James Lawton: Chelsea will shine only when they escape the shadow of Mourinho
Saturday 09 May 2009
In all the excoriation of those at Chelsea who reminded us again that all the money in the world doesn't necessarily buy even a hint of style or grace it was a little odd there was no mention of Jose Mourinho.
The point is that if the buck stopped at Guus Hiddink, who disappointingly offered at least some passing endorsement of the sickening behaviour of Didier Drogba and Michael Ballack, where did it start?
With who else but the Special One, the Stamford Bridge folk hero who, we saw again this week, created a team in his own image, one in which the traducing of match officials and opponents, even ambulance drivers and paramedics, was just part of the game.
Some game. It was one where the truth went walkabout when it got in the way of some alibi for a poor performance or self-serving point that deflected the kind of criticism which most managers are required to accept routinely when the results aren't quite right.
Being the Special One, Mourinho couldn't have that. So when things went wrong at the Nou Camp, he swore that he had seen Barça coach Frank Rijkaard and referee Anders Frisk conferring behind a closed door at half-time. No, he hadn't seen it himself, he conceded later, but he had been told about it and, anyway, who cared, Frisk's career had gone to hell in a handbasket filled with death threats from Chelsea supporters and there had been all those diverting headlines.
Norwegian referee Tom Henning Ovrebo, who may decide to join Frisk in premature retirement after being advised not to stay at his own home the night after his hapless performance at Stamford Bridge, one which was, of course, marred as much by his unfounded sending off of Barcelona defender Eric Abidal as his refusal of Chelsea penalty claims.
What followed was so disgusting that the sight of owner Roman Abramovich retreating across the field, having apparently left Drogba in no doubt about his reaction to the disordered histrionics that included the shouting of an obscenity down a microphone, provoked a solemn wish on behalf of a man who has invested so many roubles into the cause, and those of the Chelsea supporters who didn't sign up to the Mourinho cult like moral lemmings tumbling off a cliff edge.
It is that Abramovich is, with some time and better advice than he has enjoyed in the past, finally able to draw a line under the Mourinho years. They produced two league titles, it is true, but that was not nearly the extent of Abramovich's ambition and if he stills wants to build a wider and perhaps less murky reputation through the toy of his football club, he has to attend to both performance on the field and attitudes off it.
What we saw on Wednesday night was the worst of what Chelsea has come to mean in the Abramovich years... arrogance provoking huge disrespect for almost anything or anyone not enshrined in the club's own set of values.
Where does Abramovich go for his counsel? Before Wednesday's lapse, you would have said Hiddink was the soundest source of good advice. A man of the world, a stickler for basic discipline, he seemed to be selling more than the blue jerseys when he offered what seemed distressingly like credence to the wild talk of a Uefa conspiracy to create a dream final of Manchester United and Barcelona.
Still, no-one is perfect and if anyone deserves a little tolerance for an untypical breakdown in values, under extreme disappointment, it is maybe the Dutchman. But then with Hiddink apparently still intent on leaving Stamford Bridge after the Cup final, Abramovich will presumably be obliged to look elsewhere. Milan's Carlo Ancelotti is still the favourite in many eyes, and there has to be a case for Champions League winner Rijkaard, who bequeathed young Pep Guardiola the Barça team which is so illuminating Europe.
Whoever he chooses, however, Abramovich has to make an even more fundamental decision. He has to resolve that wherever Chelsea go the journey has to include the widest berth around the legacy of Mourinho.
It is not a good legacy, whatever his idolaters say. Apart from the overweening ego, the willingness to play with the truth whatever the consequences, there was the important matter of the football. It was powerful, well-organised football that brought him the Champions League title with Porto and caught Manchester United off guard when his impact was most fresh and his autonomy at its height. But it was never going to placate Abramovich's fantasy of owning a dream team, an all-winning example of the kind of exquisite football Barça reeled off at the Bernabeu last Saturday and will seek to reproduce against United in Rome later this month.
That Lionel Messi and his team-mates were unable to do it at Stamford Bridge this week said much for the power of Chelsea, and some outstanding individual performances, notably from Michael Essien, Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole. Yet even under such pressure, and reduced to 10 men, Barcelona never lost faith with the football to which they have attached all their hopes. They kept playing a certain way because it is in their bones.
What was in Chelsea bones? It was strength, application and hard and superior defence. They were impressive assets but they couldn't take them further than they had ever been before. In the five years since the arrival of Mourinho, that final step has repeatedly been beyond them. There is a reason for this. It is that when Chelsea display their strength they also reveal their limitations. Certain dimensions are lost to them, as they were to the man who made them, Mourinho.
It is why Roman Abramovich has to lead the club he made the richest in the game in another direction, if indeed he has the stomach for another campaign. He has to lift up the sights, his own, his club's and those of its supporters who still know the difference between bombast and highest achievement, not to mention right and wrong.
That dividing line, we saw this week, can be best be restored when the played-out legend of Jose Mourinho is put aside, if not hosed down.
Shearer isn't God but offers life after death
Despite the apparent futility of his attempts to save Newcastle United's Premier League life, it has to be encouraging for the most abused fans in football that Alan Shearer is apparently considering a long-term effort to revive his old team.
Shearer and his assistant Iain Dowie have not exactly put themselves in the league of Brian Clough and Peter Taylor in the last few weeks but heaven knows they inherited a full-blown disaster.
The former England captain does, however, represent some of the best of professional values and he plainly cares deeply about the hometown club he chose, as England's most sought player, in spite of the blandishments offered by Manchester United. He may not bring salvation at the first time of asking, but he does offer new standards, as we saw in his reaction to the latest outrage by the recidivist Joey Barton.
What Shearer makes available to any new owner is the prospect of a genuine football culture at St James' Park. It is the most vital nourishment of a club so long ravaged by greed and stupidity.
Onions was born for the name game
Shakespeare insisted that a Rose would smell as sweet by any other name and we know there was a resolute goalkeeper of Reading called Steve Death but how long before the new hero of English cricket, Graham Onions, sheds a tear, sorry about that Graham, and hauls himself off to the deed poll office?
There are, after all, only so many jokes to be made about a goalkeeper called Death. Onions, on the other hand, stretches out quite seamlessly.
Even the essentially compassionate instincts of 'The Independent' came under hard pressure the moment Onions bowled himself onto the Lord's honour board with his five-for demolition of the West Indies on the second day of the first Test.
"Green Onions leaves Windies in a pickle," declared the back page. Inside, it was, "Onions gives West Indies five reasons to be tearful". 'The Times' was relatively deadpan: "Onions slices open Gayle's apathetic troops", and when you think about the turnip treatment they handed out to the former England manager Graham Taylor, the 'Sun' showed masterful restraint with a mere "String of Onions" banner.
"What's in a name", Raymond Chandler's private eye once asked when remembering a flirtatious lady called Virginia. Graham Onions will hope that the joke will flag long before the end of his promising Test career. Meanwhile, he can only thank God the French don't play cricket. Then, he would have really been in the soup. The trouble is it's quite hard to stop yourself.
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