James Lawton: Dear Jose, your desire for reflected glory has lost you a chance to illuminate game

An open letter to Jose Mourinho from the Independent's Chief Sports Writer on the ugly truth behind Chelsea's ascent
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The Independent Online

Dear Jose,

Not so long ago, when you were a figure of hope rather than darkness, you said you were a star in your own movie. We could all enjoy that; it implied fun and celebration of outstanding deeds. It even added a little to the gaiety of the football nation. But now we have a better idea of the kind of movie you had in mind.

From where you are sitting, in the penthouse of your mind, you may not have noticed that it is turning into a grotesque mix of Sweet Smell of Success and Citizen Kane.

You have blown it, Jose; not in terms of column inches or television exposure or advertising spin-offs or security at the heart of your oil-rouble empire, but in the regard of all those who long for new messiahs of the game, men like Busby and Stein who gloried in their teams and their achievements and didn't scramble in such unseemly fashion to be at the heart of the reflected glory.

To tell you the truth, Jose, your current performance would look bad enough on reality TV.

You have jettisoned style for some chintzy version of celebrity for its own sake. Some woolly-minded observers say that your antics provide a valuable service to the team, that it deflects attention from them, allows them to go about their relentless work. Well, here's a fact: I never saw a great football man, and this includes Ferguson and Wenger, who willingly tried to grab the attention from their players, not on occasion but as a matter of carefully calculated course.

You know why? Because they are football men to their bones and they know that their great glory will always be the performance of their players. That's why they are so excitable and natural on the touchline. Wenger can be a cold fish at times, God knows, and he has that reputation among rival managers, but he doesn't pose, he bares his hopes and his fears and he doesn't turn everything into his own glory - and if Ferguson was not ready to salute his team, and express his gratitude, why would he run along the touchline like some demented schoolboy in the tuck shop when United achieve something extraordinary?

The harsh view of your own self-absorbed act must be that it can only be explained by your own lack of a significant playing career.

You never knew the cheers from the terraces, and now it is presumably not enough for you to shape great achievement through your talent for coaching and plotting a set of winning tactics. Now you have to plunder the glory of your players while it is white-hot.

The last time I wrote to you it was, believe it or not, in a spirit of avuncular concern. I thought, like so many others weary of the back-biting and self-interest of Ferguson and Wenger, you were a star on the cusp of shining a brilliant light on English football and that all you needed to do was rein in the cockiness, not entirely but to a certain pleasing degree, and then march on to only the heavens knew where along the peaks of achievement.

It was in that phase when you were still capable of wit rather than appalling bombast, but a lot of people know better now. It has become apparent you don't know the difference between a feisty stance and sickening control freakery. We could not know back then you would soon be saying it was all right to ruin the reputation of a referee with an outright lie, and that you were capable of the kind of boorish performance you put in at Highbury on Sunday.

Presumably you thought you were being smart, even masterful, storming off down the tunnel like that without offering a hand to the vanquished Wenger, and then hurling abuse at the Sky TV people for their "crime" of rerunning shots of Michael Essien's disgusting tackle on Dietmar Hamann a few weeks ago.

You said that Barcelona, your next opponents in the Champions' League, thanked Sky. Wrong, everybody who cares for the morality of football and who isn't always bowled over by the bite of their analysis of their own flagship product, thanks them. They showed up the bruising cynicism that is growing at the heart of your all-conquering team: the £24m signing whose function is becoming increasingly apparent. Essien has talent, no doubt, but against the frail young things of Arsenal's midfield his essential role was highlighted with gut-wrenching clarity. He was there to bully, and no doubt he should have been sent off for his fouls on Lauren and Robin van Persie.

Your team are becoming dauntingly efficient but with each machine-like victory they are becoming a notch more charmless, and in this they are only keeping pace with you.

To be fair, you are far from the first and certainly will not be the last football manager to develop a siege mentality. It was long a basic plank of Ferguson's success, and Wenger has seen more conspiracies than the command posts at MI5 and the CIA. But if their positions were often absurd, if all grace melted at moments of victory and defeat, let's be honest, they never quite carried the baggage you have had to haul to your position of power in English football.

They didn't have to confront the unease which would have greeted any Chelsea success even if you had displayed endless layers of charm and your boss Roman had come over as a merely well-heeled version of Peter Ustinov. But the fact is whatever Chelsea achieve there will be the worry that success has been underpinned by unprecedented and wealth - resources taken from a country where the majority of the population live lives of hardship unimaginable in all parts of this country, let alone the Fulham Road.

So, Jose, there are unanswerable misgivings about the crowning of Chelsea as the undisputed masters of English football. This doesn't prevent admiration for the strength of your work, and the team ethic you have developed at Stamford Bridge. You have done it with a skill which has been at times awe-inspiring. But admiring is not the same as celebrating, or even liking, and anyone beyond your own support who says this is not so is spinning a line.

What it really means is that there is an obligation on you to perform with a lot more understanding of your highly privileged situation. If you don't, if you carry on in the style you displayed at Highbury, the result will be beyond speculation. Even your victories will not inculcate the envy you imagine, because all football supporters are not fools, and a recent visit to Stamford Bridge - for a grinding victory over unglamorous Middlesbrough - confirmed the suspicion that if Chelsea's fans cannot quite believe their luck, if they are pleased with the power of their club, it does not express itself in the kind of joy which is so tangible in places like Anfield and Old Trafford and, in the not so ancient good days, Arsenal.

You will probably hate this, but there is a model you shouldn't ignore, and his name is Rafael Benitez.

Your scorn for his Liverpool is not so convincing. Admittedly you have a series of victories, but they have outsmarted you in Europe and please, as a matter of urgency, drop the fiction that they didn't score against you in that European Cup semi-final at Anfield. The goal was awarded, it is on the record, and if it hadn't been, Liverpool, the whole world could see, were due a penalty and the sending-off of your invaluable goalkeeper Peter Cech.

That's the kind of reality you have to absorb if you are going to win the respect which your achievements are due. You may not know it, but Benitez is drawing a lot of neutral admiration. He isn't backed by seamless millions, he doesn't sneer at the rest of the football world, he doesn't tell lies about referees, he just gets on with the job of building a football team.

There will be quite a bit of unpatriotic support for Barcelona, too, when you collide with them again in the Champions' League.

This isn't pure envy, Jose. It comes from the feeling that you bent the truth terribly when you last met Barcelona, and that victory came through a most cynical foul by Ricardo Carvalho on their goalkeeper. Your silence on that was noted by those who believe in the old truth that these things have a way of levelling out.

One last point: the Barcelona of Ronaldinho and young Lionel Messi play beautiful football. It has brilliance and charm. It can lay a hand on the hearts of the unattached. It is a sad truth that your current affect is one of repulsion.

Yours in sport,

James Lawton

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