James Lawton: This week's three winners - Rijkaard, Wenger... and football

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The Independent Online

If anyone had a single doubt about the nature and the meaning of Jose Mourinho's Chelsea surely it must have perished in the firestorm of Barcelona's brilliance at Stamford Bridge this week.

Let us give, as briefly as you like in the circumstances of his latest graceless performance in the face of defeat, to the "Special One" what is his.

He has a team of vast commitment in which the separate parts are almost entirely sublimated to the cause of efficiency. He has displayed exceptional motivational powers, which surfaced again in the wake of Asier Del Horno's dismissal and were buried only when the sheer weight of the long liberated talents of Lionel Messi, Ronaldinho and Samuel Eto'o were finally imposed in a way that permitted no answer.

But let us also be clear that the past few days of European football have placed Mourinho some way from the pinnacle of what is possible, and most praiseworthy, in what, we have just seen, can still be the beautiful game.

There are two big winners this week. No, make that three. There is Frank Rijkaard, the man who has brilliantly embraced the expansive tradition of his great club, Barça. There is Arsène Wenger, driven to a point of crisis but against Real Madrid, of all teams, the author of the kind of football that has brought such refinement over the years to his adopted land. And then there is football, not functional football, not the game of such a brilliant performer as Arjen Robben dropping off and tucking in the moment the other team have the ball, but of the marvellous Barça triumvirate - and Thierry Henry.

Thus far in England, Mourinho, for all his vast resources, has matched and then exceeded Wenger only as one of the ultimate bad losers, and maybe he will learn at some point that if the Frenchman has so repeatedly exasperated those who yearn for some basic honesty in the game, who expect from leading figures a view of what is right and wrong to be applied with at least a degree of objectivity, he has also provided some wonderful compensation.

Wenger has been a teacher of the game at its highest, most satisfying level - as much as it was thrilling to see some of the old Henry this week in the Bernabeu, it was no less moving to witness the emergence of such brilliant prospects as Cesc Fabregas and the unheralded young Emmanuel Eboué. Yes, Real Madrid were a joke of a team, but Arsenal's achievement was to make that so apparent where others might have in some way backed away from the reality of their own eyes.

Subsequently, neither the smokescreens of Mourinho nor David Beckham - "we are a notch above Barcelona" - have begun to separate us from an essential truth. It is that Barcelona and Arsenal have given us so much more than mere winning football this week. They have defined the game's most uplifting capacity, to make thrilling patterns of play, to release exceptional talent - and to play with the courage of proper self-belief.

Those of us who have most seriously doubted Mourinho's ability to grow and mature in his position of huge strength at Stamford Bridge were given this week, if he and his most fervent supporters will forgive the expression, a whole arsenal of ammunition.

His performance on Wednesday night was no less than stomach churning. He railed at the brilliant young Messi for a theatrical performance after Del Horno, plainly overwrought by the sheer pressure of trying to deal with such exceptional talent, had hit him hard, without any attempt to play the ball, and with a foot raised - and this was just seconds after an earlier foul which surely warranted a yellow card. Mourinho whined about the decision, asked that Sky show the film repeatedly, as they did after Michael Essien's sickening tackle on Dietmar Hamann, and then, scarcely believably, attacked Messi for play-acting. Yes, in the way of modern football the teenager perhaps did make the most of it, but how in the name of rational thought can the Chelsea coach criticise Messi so soon after ignoring the outrageous dive of his own Robben?

Yesterday, in a search for a certain perspective, Tommy Smith, who, on behalf of Bill Shankly and Bob Paisley, was the author of perhaps some of the most blood-curdling tackles ever seen in the game, was consulted. Neither Del Horno nor Messi, in his opinion, qualified for a red badge of courage in their reactions to the incident, but he did say, "Listening to Mourinho going on like that after the game, and remembering the Robben and the Essien business, you were reminded that the ball is round - and of course what goes round comes round. It seems to me that life is catching up on Mourinho."

In all of this you wonder if there will be a point when Mourinho's patron, Roman Abramovich, begins a debate in his mind about whether he is getting total value for money. Chelsea, no doubt, have laid an iron hand on the Premiership, but where is the kind of football with which Barcelona so illuminated Stamford Bridge this week? Recently Abramovich was expressing concern about the levels of passion in the ground. There was even talk of forming a committee to engage the problem. Better, you would have thought, to suggest that rather than paying vast amounts for the likes of Essien and Shaun Wright-Phillips, Chelsea should really be signing players to take the club on to another dimension - the dimension touched by Barcelona in London and Arsenal in Madrid, and the one that Wenger's men so regularly explored when the likes of Robert Pires and Dennis Bergkamp were such brilliant acolytes for the supreme Henry. The quality of Arsenal's football was a glory of the entire English game. Chelsea's, for all its vigour and strength, is still a long way from that.

This week Arsenal reminded us of who they used to be, and who they might be again. Barcelona were who they have been for some time: the most thrilling team in club football. If the Special One had an ounce of grace he would have admitted as much. Instead, he made a parody of taking defeat as a football man who could even glimpse a bigger picture. He didn't seem to understand that he and his team had been outclassed... on and off the field.

Mourinho learns from the Ferguson hairdryer treatment

It's fair to say that Jose Mourinho has learned a few tricks from Alex Ferguson. His attitude to the media owes much to the Manchester United manager, and on Wednesday the Sky TV reporter Geoff Reeves was given a blast of the hairdryer treatment as Mourinho accused the channel of getting Michael Essien suspended by repeatedly replaying his tackle on Liverpool's Dietmar Hamann in the group stages.

Fondly imagining that all officials at European football's governing body do all day is sit round watching Sky, he asked Reeves, "Are you going to show that [Asier Del Horno's sending-off for his challenge on Lionel Messi] 200 times each day and try to persuade Uefa to repeat the game? Because the game should be 11 against 11, try to persuade Uefa that [there should be] no suspension for Del Horno.

"Can you do this for us? In the same way that you did with Essien against Liverpool? I hope you can be fair. I hope you can be at the level of prestige that a big channel like Sky is and you can do this for us."

It is not the first time Mourinho has fallen out with TV. Viewers assumed that when he refused to be interviewed by Match of the Day after his side's recent 3-0 defeat against Middlesbrough, he was simply smarting. It later transpired that he was enraged at a newspaper column in which the MOTD pundit Mark Lawrenson described him as lacking the class of Sir Alex or Arsène Wenger. He may lack Sir Alex's class - but not his capacity for fury.

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