Irretrievable breakdown at Stamford Bridge

Evidence is growing that a moneyed marriage may finally have run its course, writes James Lawton
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The Independent Online

Each day brings new evidence that in the end there can be only one solution to the growing crisis of Chelsea. It is the divorce of Roman Abramovich and Jose Mourinho. The marriage, it is becoming increasingly clear, simply isn't working.

Admittedly, the burden of the case is based on the word of Mourinho and some might say you wouldn't go to a small claims court with that. But then there is a mountain of circumstance pointing to an irreversible incompatibility between the Oligarch and the Special One. Reports that the European Cup-winning can-do, can-keep-quiet master coach Guus Hiddink, already an Abramovich hireling, is poised to resign from the Russian national team and fly in from Moscow can only be strengthened by Mourinho's latest assertion that he has lost control of the selection of new players.

This flies against the Chelsea manager's recent claim that the most important acquisitions of the summer, Andrei Shevchenko and Michael Ballack, were his ideas. Mourinho's declaration provoked widespread scepticism. The strong belief is that Abramovich, dismayed by the team's failure in the Champions' League - the prize he covets above all others - struck out on his own for the glamour and celebrity of big-name players who might or might not fit into the balance of Mourinho's team. The theory is that Abramovich wanted more than workhorses, however worthy and however much they disrupted a remarkable team ethos.

One problem is that Mourinho says one thing one day, something else the next - and often contradicts himself in the course of single statement.

In the wake of the latest image breakdown - the scuffling Carling Cup draw with League Two Wycombe - Mourinho claimed that signing policy had been taken out of his hands, but then in the next breath he was suggesting that perhaps the policy is working anyway, with Chelsea's continued presence in all four major competitions.

The reality is that Chelsea are no longer strongly favoured to overhaul Manchester United in the Premiership race and the authority they displayed in a power-laden group victory over the reigning European champions Barcelona seems to dissipate a little more with every game. So surely it is time to review the grounds for divorce? They are powerful on both sides of the lawyers' table.

Abramovich's petition would surely be based on the disappointment of pre-nuptial calculations. What were his hopes for the marriage? Plainly they were that Mourinho, the most upwardly mobile coach in Europe, would be the safe and brilliant hands to carry his ambition of breaking down inherent hostility to the idea of an unprecedented buying of success. Aware of the hostility his huge wealth and lightly charted background would create in the football world, Abramovich needed a team and a coach who could soften the impact of certain success. He wanted a team of charm as well as efficiency. He didn't want to be hated any more than was necessary.

But what did he get? A superbly organised - and motivated - but scarcely thrilling team. Two Premiership titles were gathered in, and that was a deeply impressive performance, but in itself it wasn't enough. Mourinho had vast resources and he was expected to produce something more than mere functionalism. A little spectacle, a little star appeal would have gone a long way at the formative stage of the operation, and we were told officially that it was part of the expectation carried by anyone running the team.

The chief executive, Peter Kenyon, made this clear at the time the popular but accident-prone Claudio Ranieri was being led remorselessly towards the chopping block. According to Kenyon, the club wanted a team that won 5-0 - a team that scored spectacular goals. That was on the record, at the suggestion, you had to suspect, of a voice with a Russian accent. But it was not part of Mourinho's plan. Nor can Abramovich have warmed to the Special One's systematic campaign both to draw attention to himself and create a deepening bitterness towards his style, something which only entrenched the widespread dislike of the club.

Mourinho said that he saw the Barcelona coach, Frank Rijkaard, go into referee Anders Frisk's room at the Nou Camp. He didn't. He said he didn't attend the egregious meeting with Ashley Cole, then contracted to Arsenal, in a London hotel. He did. He said that the Berkshire ambulance service let down his stricken goalkeeper, Petr Cech. They didn't.

Perhaps if Chelsea were flying now, maybe if the football world had to hold up its hands and say that this is a team guided by an inspired coach who was enhancing the game with the kind of football produced over the years by Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsène Wenger, there might be more tolerance of his liberties with the facts. But the Special One looks less special by the day and so the divorce lawyers are almost certainly flicking through the evidence.

If it is true Mourinho has been turned into a football eunuch by Abramovich's policy shift, if he cannot dictate the composition and thus the shape of the team, what chance has he of augmenting his self-awarded Special One status? He walked out on Benfica after a few days because, he explained, the directors were not sympathetic to his plans and his dreams.

What is the difference now? The hard-headed would say a mere £5m a year, but if you are Mourinho, if you believe so profoundly in your own destiny, would you really worry about where the next pay cheque is coming from? No, you would go about your business in the knowledge that no football club could ever succeed after nobbling its greatest asset, a manager of high talent who knew what he was doing. If Abramovich did indeed push through the so far disastrous signing of his friend Shevchenko, where did that truly leave Mourinho? It made him not the Special One but the hired one.

Ultimately, that is always going to be the reality of football, but some hirelings are big enough, self-confident enough, to insist they will do the job only on their terms. That certainly is what Mourinho claimed when he arrived at Stamford Bridge. Now he tells us: "I have seen the players I want but they're not coming in. It's club business." Or maybe decree nisi.

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