James Lawton: Mourinho exit robs Blues of vital qualities and gives rivals a lamb ready for slaughter

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The Independent Online

All that was missing was narrative by the great David Attenborough. The predator marched resolutely upon his quarry, who looked utterly disoriented, perhaps by a sense of foreboding unequalled since Little Red Riding Hood collided with the Big Bad Wolf.

In fact, the victim's entrails had long been removed and all that was left for Sir Alex Ferguson – ostensibly, at least – was to shake Avram Grant's hand.

At some later date, in perhaps some less guarded moment, we will really get to know what the master of Old Trafford thinks of promotion to one of the key jobs in world football by friendship with the owner, by bartering the post of director of football, the most redundant job in any corner of the game where a degree of success has been achieved under a strong manager, for the top position so recently occupied by a man whose record of achievement, relative to his successor's, was so far into another league it was almost beyond measurement.

It will – let us guess – maybe not quite square up with the rough but scrupulous values imposed in the dockside streets of his native Govan.

This, though, will have to await a mood of ripe and caustic reflection. In the meantime, it was impossible not to note as he reminded the shell-shocked Grant of some basic post-match etiquette, Ferguson can only exult at the removal of Jose Mourinho – one of the few football men plainly capable of maintaining Chelsea as a serious threat to Manchester United despite the increasing evidence that his club were owned by a man who neither knew or cared to learn the first thing about maintaining a winning football club.

At Old Trafford on Sunday the gift to all of Chelsea's rivals was evident long before the goals of Carlos Tevez and Louis Saha.

Without Mourinho, without his demonic power to make a team play to their considerable limits of strength and ambition, you could see straight away that Chelsea had lost their most vital quality. It was, of course, one that combined the most rigorous forms of organisation and belief.

While they were under Mourinho, you could still do many things to Chelsea. You could make them look plain. You could prove that in attack they were a mostly one-trick pony by the name of Didier Drogba, that some of their work was so tedious to the eye it was capable of adding extra gloom to a Welsh funeral and that at times of tactical impasse everything had to come down to the long ball.

But then, before last Sunday, were they ever detached from the expectation that they would win, not by cleverness or raging skill so much as by right? Who can recall an occasion? It was certainly not in the last FA Cup final, when Chelsea made a point of running the new champions United into the ground and no one, not even the ever optimistic Ferguson, could believe that any more than one title battle in an unremitting war had been won.

Now, though, at Old Trafford, in the hands of a man whose highest post outside his Israeli bailiwick was director of football at Portsmouth, such Chelsea certainty had plainly drained to nothing, and where did it leave Roman Abramovich? A derided little rich boy lost as he applauded for some time after the final whistle the lamentable first effort of a team prepared by a manager-crony appointed only by the most outrageous of preferment.

No doubt because of their detachment from the realities of the game they might have picked up as some kind of diversion from the boredom of counting their money, the Chelsea hierarchy still seem utterly unaware of the disgust they have created among even their own fans. It is a mood into which the League Managers Association has waded with its usual risibly skewed values.

Grant shouldn't have been appointed, the association tells us, because he didn't hold the right coaching certificate?

What about the fact that he was inflicted on a manager who had won five trophies in three years, including the first title in 50 years, and then, to all appearances, simply waited to take his job? It was a little bit as though the LMA was more concerned with its paperwork than the body.

Even so, it is hard to weep too heartily for Mourinho, who is reported to have made his teary departure in the company of £18m and whose idea of principled behaviour was too often borrowed from the nearest back alley.

It is also reasonable to believe that Mourinho was not unmindful of such a potential financial result when he allowed his job to be stripped down over the years and the months to the point where it came impossible.

Which carries us back to the barely suppressed disdain of Sir Alex Ferguson. He may have regarded Mourinho, initially at least, as a strident interloper, but quickly enough he respected what he represented as a competitor. In some ways, when you think of it, Ferguson and Mourinho have so much in common. Ruthless, bullying, beholders of only one truth, their own, they cannot be said to be upholders of the great ideals of sport. But both men fought murderously hard for their places in the game; they took some rough times and used them as fuel for the ambition.

In the end both men were able to show how good they were, in their different ways, of creating and running winning football teams.

It meant that when Ferguson shook hands with Grant he could be excused a certain wolfish expression.

He was contemplating the lamb – or was it mutton – that had been presented, in a chain of unbridled folly, for slaughter.

Fabregas finds new life after Henry

It would be unbearably smug, and no doubt somewhat premature, for any gloating by those of us who found the now sharply reduced 10-1 odds against Arsenal winning the title irresistibly attractive.

However, at our next monthly meeting – in the nearest available telephone box – there will no doubt be some enthusiasm for the hardening conviction that, despite all the agonising, Arsène Wenger's decision to sell Thierry Henry is already shaping up as his latest masterstroke.

Says the star of a currently breathtaking show, Cesc Fabregas: "Henry intimidated us. He is a great player but it was not easy to play alongside him. We were a bit inhibited by him – dependent on everything that he wanted to do and by his demands. Now it is different."

Translation: Henry's ego, in the end, outran even the brilliant scale of his talent. If it wasn't his performance, it wasn't anybody's.

You might say this truth, arrived at by Wenger with his usual impeccable timing, has now come from the mouth of an innocent – if it wasn't for the fact the liberated Fabregas, aged 20, is already playing with the wisdom of the ages.

Sven manages with his eyes shut

It would be churlish not to recognise that Sven Goran Eriksson, apart from proving that it is possible to buy a team sight and unseen and still crash into the elite of English football, at least for a month or two, has proved again that he will never mistake a catastrophe on the football field for the outbreak of the Third World War. Imagine the reaction of a Ferguson or a Mourinho if their team had surrendered three away points through sloppy defence. Their fulminations would have been terrible to behold. However, when this fate befell the Iceman at Fulham, he uttered softly the line that might be his football epitaph... "I'm not going to lose any sleep." That's for the people who pay him the money – and hope for the best.

England women frankly deluded

England women's football team are now demanding to represent Great Britain at next year's Olympic Games in Beijing.

It is the least they deserve, they are suggesting, after their heroic performance in the World Cup in China, where they were beaten 3-0 in the quarter-finals by the United States.

No doubt the team, who receive £4.5m of annual support from a Football Association which is debating whether it can run to a world-class training centre for the best of either sex, will also be demanding more television exposure.

But for the moment is this really the best idea? The forlorn truth is that the team performed heroics largely in their own minds.

Anyone who saw the goals that did down England at the familiar last staging post of glory, the final eight, could only have blanched at the quality of the defending.

Still, the losing quarter-finalists are convinced that the nation should warm to their achievements and salute their deeds.

Where do they get such an idea? Perhaps, they read it in Frank Lampard's autobiography.

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