Memo to Mourinho: Don't adapt, we like you just the way you are

An open letter to Jose Mourinho from James Lawton
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The Independent Online

Dear Jose,

Dear Jose,

First of all, congratulations on achieving your initial objective at Chelsea, winning the trophy, any trophy, which your chief executive Peter Kenyon announced, with all that football wisdom which wells so mystically out of his corporate soul, is the most basic demand on anyone doing your job.

I know the Carling Cup is one of football's least consequential baubles, but you have to start somewhere. Nor is leading the Premiership by six points with a game in hand and needing just a 1-0 home win over one of Europe's most gifted teams to progress in the Champions' League too shabby a portent of future success.

However, I do think you have a problem and I thought I would drop you a line just in case a very important point hasn't yet been made by one of your high-powered press attachés.

You are, quite unnecessarily, blowing the other game we play in England, the one of image and celebrity and always getting in your point and your angle and never giving a damn for any wider benefit to the football business that gives you your rich living and fame.

More alarming than anything you did on the touchline at the Millennium Stadium - certainly the relatively mild gesture to what was reasonably presumed the target of baiting Liverpool fans, which would have been no huge deal in a society where spectators at a football match have not come to be treated with the care and delicacy you might apply to a great vat of nitro-glycerine - was your post-game statement that you were in the process of adapting to the culture of your new country.

For God's sake, don't do it. You were supposed to be a breath of fresh air. You were supposed to go your own extremely impressive way, paying generous tribute to beaten opponents, revealing a healthy and often amusing self-belief, but more than anything letting your team make the most significant statements about your plainly extraordinary ability.

Now, for example, try to imagine the impact of your team's victory on Sunday afternoon without the distraction of your own bizarre performance.

You plainly read most of the weekend papers with their talk of your unravelling ambitions and imploding nature, how you were, quickly enough feeling the pull of gravity after winning just about everything available in Portugal and Europe the previous few years. So what was the greatest possible riposte? It was a performance of composure and character from your team, a mocking statement of authority in the face of charges that the whole Chelsea show was beginning to fall apart.

This duly came, and it was all the more impressive in view of the fact that Liverpool got off to an absolute flyer and then defended so doggedly until 10 minutes from the end. But then what were the dominant images on Sunday night's television newscasts and yesterday's newspapers?

They were not of celebrating Chelsea players getting their hands on a first piece of silverware in five years, something towards which you had guided them - with complete disregard for the ruling convention of selecting the competitions in which you will genuinely try, strictly according to circumstances. No, they were of you going through your latest prima donna routine. It was extremely disappointing, Jose, because, believe it or not in the last few months you have become, at least to some of us bone-weary of self-indulgences and double-speak evasions of so much of English football, something of a symbol of hope for better days in the management and leadership of our national game.

Yes, of course, there were still major reservations about the inordinate power of your club, the way your paymaster, Roman Abramovich, came steaming in with all his profits achieved in a country where neurosurgeons and schoolteachers often have to wait months for their paltry pay-cheques. But you, we could take.

We didn't think you would need lectures from Sir Alex Ferguson on the need for grace in defeat or what bad form it is to try to apply pressure to match referees. Or that your touchline perspective would become as one-eyed as that of your only other serious rival, Arsène Wenger, who after years of looking down the wrong end of the telescope finally noticed last weekend that one of his terminally undisciplined players, the angry young Dutchman Robin van Persie, had once again suffered an appalling breakdown in discipline.

Wenger's sudden rage was terrible to behold as Van Persie trooped off the field, but then only because in the past he has so studiously avoided any reaction.

Jose, some of us thought you might just be cut from rather different material. Of course, you could do arrogance, but then so could other superb coaches we had come to revere here down the years, men like, supremely, Brian Clough, and Malcolm Allison, who adopted Helenio Herrera's style of wearing his expensive overcoat over his shoulders, bought a fedora and smoked the largest Cuban cigars. But both Clough and Allison always knew where their enduring strength lay; it was in the performance and the unity of their team.

Perhaps I have taken too literally, and sweepingly, your statement about adapting to the culture of English football. Maybe you were really strictly referring to the absurd intrusion of policemen into the action of football, who say that they feel obliged to intervene when players use foul language but not when thousands of fans do it as a matter of course - how could they? - and who seem congenitally incapable of swiftly arresting the lunatics who, for example, sent a stream of missiles down on to the pitch during the recent Everton-Manchester United game.

Certainly, I hope that in this narrow sense I have misinterpreted you, but even if I have, there are still enough worrying signs that you have been seduced by some of the English ways of conducting football business.

Your touchline contretemps with Liverpool's Jamie Carragher was in itself rather disturbing for those who believe there is no more honest performer in English football, and could it possibly have been - Sir Alex, we can be sure, would like to know - that you were complaining that he had dived? Your old Porto was obviously full of fine virtues, but any blanket disavowal of the dive did not seem to be among them.

The biggest worry for your admirers is that all those years of unfulfilled yearnings to be a successful player, to be at the centre of the action and your personal universe, are beginning to come to the surface.

Is it really not enough to be seen to be imposing marvellously competitive values on a Chelsea squad which before your arrival couldn't be relied upon to behave with consistent responsibility either on or off the field?

Yes, maybe you were a little bit irritated by early criticisms that you were turning Chelsea into robotic 1-0 winners, something that cannot have pleased Mr Kenyon, who famously urged upon the unfortunate Claudio Ranieri 5-0 victories and thumping long-range goals. But surely, with your introduction of Arjen Robben and Damien Duff as key components, it was accepted soon enough that you had a winning vision which went beyond mere tank trap defence.

The real point is that currently you are making your own problems. You have become the centrepiece of your own show, one which should properly be celebrated for the superb development you have brought to the games of players like Duff, John Terry and Frank Lampard, any of whom would make worthy winners of a footballer of the year award.

Instead, the spotlight is playing relentlessly on your designer stubble and your self-absorbed expression. In the end you will lose those players who have been the most enthusiastic advocates, both in words and deeds, of your merits as a football man. Under your leadership they have gone a long way to destroying the belief that star players will ultimately only to listen to coaches who in their own playing days knew glory on the field. The reality is that no group of men is more insecure than professional footballers. They need a helping hand from someone who can give them what they most crave, confidence and a way to win.

This is a role you have fulfilled magnificently for most of your brilliant coaching career. But that sense of your commitment, and basic football wisdom, is suddenly blurred. Recently you told a bunch of football writers that they shouldn't try to impose their "movie" on your life because you were starring in your own. The truth is, Jose, that has become a lot more than a witty aside. It has become the whole problem. It is time to stop the reel, turn on the lights and get back to what you do best.

Yours in sport, and with considerable admiration,

James Lawton

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