Mourinho criticism unworthy of Cruyff

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The Independent Football

No doubt it has always been true. The heaviest criticism of natural-born winners tends to come from losers, but this only partly explains the torrent of opprobrium now falling on the head of Jose Mourinho. How, for example, can anyone explain the ferocious criticism of the Chelsea manager that has been spewing from the lips of Johan Cruyff?

No doubt it has always been true. The heaviest criticism of natural-born winners tends to come from losers, but this only partly explains the torrent of opprobrium now falling on the head of Jose Mourinho. How, for example, can anyone explain the ferocious criticism of the Chelsea manager that has been spewing from the lips of Johan Cruyff?

Frankly, it's a struggle of mystifying proportions. Listening to Cruyff you would think Mourinho is inventing a new stone age of football rather than merely organising brilliant defence and an attack featuring Damien Duff, Arjen Robben and Didier Drogba that has outscored every Premiership rival except Arsenal.

Cruyff's credentials as an arbiter of good football are of course luminous. A mere mention of his name is enough for those privileged to have seen him play experience a frisson of memory, the kind of lifting of the spirit that comes when the sun peeks through the clouds.

Once, when a referee sent him off at the Nou Camp, the crowd surged on to the field in protest and then later made a bonfire of some television vans. But that seemed rather like ancient history when the great man poured forth his bile. Mourinho's football, he said, made him loathe the game.

Why would the man known as the Golden Dutchman in Barcelona for the last 30-odd years make such an extreme statement; surely not merely because his beloved Barça are at some risk in the Champions' League at Stamford Bridge tonight? And why would he also lump into the firing line the European champions, Greece, and their brilliantly resilient German coach, Otto Rehhagel?

What did the Greeks do in Portugal last summer to so offend Cruyff, other than play to their very limits and expose, cruelly at times, the top nations? Surely a better target for Cruyff would have been the pathetic meanderings of his own Dutch team, whose coach, Dick Advocaat, came up with the soaring master plan of pulling off Robben after he had inspired an almost instant 2-0 lead over the impressive Czechs. Result, Netherlands 2, Czech Republic 3.

This, hard though it is to believe, is Cruyff on Mourinho's staggering rise to the mountain top of coaching, "At half-time [when Chelsea led Barça 1-0 before having Drogba so dubiously dismissed] I heard how some people were pointing out Chelsea's great defensive organisation. So you spend millions and millions of euros to make your team a defensive rock and hope that a moment of quality up front will end up giving you a win. What do we want ... results above all else ... clinging to the idea that the ends always justify the means?"

And then, atop this great pile of platitudes, comes Cruyff's logical pièce de résistance. "Mourinho's own public will end up bored with it."

Absolutely, Johan, but how long do you suggest it will take? Maybe a thousand years? One reason we can't simply consign Cruyff's argument to football's ever-growing mound of failed logic, is that for obvious reasons he is a man who still wields vast influence. In Barcelona he has elected himself as the great club's conscience. Back in Amsterdam a whiff of Cruyff disapproval can be very bad news indeed for an aspiring football man. Unfortunately, too, there is a consistent thread of bitterness in Cruyff's reading of football development, which is odd in that few men seem less qualified for angst.

True, he suffered bitter disappointment when his thrilling Dutch team failed to win the World Cup of 1974, choosing to put humiliation of their bitter rivals, Germany, before a measured march to the trophy their virtuosity had long demanded. But then few would exclude him from the top five of players who have graced the game - and, in 1992, his elegant and much respected Barça team rolled smoothly to the European Cup. It means that we are forced to speculate a little on the grounds of his antipathy towards Mourinho. Maybe it is simply that old distaste of great players for coaches whose own achievements on the field have been so slight. Perhaps he believes, and not in total solitude, that Mourinho's self-regard has reached insufferable levels.

However, even legends have certain responsibilities. One of them is to correctly identify those who are warping the spirit of the game. Mourinho, let's be very sure about this, is, for the time being at least, simply not guilty.

In Porto his work was stunning. Defence was a priority, no doubt, but no team has had significant success without it. Look at the free-fall of Real Madrid since they abandoned this basic principle. Why have Arsenal fallen back so dismayingly? Why do Manchester United enter San Siro with such foreboding tomorrow night? Because of weakness in defence.

In Porto Mourinho had the craftsman Deco as his most important player. At Chelsea he has brought on Frank Lampard as a driving midfielder quite as dramatically as he has developed the defensive certainty of John Terry; under him, Robben and Duff have become two of Europe's best forwards.

On the day of his greatest test as Chelsea manager fair play insists that these not inconsiderable matters should be placed on the record.

Mourinho may have invited criticism recently, but perhaps we should take a broader look at his meaning as a football man. When we do that, Cruyff's charges are sadly demeaning. They are also utterly daft.

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