James Lawton: Mourinho must remain true to principles in face of Abramovich's foolish meddling

Whatever you think of Mourinho's style, he is plainly one of the best
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Bizarre though it may seem, the man who coaxed billions out of a Russian economy still failing to pay on time the paltry salaries of its doctors and professors is in desperate need of the most elementary business advice. It comes here absolutely without cost and is so easily verifiable Roman Abramovich need do no more than switch on his nearest plasma TV at 4pm tomorrow.

This is when Arsenal and Manchester United, who for a combined total of more than 30 years have had the wisdom to put control of their team affairs into the hands of two outstanding professionals, promise a riot of thrilling and quite possibly beautiful football at the Emirates Stadium.

The message for Abramovich could scarcely be more emphatic. His deepening row with his manager, Jose Mourinho, has exposed something close to total ignorance of the mechanics of success in the game into which he has poured so much money.

He shouldn't be too queasy about reassessing his performance as a patron of football. Jock Stein's personal finances were often a mess. Bill Shankly never graduated beyond a modest red-painted house from where he could spy on the training of Everton. Malcolm Allison's bonus for delivering a brilliant championship success for Manchester City from under the shadow of Best, Charlton and Law didn't cover his overdraft. However, they knew almost all there was to know about football. By comparison, it becomes a little clearer every day that in the matter of the round ball Abramovich, the ultimate oligarch, barely has a clue.

Mourinho, it is also no doubt true, is the kind of man who could have brought rancour to the Last Supper, but there is no question he is utterly justified in standing up for his rights in the current chaos at Stamford Bridge. He is Chelsea's football man and, whatever you think of his style and his character, plainly one of the best around. His record is dazzling. For two seasons he annexed English football.

Now he has lost a stride. Why? Because his job has been made near impossible by the failure of Abramovich to understand how a football club should be run.

The model has been so long established at United and Arsenal. It is the classic one of putting the reins in the hands of the man who best knows the business. None of the football illiteracies now plaguing Chelsea disturbed United or Arsenal in their decade of exclusive Premiership dominance before the arrival of Abramovich and his mountain of roubles - or are likely to as long as Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsène Wenger remain in charge.

Both men, be sure, are now contemplating the Chelsea crisis with mounting disbelief. Neither would tolerate, as Mourinho has been obliged to do, a rival presence such as that of Frank Arnesen, the youth football director. Neither would accept for a moment the imposition of a superstar like Andrei Shevchenko, who was deemed, for all his talent, unsuitable to the rhythm and balance of an already successful team.

Most bewildering of all to Ferguson and Wenger would be the suggestion, rightly rejected out of hand by Mourinho, that a special coach sould be appointed to undo some of the resulting damage.

Mourinho's body of work, his brilliant success in turning the relatively modestly financed Porto into champions of Europe and the seamless manner in which he made Chelsea a team of such formidable strength, leaves him with the clearest of options now. Chelsea either step back from hopelessly divided responsibilities, and influence, give Mourinho his proper role of dictating all aspects of the football operation, in the manner of Ferguson and Wenger, or he leaves to do his work in his singular way in new and optimum circumstances.

Abramovich's discontent with some aspects of his coach's work and behaviour is understandable enough. Chelsea have not lit up the King's Road, and still less anywhere else, with the beauty of their play. Mourinho's attitudes have increased resentment towards a club which, anyway, was always going to struggle to be liked, given that the basis of their success would always be seen to rest in wealth that many would say was both obscene and acquired questionably. So Abramovich's private view is hardly a mystery. He has not invested so much for the privilege of becoming disliked.

But then Mourinho was Abramovich's choice, and for some compelling reasons, and had the Russian known more about football he would have understood that as long as his selected manager was in place it was essential he was in sole charge of all decisions affecting the team.

Now Abramovich is getting a stream of advice that is inevitably in conflict. If he stays, Mourinho must have his way; it can be the only one if the team are to keep any semblance of the unity and the purpose which burnt off all domestic opposition for two years. The plight of Shevchenko and Ballack underlines quite how far Chelsea have moved from the level of power and authority Mourinho first conjured. He offered a well tried pattern of success, but the simplicities of that have been so deeply compromised as Chelsea begin to threaten the kind of disaster the Italian master coach, Fabio Capello, is now fighting so hard to repair at Real Madrid.

The bottom line is surely clear enough. If you are a self-respecting football man of genuine achievement, the worst fate is to fail on any other than your own terms. For Mourinho this is now a growing possibility. He is right to draw a line, as right, indeed, as Abramovich is wrong not to acknowledge its existence. If Mourinho does leave, his reputation will be safe enough. His boss, on the other hand, will look deeply foolish, which is always the risk when it becomes clear you don't quite know what you are doing.

Flintoff's return to the straitjacket of captaincy underlines England's urgent need for root and branch review

One of the more depressing aspects of England's pitiful performance in Australia has been the progressive decline of Andrew Flintoff's effectiveness as captain. He declined faster than did Samson after his haircut.

Long before the surrender of the Ashes, it was clear Flintoff's elevation had been as misguided as so many other crucial decisions on selection. The captaincy is not a reward for outstanding individual performance. It is something that accrues naturally. Mike Brearley's talent as a cricketer was dwarfed by that of Ian Botham. But as captains they occupied utterly different planets and it was something that Botham quickly saw for himself. Flintoff's knowledge of himself, it appears, is not of that order. Brearley was a tactician, a thinker. Botham was a warrior of thrilling talent, as is Flintoff. It is surely not so hard to make the distinction.

Andrew Strauss, overlooked again when, after the injury to Michael Vaughan, the England selectors lacked the nerve to operate on the evidence of their own eyes and reinstated Flintoff in a role for which he is clearly miscast, may not be a Brearley and his own Ashes performance was less than a triumph. But he has a certain presence and gives more than a hint he is easy with the challenge of command. It is at least half the battle.

Flintoff has none of that aura in the field - or off it when he is required to explain himself and his team. He is, and this is so clear it can be detached from the effects of injury, diminished not enlarged by the chore of leadership.

All of this is so transparent Flintoff's return to the captaincy this week makes even more urgent the need for the wholesale review of English cricket that is now supposed to be in hand. That a golf man, a representative of the supremely individual sport of golf, has been put in charge is not too encouraging. What is required, more than anything, is the tough-minded team ethos that has been so brilliantly displayed by the Australians for so long.

Consider for a moment the chain of Australia's most recent command. Men like Mark Taylor and Steve Waugh and now Ricky Ponting simply couldn't have survived the inadequacies of the campaign Flintoff didn't lead but was imprisoned by these last few months. That Flintoff has done so is just another reason for dismay. The overwhelming impression was that he was not reappointed but appeased. Suddenly, it was as though the terrible whitewash had never happened.

But of course it did and who can forget it? Apparently only the England selectors.

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