Chelsea in the Roman era - courting trouble

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The Independent Online

Champions they may be, but Chelsea are not top of the popularity poll. Nor do they seem to be worried about it.

Champions they may be, but Chelsea are not top of the popularity poll. Nor do they seem to be worried about it.

Tottenham's claim that Chelsea made an illegal approach for their sporting director, Frank Arnesen, will have reinforced the fears of those who thought that the Stamford Bridge club would consider themselves untouchable because of the vast wealth put behind them by their billionaire owner, Roman Abramovich. After all, it was only three days earlier that Chelsea were fined £300,000 and handed a suspended three-point deduction for "tapping-up" the Arsenal full-back Ashley Cole.

Chelsea's remarkably successful season, in which they became champions for the first time in 50 years by 12 points and won the Carling Cup, has been punctuated by problems off the field.

All was well until Christmas, with Chelsea's confident and outspoken manager, Jose Mourinho, regarded by some as a breath of fresh air, who spoke his mind, telling things the way he saw them. He began to glory in his notoriety and he was happy to go along with the idea that English football had never seen anyone like him before.

It had, several times; the novelty if there was one was that he was a foreign coach. There have been plenty of managers who have spoken their mind, such as Sir Alex Ferguson and Neil Warnock, and they had tended to run into trouble for it.

From the new year, so did Mourinho and Chelsea. The initial incident that tarnished the Chelsea image was an outburst by Mourinho after Chelsea had been held to a 0-0 draw at home by Manchester United in the first leg of their Carling Cup semi-final.

Unhappy at a number of decisions made during the second half, the Portuguese intimated that the referee, Neale Barry, had been intimidated by Ferguson at half-time. He said: "From what I saw, what I heard at half-time, I understand a few things now. Maybe when I am 60 and I have been in the same league for 20 years and everybody respects me a bit... maybe then I will have the power to speak and people will tremble a little bit."

He did not criticise Barry, but said: "He's a normal man, but with a little bit of pressure and a few clever words you can change the way he thinks." The result of that outburst was a £5,000 fine from the Football Association for improper conduct.

Similarly Mourinho, his assistant Steve Clarke and the security official Les Miles suggested that Barcelona's coach, Frank Rijkaard, tried to influence the Swedish referee Anders Frisk during half-time in the away leg of their Champions' League tie in February. Mourinho collected a two-match touchline ban and was fined nearly £9,000 by Uefa's control and disciplinary body for making "wrong and unfounded" statements that Frisk had met Rijkaard in his dressing room during the interval. Frisk retired after receiving death threats from Chelsea extremists following the allegations. Chelsea were fined £33,000.

Mourinho was "reminded of his responsibilities" by the FA after raising a finger to his lips in a silencing gesture towards Liverpool fans during the Carling Cup final. The Portuguese claimed the gesture was directed at the media at the Millennium Stadium.

Thereafter, it was Peter Kenyon, the club's chief exec-utive, who steered Chelsea into murky waters thanks to a couple of unfortunate meetings. First there was what Chelsea described as a "chance meeting" between Kenyon and the Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand at the London restaurant Carpaccio, which was made public. The agent Pini Zahavi just happened to be there as well.

The England man and Kenyon were seen together again at another London restaurant on the same evening, but Chelsea were adamant they had no interest in signing the player, who remains in contract negotiations with United.

And last week Chelsea were punished by the Premier League over the Cole affair. Mourinho was fined £200,000 for his part in a meeting between club and player at a London hotel in January.

The inquiry commission revealed they did not believe Mourinho and Kenyon had attended that meeting, along with Cole's agent, Jonathan Barnett, and Zahavi, just to hear what Cole had to say, and decided Chelsea's actions constituted an illegal approach.

In all cases since the Barcelona incident Chelsea have pleaded their innocence, steadfastly denying that they had done anything wrong. There is a growing view, though, that Chelsea run things close in the conviction that they are untouchable.

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