The Nick Townsend column: Mourinho tires of hearing his master's voice

Life becomes impossible for the volatile Chelsea manager ashe gives way to Abramovich's desire for a puppet on a string
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The Independent Online

You can imagine the effect back in the Fifties when the announcer at the Louisiana Hayride Show told a teenage audience demanding yet another encore from their hip-thrusting idol: "Elvis has left the building. Thank you and goodnight."

There is an emptiness as a star attraction departs, leaving behind broken hearts and, in the case of Jose Mourinho at Stamford Bridge, fractured relationships. Chelsea promise that in his replacement they have "an experienced man... to help deliver our objectives," yet the reality is that Avram Grant is just a bootleg version of the Portuguese manager, one who neither looks nor sounds the part, let alone boasts the reputation of the man whose exit produced a sub-Princess Diana moment on Thursday morning. Mourinho headlined television news schedules, provoking homages to the great man's footballing prowess as a Special One, while female columnists articulated their unadulterated lust for the Sexual One, who became a king of hearts to some, if something of a knave of clubs to others. Perhaps the only surprise is that no flowers are being placed outside Stamford Bridge.

There was always an inevi-tability about his passing. The only astonishment is that it was so protracted, once Roman Abramovich's dressing-room buddy Andriy Shevchenko (right), Michael Ballack, the youth development director, Frank Arnesen, and finally that modern absurdity, a "director of football", in the shape of Grant, were foisted upon him by the Politburo at the Bridge. Never circumspect in his views about the club's administration, Mourinho was on a constant war footing because of hisbelief that, while being denied the resources he required, galacticos he did not require had been thrust upon him.

While some will depict Abramovich as the victor in this battle of wills, one suspects Mourinho feels by far the more liberated by events. What is intriguing now is where this leaves Chelsea, and an owner who desires that his club should be bestowed with that indefinable quality of "greatness"; a club spoken about worldwide in reverential, covetous tones; one whose team play before a packed stadium witnessing football from the gods, and win.

On Tuesday night, against Rosenborg, none of those qualities was in evidence. It is a long way from here to the two Champions' League titles within10 years that the chief executive, Peter Kenyon, is demanding on Abramovich's behalf. Is it possible that the Mourinho years have served as a period of enlighten-ment for the Russian and his acolytes? Probably not.

According to mythology, Abramovich first fell under football's spell on a night of raw emotion at Old Trafford in April 2003, an occasion on which Real Madrid's Ronaldo completed a memorable hat-trick. The Russian apparently enjoyed the experience so much that, in a neat variation of the late Victor Kiam's purchase of Remington ("I liked the shaver so much I bought the company"), he dec-ided to buy himself an experience just like it. Or sohe believed.

Potential did indeed exist at Chelsea. Some of us recall days when over 60,000 packed into the old Stamford Bridge. Since the 1955 League title there had been a history of cup success, albeit sporadic, notably during the Osgood-Cooke-Hudson era of the early Seventies under Dave Sexton's management, and, more recently, under Ruud Gullit and Gianluca Vialli.

Abramovich immediately wrenched open the taps of excess, like the eager host at a bacchanalian orgy, only in his case it was players, not wine, that poured forth, hired for huge fees and on improbable salaries.

Perhaps, in hindsight, the worst result of this largesse was back-to-back Premier League titles. It confirmed to the Russian oligarch that a vast fortune could, indeed, install him at the pinnacle of the English game. Now Europe domination beckoned too, an end to be achieved with the kind of distinctive panache that Manchester United epitomised.

When it didn't happen, Mourinho, a man who demands full control of his own and his players' destiny, found himself beset by that ominous presence all managers detest: interference. Unwanted galacticos were parachuted in, together with uncalled-for members of staff, including Grant, who, unless he reveals himself a managerial revelation, will surely only become the briefest punctuation mark in Chelsea's 102 year-history. On Friday, Grant spoke of his style being "attacking football; good, positive football as an entertainment", which will surprise many who have witnessed his work to date.

He is already his master's voice, or so it seems, for that is precisely what Abram-ovich desires. His statement brought to mind an incident in the November of Mourinho's first season, immediately after Chelsea had dismantled Fulham 4-1 at Craven Cottage. Fulham's goal was only the fourth in total conceded by a miserly rearguard up until then. In contrast, that same day Arsenal had defeated Spurs5-4 at White Hart Lane.

I asked Mourinho what he thought of that scoreline. The lip curled mockingly. "That is not a proper football score. It is an ice hockey result," he declared, amid much chortling from the scribbling assembly, as he seized the opportunity to lampoon Ars-enal's manager, Arsène Wenger. "We have games of three against three in training, and when it gets to 5-4, I send them to the dressing room and say, 'You are not playing well enough'." There is a certain irony in that three years on it is, in part, a paucity of goals that has been a catalyst in his exit.

So Mourinho departs, wealthy almost beyond belief and blessed with a reputation as a football technician so esteemed that even the occasional preposterous notion from this mischief-maker supreme on a gamut of issues – referees' failings, the conduct of his fellow managers, the efficiency of the Berkshire Ambulance Service (over their treatment of Petr Cech after that horrific injury at Reading) – will not prevent him smoothing his way into just about any job in Europe. Certainly, he was graceless at times, but when did that ever impede the progress of a successful coach?

The Premier League will mourn his passing, and though Mourinho has reportedly accepted temporary exile from the English game as part of his pay-off, one suspects we have not seen the last of his urbane presence. Clubs in Italy (notably Internazionale), his homeland and Spain will beckon, but two English names also come readily to mind: Manchester United (on Sir Alex Ferguson's retirement) and Tottenham Hotspur.

The latter have apparently already approached Mourinho's agent. One suspects that, for all his professed "love" for Chelsea, his pride would relish the challenge of elevating the north London club into Champions' League contenders should Martin Jol suffer a similar fate – if that is the correct phrase –as himself.

Lawrie Sanchez, Mourinho's managerial neighbour at Fulham until Thursday, claims that today, interference within the major clubs is a necessary evil, and men such as Mourinho must "manage the expectations of people above him" as well as those of his players. But would Russia's coach, Guus Hiddink, a man closely linked with Abramovich and mooted as a long-term successor to Mourinho, accept that? Has not Abramovich, during a reign in which Chelsea have been mocked and despised in equal measure, effectively defined the job specification as a virtually impossible one for anyone but a puppet placement?

For all the Russian's desire for revolution, he has failed to appreciate that success has to evolve. It requires patience, and, crucially, calls for power to be devolved properly to the manager. There must exist a positive chemistry, rather than the collision of egotistical atoms it had apparently become at Stamford Bridge.

Those Chelsea followers who brandished a banner proclaiming, "Jose Mourinho: Simply the Best", outside Stamford Bridge, are all too aware that what remains can only be a formula for decline.

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