, drive and skill” are the qualities Parry attributes to his main man – exactly those that Abramovich and Kenyon value in Mourinho at Stamford Bridge. An exciting duel should develop over the coming years between these two master strategists, a contest that could be termed ‘the money against the passion’.