Leave the football to me, says under-fire Mourinho

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The Independent Online

There was no thaw in Chelsea's cold war yesterday when Jose Mourinho gave his strongest warning yet that he will not tolerate any interference in the way he runs the team, even from the club's billionaire owner, Roman Abramovich. And as Mourinho exerted his authority, Sir Alex Ferguson did his best to keep the Chelsea dispute simmering with his own view that "Andrei Shevchenko seems to be at the core of it".

As the Premiership approaches a crucial weekend of games, Chelsea's trip to Anfield tomorrow again found itself edged off the agenda as the club's politics took centre stage. Appropriately, Mourinho was speaking at an event in Parliament to launch his club's partnership with the children's charity Right To Play, and the Chelsea manager spelled out his vision of a team run along the lines of his own absolute rule.

At the heart of Mourinho's strife with the Abramovich ruling entourage over the last few weeks has been the suggestion that the Israeli coach Avram Grant will be brought in without the manager's blessing to mentor Shevchenko. The form of Chelsea's struggling £31m striker has been the cause of Abramovich's concerns and yesterday Mourinho made it quite clear that he would not need the help of anyone beyond his tight circle of coaches.

With suggestions that the only Englishman on his staff, Steve Clarke, may be a casualty if Grant comes in, Mourinho launched a strident defence of his own autonomy. "The coaching staff is my responsibility," he said. "I choose my assistants. If I am not happy with my assistants, I tell the club to sack them or to change them. But my coaching staff is my responsibility. That's a fact. It's not a quote, it's a fact."

On the executive side of the club, Peter Kenyon, the Chelsea chief executive, was adamant that Abramovich and the club's board were "categorically" supportive of their volatile manager.

In the cloud of claim and denial that surrounds Chelsea, the fact that Mourinho was even at an event to promote the club's corporate image suggests that the truce between the two factions is holding for now. There was a new, unexpected contributor to the debate yesterday when Ferguson waded in with his own opinions in an interview with the League Managers' Association's website. The United manager lambasted the media's speculation around Chelsea and then added some of his own. "Whatever has happened, the situation with Shevchenko seems to be at the core of it," he said. "But you don't really know."

The start of the Premiership title race mind games? Ferguson, whose side lead by six points and face Arsenal on Sunday, also advanced the improbable theory that Chelsea had become so unpopular even Liverpool fans wanted United to win the title. "Even Liverpool fans are saying to me 'I hope you win the League', which is amazing," he said. "Liverpool supporters will always recognise good football teams and we are playing good football."

With no new progress on his search for a central defender, Mourinho said it was not only in the transfer market that the club could show their support for their manager. "Being supportive is not just about giving you money to spend, it's more than that," he said. "Money is the least part you need. If he supports me he supports the team and the team is completely with me. I repeat what I told you. I love Chelsea, I love the Premiership. If I was to make a change, I wouldn't make a change to a better league or to a club where I like people more than the people I have here. I like everything in the club [and] in the Premiership."

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