Mischievous Mourinho flexes his muscles

The Chelsea affair: As 'Special One' puts down an ominous marker, his club and his team must pick up the pieces
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The Independent Online

So, just who's fooling whom? On Friday - 1 April, lest we forget - Bayern Munich revealed on their website that they were to lay out €35m (£24m) on David Beckham. The same day, a Portuguese television station claimed that Jose Mourinho was considering walking out of Chelsea at the end of the season because of his ire over the club's refusal to appeal over his touchline ban.

The Bayern story swiftly turned out to be a hoax by Chelsea's next Champions' League opponents, a typically riotous piece of German humour, and as for the latter, we can assume it was another example of Mourinho's mischief-making, too. Can't we?

Probably. The prospect of the coach taking his ball home in the summer and destroying the empire he has helped create appears unlikely. What is quite conceivable, though, is that he is making known, through what is a friendly media source, his displeasure with the placatory intervention of the Chelsea chairman, Bruce Buck, at Uefa's control and disciplinary panel hearing, which Mourinho is understood to feel undermined his own position.

Mourinho is also restating what he believes is his pre-eminence at Stamford Bridge and effectively serving the club with a warning should similar circumstances arise, as they may well do when the Ashley Cole affair is adjudged.

To most objective obser-vers, Buck's peace commission, allied to Uefa's soft adjudication, appeared to have benefited Chelsea. After all the fusillades of name-calling, Mourinho is grounded for two nights and has his pocket money stopped for a day. It's a laughable penalty, but just about appropriate considering the absurd verbal posturing on both sides.

Quite why there has not, thus far, been a transparency about the charges made against Chelsea and the panel's subsequent judgement is difficult to discern. It is a public matter, and the issues involved should be disclosed.

The assumption is that the catch-all charge of "bringing the game into disrepute" considered by the panel was principally concerned with Mourinho's excoriation of the referee, Anders Frisk, rather than the accusation that the official met with Barcelona's coach, Frank Rijkaard, during half-time of that now infamous game at the Nou Camp.

However, the overall impression left has not been kind to either Chelsea or Uefa. The club's overreaction has made them a target for every malcontent who believes Roman Abramovich's injection of finance is the source of all football evil, as well as those who feel it is time Chelsea had their carpet of arrogance tugged from under them.

Uefa, meanwhile, have managed to reduce themselves still further in the eyes of anyone who cares about issues which should really trouble them. Once the dust has settled, the charges against Chelsea can be perceived as what they are - relative trivialities, certainly compared with the disease of racism, which we thought had been eradicated but was only lying dormant. Much of the fault for that must lie with the messenger. It will be intriguing to learn the fate, if any, of the Uefa director of communications, William Gaillard, whose contributions only served to inflame the situation.

Mourinho, who visited the Wailing Wall on Sunday, but since then has officially maintained his own barrier of silence, apparently insists through his Portuguese media acolytes that he would win an appeal. Chelsea are unlikely to support such a stance, which would fly against all that Buck maintained in a tone of rarely observed humility after the Uefa panel gave their verdict.

Indeed, one would anticipate that the coach would have been rather more exasperated on Thursday with Uefa's world football counterpart, Fifa. Their decision to schedule World Cup qualifiers at this climactic part of the European season has resulted in two of his key performers, Arjen Robben and Paolo Ferreira, being unavailable.

Even Mourinho's ego would not have blinded him to the fact that their absence will be a greater loss than his own enforced withdrawal from team affairs, always assuming that he accepts his punishment, and, more crucially, does so in the spirit it was intended.

There have already been suggestions that Mourinho, who is permitted to view proceedings from the stands, but is not allowed to contact his team in the dressing room, tunnel or technical area before or during the two-game ban, will attempt some covert communication with his team.

It's an intriguing thought that there may be a footballing "Q" already in place to assist to that end when Chelsea host the first leg against Bayern on Wednesday. It may even be that Mourinho believes that, as the anointed one, he is capable of some form of extra-sensory communication with his players from the stands to which he has been banished. Either concept is fanciful.

It did not appear to trouble his players unduly when he was removed from the touchline in the second half of the Carling Cup victory against Liverpool. Those of us of a more cynical nature believe that a manager's or coach's proximity to his players is often principally for the benefit of his own state of mind rather than theirs. The Arsenal manager, Arsène Wenger, has observed in recent days that such a ban is "more frustrating for the manager than it is a handicap to the team. He [Mourinho] can speak to his team in the hotel and he will have people around him to communicate with."

Mourinho's men may not exactly perform on autopilot, but the coach will have them meticulously prepared. By this stage of the season, they are now intuitively familiar with each other's strengths and weaknesses and the tactics their coach espouses. The umbilical cord may have been severed, but there will still be a strong residual mental bond between players and coach, particularly because, in Steve Clarke, Mourinho possesses an admirable No 2.

That said, few would dispute that the Bundesliga leaders will provide an intimidating challenge, as Arsenal discovered in the last round. At Highbury, despite a priority of protecting their first-leg lead, Bayern still enjoyed much possession, and the spectacle of the mercurial but gifted German international Michael Ballack will be no more relished by Chelsea than it was by the Gunners.

But in Europe, as in the Premiership this season, Chelsea have tended to discover renewed resourcefulness whenever it has been required. You suspect that the exclusion of their manager may generate renewed team spirit, not diminish it.

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