Fans also want to be entertained, Mr Mourinho

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The Independent Football

According to newspaper reports and television portrayals, Chelsea's coach Jose Mourinho is an avid collector of technical information. The impression you get is that if Mourinho watches a video it is more likely to be a match than a movie. It would come as no great surprise to discover that scouting reports are piled high at his bedside.

According to newspaper reports and television portrayals, Chelsea's coach Jose Mourinho is an avid collector of technical information. The impression you get is that if Mourinho watches a video it is more likely to be a match than a movie. It would come as no great surprise to discover that scouting reports are piled high at his bedside.

One of Mourinho's favourite words is "methodology". I don't know precisely what this means but I have a pretty good idea. It speaks of attention to detail, motivational skills, organisation and the absolute obedience of his pupils, factors that stood out last season when Mourinho won the European Cup with Porto, a notable achievement but not one to thrill neutral hearts.

Much the same could be said about Chelsea's 1-0 defeat of Manchester United at Stamford Bridge last Sunday. Having taken an early lead they conceded space and possession despite the absence from Sir Alex Ferguson's team of his two main strikers, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Louis Saha, both injured, and Cristiano Ronaldo, who is on Olympic duty. To use a phrase that has crept into the language of football, Mourinho elected to "win ugly".

Since it was the first game of the season and Mourinho was eager to establish a psychological advantage over United, there may have been some justification for his negative thinking, however if it becomes standard procedure some questions are sure to be asked by the club's hugely rich owner Roman Abramovich, who is said to prefer something more attractive for his investment.

One or two Chelsea supporters of my acquaintance were puzzled by Sunday's performance. "Of course it was good to win, especially against United, but there was hardly a moment in the game when our football excited me," one of them said. "Time will tell," he added, "but it will be a big disappointment if Mourinho doesn't accept that we want to be entertained."

My guess is that flair does not figure prominently on Mourinho's list of priorities. The policy he prefers, one that stood out in the Champions' League last season, is one that provides television pundits with plenty of opportunities to display their knowledge and powers of observation. When Chelsea's wide players, Damien Duff and Arjen Robben, return from injury the picture may change, but Mourinho doesn't strike me as an advocate of the adventurous play that has made the Premiership so attractive to sponsors. It was cynically said of Chelsea's caution against Manchester United that Mourinho thinks attack is what you knock into a carpet.

Before the season began it was generally felt that Mourinho's arrival in the Premiership along with Rafael Benitez at Liverpool and Jacques Santini at Tottenham would lead to some interesting developments. Last Saturday Benitez and Santini were in opposition at White Hart Lane. It would have been exceedingly unfair to expect any radical moves on their part, either in formation or the deployment of personnel. Both managers employed a conventional 4-4-2 formation in a game that drew few marks for artistic impression.

Benitez's brief at Anfield is to make Liverpool a more attractive proposition than they were under Gérard Houllier, who eventually came under fierce criticism for failing to provide the sort of football associated with the Liverpool teams that dominated Europe in the 1970s. The unromantic reality of those days is that Liverpool seldom went flat out for victory.

Before the 1977 FA Cup final between Manchester United and Liverpool I sat alongside Bob Paisley at the annual dinner of the Football Writers Association. The Liverpool manager angrily referred to the Football Association's refusal to put forward the date of a possible replay until after the European Cup final against Mönchengladbach.

"In normal circumstances we'd be prepared to play Manchester United over two games, but now we've got to change our system and go for it," he said. Liverpool lost 2-1 at Wembley before going on to win the first of their European Cups.

Illusions come hand in hand with memories. Brian Clough's famous assertion that if football was meant to be played in the air God would have put grass in the sky was always evident, however in winning two European Cups with Nottingham Forest he set out to keep the opposition quiet.

Should Arsenal avoid defeat against Middlesbrough at Highbury on Sunday they will equal Forest's record of 42 unbeaten matches. The big difference is that Arsenal are presently leaders in the field of entertainment. In romping to the Premiership title last season they again vindicated Arsène Wenger's confident refusal to let thoughts about the opposition weigh on his mind.

While on the subject of attacking play, it was interesting recently to read that Marco van Basten's appointment as coach to the Dutch national team was made on the understanding that he will attempt to restore the old attacking glories.

If Mourinho heard about this he probably shrugged and got on with the task of making Chelsea difficult to beat.

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