The Nick Townsend Column: What a week, but for Chelsea's master of self-belief a less than special one
Sunday 12 March 2006
Catching Jose Mourinho, on the bench, engaging in his full gamut of facial contortions - the wink, the sly smile, the sardonic laugh, the petulant shake of the head, the gesture which says "your decision stinks", the frown, the pursed lips - you could be forgiven for imagining that Tuesday's confrontation at the Nou Camp was less a climactic Champions' League game and more a clip from a best-film contender at the Oscars. Perhaps he had studied his rival in that private contest for world's most handsome man, George Clooney, and been too affected by his role as Senator Joe McCarthy? Because Senhor Jose knows a conspiracy when he sees one, too.
In a week in which Chelsea were removed ignominiously from the Champions' League, have been charged by the FA with failing to control their players during last Saturday's victory at West Bromwich (while the Baggies somehow escaped), and have failed to win an appeal against Arjen Robben's dismissal in the same game, there is a surfeit of suspicion on the part of Mourinho that the world is set against him. And that is before he even considers the response of a media doing handsprings on Chelsea's European grave.
Not much of a season, is it? Just the Premiership title, and maybe the FA Cup will make it a Double. True, there has been elimination from Europe, but by arguably the most talented team in the competition. The curious aspect is that for any other club, including Manchester United and Arsenal, this would be cause for optimism.
However, the construction of Roman's empire has thoroughly altered the context for success. What no one really understands is Abramovich's motivation. Is it really all this billionaire oligarch craves, to sweep all before him with his plaything, like the kid who demands to win because he has brought the game along? Or could it be that he is a realist who thrives on the challenges and comprehends that, contrary to real business, big bucks don't necessarily equate with domination of the European market?
That latter point was made by Frank Lampard, who, though he exchanged shirts with Ronaldinho after the game in a Pele-Bobby Moore type of gesture, looked rather less than the Brazilian's equal. "We hope to do well in Europe, but it's not that simple," the midfielder reflected. "In the last two years, the teams [Porto and Liverpool] who have won the Champions' League haven't been the mega-powers in European football. So, I don't think it's all about that."
What Abramovich cannot have failed to observe is that Chelsea's most effective players on Tuesday were the most "inexpensive" purchases, at least in Stamford Bridge terms. Petr Cech (£7 million), William Gallas (£6.2m), Joe Cole (£6.6m), Frank Lampard (£11m), Eidur Gudjohnsen (£5m) and John Terry (free, from trainee) are all sound investments. You would not jib at Claude Makelele's £16.6m either. But Didier Drogba, who was preferred curiously to Hernan Crespo and then overstayed his welcome well into the second half on Tuesday, appears a £24m extravagance. He is not alone. Damien Duff, at £17m, Ricardo Carvalho (£19.85m) and Paolo Ferreira (£13.2m) also now seem decidedly pricey.
Privately, Mourinho will be acutely aware that his next moves must be more convincing than some of those thus far. Coincidentally, on Tuesday, instead of watching Chelsea on ITV, viewers could have moved to Channel 4 and witnessed chef Gordon Ramsay beat another hapless restaurateur into shape in Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares. It makes you think what a combination of the two programmes might have produced. You suspect Ramsay would have discovered that the main complaints about Jose's fashionable Fulham Road eaterie are that its ingredients are costly, and do not always blend well; the menu lacks inspiration; and the service is churlish. And, at the end, customers are stung with an extraordinarily high bill.
And the answers? Chelsea, for all the virtuosity of Cole and Robben and indeed the momen-tum and goals Lampard brings to the side, are deficient in that performer with the X-factor, a player capable of instilling real fear within the opposition, a Ronaldinho or Thierry Henry, The problem is that such players are almost an endangered species, and neither of that pair would move to the Bridge anyway. Barcelona's Samuel Eto'o, Milan's Andriy Shevchenko and Internazionale's Adriano would be elusive but not impossible targets, and they are of a stature that the Chelsea manager requires.
But what of Mourinho's own future as not only his demeanour but his much-vaunted tactical awareness come under intense scrutiny? Too late, at the Nou Camp, he saw the flaw in deploying Duff in preference to Gudjohnsen, with Robben behind Drogba, although something tells you that his self-belief will remain undiminished.
As for his pre-match mischief, in the classic manner of one of those heroes of an old Western when the farmstead comes under attack, Mourinho was unflinching as he placed his life on the line. "I'll draw their fire" was his message as he offered to take the heat off his players. Nice idea, except that, ultimately, when it came to the shoot-out, Chelsea simply couldn't summon sufficient rifles and ammunition.
In the Old West, that would have cost lives. In the new regime of West London football, it is likely to cost jobs. Those of some of his players. And ultimately, even that of the Special One.
Why it's wrong to play the 'right passport' game
Arsenal are dizzily approaching the European summit as these islands' sole remaining representatives after displaying admirable verve against Real Madrid. Friday's draw, pitting them against Patrick Vieira's Juventus, should not impede their progress. However, many will rue the fact that triumph would be accompanied not by the unfurling of a Union flag, but that of a standard of many colours.
Alan Pardew bemoans the dearth of home-grown talent at Highbury, and elsewhere in the Premiership, claiming: "We are losing the soul of British football."
The Arsenal manager, Arsène Wenger, condemned the West Ham manager's words as bordering on racism. Though that was not Pardew's intention, there is something of the Canute about the West Ham manager's attitude. He feels there should be a home presence in Premiership teams, which sounds suspiciously like a call for tokenism. The inclusion of home-born players may be desirable from an England perspective (let us not forget that Sol Campbell and Ashley Cole would be playing but for injury), but as Wenger argues: "I would never like to say to a player, 'Sorry, you are better, but you are not playing because you do not have the right passport'."
Pardew may also like to consider whether there is any significance in the fact that our other Champions' League teams who do boast several "home" players and embrace what may be described as a more traditional British game have all fallen. The reality is that Arsenal have prospered in Europe playing a free-flowing, swift passing style which does not always flourish here.
Their European rivals have given them the chance to do so. In the Premiership, they are often bullied out of contention. Are we witnessing an increasing divergence of the two cultures? And will a Premiership team ever win both the League title and Champions' League in the foreseeable future?
ANATOMY OF A BARCELONA ICON OF UNRIVALLED SKILL
Blessed with imperious talent, and doesn't he know it. Has lacked discipline in the past, and clashed frequently with Paris St- Germain coach Luis Fernandez, but now assumes responsibility as a "second captain" to Carles Puyol. Needs to feel he is a vital component in a team's success.
Driven by a belief that he can fashion a goal every time he gets the ball. Now encouraged to confine himself to attacking midfield duties, but in early days at Barça carried the whole team at times, defending as far back as his own corner flag. A heartbreaker for Manchester United, preferring Barcelona in a £20m move in 2003.
Exceptional vision and ability to improvise. Keen eye for goal from all ranges and angles. Remarkable awareness of team-mates, and sees something in nothing, like his toe-punted goal against well-marshalled defence at Stamford Bridge in last year's Champions' League quarter-final. Petr Cech barely moved.
Mesmerises opponents with his dribbling, and entrances the Barça supporters. Regards the ball as a friend, not an enemy, and strikes it impeccably. Occasionally too much of the showman with back-flicks but, uncannily, the trickery usually has its effect. Restrict him and you would diminish his powers.
Deceptively powerful upper-body strength, as demonstrated when he left John Terry in his wake in scoring against Chelsea on Tuesday night. Refuses to be intimidated by more physical approach, but knows precisely how to entice a defender into conceding a free-kick when the occasion demands.
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