James Lawton: Brazilian dons matador's cape to expose deficiencies in Chelsea's drive for power

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Jose Mourinho avoided the massacre of his vanity that the great stadium bayed for, but you could see on his face that it meant nothing. Mourinho, being Mourinho, thought he could rescue something here, but no coach in the world can do a thing about the force of genius.

Ronaldinho told him that in a moment of certainty that grew out of an extraordinary, almost surreally haphazard performance from the world's most gifted player. He also told the coach something else, something even his most fervent admirers had feared.

It is that belief in his own omnipotence can be carried only so far. Somewhere along the line you must invest in players who have a life and a destiny of their own; who cannot be shaped by plans and stratagems, however bright, but have to be allowed off the leash.

When Ronaldinho's brilliant young ally Lionel Messi was cut down with injury halfway through the first half the burden on Ronaldinho became immense. But he was equal to it. It is how you distinguish great players who can lift a team in any circumstances.

In the end, and despite the courage which brought a penalty scored by Frank Lampard to draw the second leg, the Brazilian destroyed Chelsea and perhaps some of their coach's finest illusions. He has done a fine job at Stamford Bridge, with magnificent resources no doubt, but the message from here is that now, in the reach of it, it is really just beginning if his patron Roman Abramovich wants something more than mere mastery of the English football parish.

Mourinho rearranged his team and employed more delaying tactics, but he was only storing up trouble for himself and his team. His selection carried a whiff of panic, at least for those who believe that a team is shaped for all seasons, and all situations, and that more than any loading of one area or another, it is vital to maintain balance, and a sense, however heavy the odds against you, that you are fighting on familiar terrain.

Of the three men given most responsibility in running at Barcelona, shifting some of the initiative away from the daunting South American axis of Ronaldinho and Messi, Joe Cole produced the most controlled determination. In the first half Arjen Robben and Damien Duff were by comparison lost in the rhythmic flow of Barça's game.

But if the Barcelona patterns were beautiful, the lack of resolution in the last third of the field had already provoked concern in their coach, Frank Rijkaard. Before injury overtook Messi after 23 minutes, the coach had opened urgent tactical talks with the Argentine prodigy on the touchline.

Messi's disappearance robbed the Nou Camp of one half of the most stunning double acts in all of football, but it gave Chelsea a sense that perhaps if they dug ever deeper into their reserves of commitment - there were times when they looked all but exhausted - pressure might build sufficiently on opponents who seemed intent as much on inflicting humiliation as the cold steel of a comprehensive defeat.

Here, Ronaldinho, for all the sublime touches, was most at fault. He played a series of backheels and, one astonishing overhead kick, that gave the impression he was attempting to go one better than his Barcelona predecessor Johan Cruyff.

Once Cruyff beat England without crossing the half-way line at Wembley. Here, Ronaldinho seemed inclined to beat Chelsea without ever taking a direct look at Petr Cech's goal. It says so much for his versatility that the possibility could not be dismissed out of hand. There was no doubt, though, at half-time, at which point Cech had been obliged to produce only one piece of serious business, a save from Thiago Motta in the early going, that Rijkaard had to ask more from his master player. Until he did that, Mourinho still had grounds for hope, not least when the coach thought again early in the second half and pulled Duff and Didier Drogba in favour of Eidur Gudjohnsen and Hernan Crespo and Chelsea's effort reached its most combative level.

John Terry and Claude Makelele won hard tackles in the middle of the field and on the right Cole again produced one of those flashes of insight and bite which have increasingly marked his season of spectacular growth both for Chelsea and England. He delivered a cross of stunning penetration and Crespo, arriving later, sent the ball just the wrong side of the post. Had the outcome been marginally different, no doubt the mystique of the "Special One" would have been seriously augmented.

As it was, Mourinho could take some satisfaction from the fact that until Ronaldinho produced that unique blend of strength and perfect balance in the 78th minute the massacre of his vanities had not occurred. Unquestionably, Barcelona, even without Messi had a profound edge of skill and Chelsea's second early exit from the great competition they were supposed to dominate provokes an overwhelming conclusion.

It is that the Special One has to invest in something more valuable than his own formidable power to drive forward a team in almost all circumstances. Here he and his players ran into a dimension that was ultimately beyond them.

Comments