James Lawton: Cheering for Red corner is only natural in the face of Mourinho's mighty empire

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The Independent Football

For a little while last spring it seemed possible - if you didn't think too deeply about it - that Jose Mourinho might be heading for Liverpool rather than Chelsea. What a beautiful wedding that might have been, the man of the moment linking with the English club most faithful to the true meaning of football as part of the community.

Mourinho, briefly, raised a little hope at Anfield. He said how impressed he was with the way the club was run.

The comment permitted only one interpretation. It was that he had noted the treatment of his fellow worker, Claudio Ranieri, at Stamford Bridge; how Ranieri had been deeply humiliated, advised on the requirements of his job by no less a football seer than the club's chief executive - and the shamelessly public suitor of the contracted England coach, Sven Goran Eriksson - Peter Kenyon.

His recommendation to the harassed Ranieri was to crown 5-0 winning performances with spectacular long-range goals. Maybe Mourinho had also picked up on the sharply contrasting humanity shown to struggling managers by Liverpool, how they had heaped resources and tolerance on Gérard Houllier.

Sure, it was an illusion. When you have the oil rights of Russia, and the favour of its government, in your back pocket, buying up a single football coach was never going to be the toughest challenge ever faced by Roman Abramovich. Of course, the Special One signed with the Richest One. So it goes. But then the miracle of football, why it has the nation so rapt tonight for the second leg of the Champions' League semi-final at Anfield, is that sometimes it rears up and smacks the face of wealth and presumption.

This, potentially, has nothing to do with the arguments of those who say, most pathetically at Old Trafford and Highbury, that Chelsea have simply bought themselves the Premiership and the League Cup and a place in the penultimate stage of the Champions' League, a pinnacle that for them, during most of the last 50 years, might have been located amid the mountains of the moon.

Without the intelligence, the drive and the sheer toughness of Mourinho the prize might still be as far away as ever. When Abramovich first flooded Stamford Bridge with roubles, the prevailing argument was that money doesn't buy you success. Ranieri had as much sympathy as envy when he tackled the challenge of melding a hugely expanded and ego-heavy squad. Now that Mourinho has pulled it off superbly, we revert to arguments about the unstoppable force of Chelsea's wealth. But here we are wrong again. If Chelsea's progress was so inevitable, why was Mourinho a shadow of himself at Stamford Bridge last week when Liverpool came to play? It was because Arjen Robben, the player who transformed his season, who carried his team to unanswerable levels of performance in mid-season, had told him that he didn't trust his injury enough to start the game.

This wasn't the whinge of a non-trier. This was a statement of conscience by one of the most outstanding, and mature, young pros in the game. Mourinho was aghast because, with Damien Duff also missing, he knew that his ability to penetrate the red line organised so magnificently by Jamie Carragher was dramatically reduced. And so it proved. Chelsea without the outlet of Robben or Duff, were reduced, not for the first time, to long-ball football. By the end Sami Hyypia had gratefully joined Carragher in giant status.

It means that while Chelsea remain favourites tonight, Liverpool's wine glass is far from empty. It was their good luck that in the void left by Mourinho's decision to join Chelsea, Rafael Benitez said yes. Benitez has put some good Rioja into the Anfield wineglass, and if it is the one to be savoured in celebration tonight, there may, who knows, be some reflection that part of the reason was that in the end the glass of Abramovich and Mourinho had overflowed to damaging effect.

Experienced Steven Gerrard-watchers suspect they may have seen a new element in the England player's reaction to his stunning goal against Middlesbrough on the weekend. They suspect his joy was utterly authentic; that he had finally stepped back over the line which had all season separated him from his Liverpool roots and marked out a new future with Chelsea. Reports that Mourinho has finally rejected the plan to spend £30m on Gerrard, and the player had cancelled plans to buy a house in London, suddenly acquired formidable circumstantial evidence

Could it be that Gerrard will no longer say that his future depends on Liverpool's ability to suggest they are capable of winning major trophies? Is he again at the heart of that ambition? If he is indeed, it surely is major compensation for the absence of Xabi Alonso, caused so despicably by Eidur Gudjohnsen's antics at Stamford Bridge - which incidentally, were, predictably enough, not accompanied by cluckings of, "cheat, cheat, cheat" from Senhor Mourinho.

So here is an extra and delicious irony thrown into the emotional maelstrom of Anfield tonight. It is the possibility of an inflamed Gerrard, after being turned away from Chelsea's circle of wealth, finding the best of his extraordinary talent.

There have been many persuasive arguments recently about why the bulk of the nation will be in the red corner tonight. The less convincing of them have been bedded in the flinty ground of envy; we cannot change the nature of the world in a football stadium, and it is wasteful, particularly for a club like Manchester United, not to recognise the superiority of Chelsea's glowing work ethic this season. However, we are entitled to say that too much power, too much wealth, in one corner of any competitive world has to be unhealthy.

Mourinho, as was his right by achievement, a year ago decided to go with the wealth and the power. He chose to deliver the dream of Abramovich wrapped in blue ribbon. We all have choices, and the most attractive tonight is surely dressed in red.