Mourinho ignores friendly talk to keep up war of words

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The Independent Football

A new season and, for Jose Mourinho, two new challenges. And one increasingly familiar enemy. The challenges were clearly laid out yesterday - preparing a team to defend their Premiership crown and have a tilt at the Champions' League with what he calculated as only 20 training sessions behind them and, deliciously, trying to hold on to the increasingly rebellious William Gallas.

The defender, who turns 29 next week and surely cannot expect a card from his manager who continues to exclude him from the first team after his late return from the World Cup, will, Mourinho said, not be sold. "Of course I will keep him here," he said when asked about whether he would agree to Gallas' long drawn-out wishes.

But that goes against what he has constantly said about never wanting to stand in the way of an unhappy player? "No," Mourinho acknowledged. "But I'm always looking for different challenges. I never had a pre-season of 15 days and I'm having that. It's a big, big challenge for me. So to have an unhappy player is a new experience for me."

He maintained that Chelsea are yet to receive an offer for Gallas who, with one year left on his contract, is desperate to leave for either Spain or Italy and has no intention of signing the new five-year deal that his present club are offering. There is, it was also clear yesterday, little point in Liverpool's Rafael Benitez bidding, even if he wanted to.

There is no love lost between the Portuguese and the Spaniard who, of course, face each other in tomorrow's Community Shield in Cardiff. Except don't say it that way. For Mourinho it is Benitez who has the problem - not him.

"Between Rafael and me?" Mourinho said, turning on the phraseology used by his questioner. "Not between me and Rafael Benitez. When somebody speaks against somebody, it's not vice versa. I know my face is not always a very nice face. I'm aggressive and so on, but don't make always me the bad boy. Maybe he has a problem with me, but I don't have a problem."

It was spicy stuff from the Special One and, although he was in a playful mood, there was also an edge to his comments. The tension between him and Benitez has grown since Liverpool controversially overcame Chelsea in the semi-finals of the Champions' League two seasons ago. Mourinho said there had always been healthy competition between the two sets of players - glossing over Michael Essien's tackle on Didi Hamann and Arjen Robben's theatrics at the hands of Jose Reina - but he did not pretend it was the same with the managers. It is a familiar Mourinho tactic, as Arsène Wenger will testify. Targeting Benitez is a compliment. He regards Liverpool as a threat.

Do the two managers speak? "Depends on the game. I cannot say every game," Mourinho said. "But I don't think it's that important. Important is, especially for the fans, 90 minutes. Football is not about the relations between managers, it is about the quality of the 90 minutes."

That is something else he has questioned with regards to Liverpool, accusing them of negative football and dismissing them from being candidates to win the League. He softened on that a little yesterday and also reduced the significance of tomorrow's meeting to that of just another pre-season preparation.

"We will try to win but I have a season," Mourinho said. "I have a season with major competitions, with cups in England, with Champions' League, Premiership. I'm preparing a team for that. I'm not preparing a team to win the game. I will prepare it in a different way. Last season when we played Arsenal we were with a month of pre-season. The season before we didn't play."

Mourinho estimates that, with 15 players who were at the World Cup, his squad are only half-ready for the new season which gave him the opportunity of another barb at Benitez. "We aren't stupid enough to think the result in the Community Shield can affect things in a positive or negative way," he said. "Their [Liverpool's] future is to beat Maccabi Haifa [in the Champions' League] and start the Premiership very strong. Of course, they want to win the Community Shield and we want the same.

"But I don't think this game will affect them unless they feel that they are in a much better condition than Chelsea and they have to win. And if they lose against a 50 per cent Chelsea maybe that will affect their confidence."

To be fair to Mourinho, it is the most curious start to the season. Time is severely limited. Both Liverpool and Arsenal will have played competitive games before the Premiership starts while Manchester United have had a far fuller programme of warm-up matches. And then next week there is a series of international friendlies which will leave Mourinho with just two goalkeepers, Carlo Cudicini and Hilario, and the new, young midfielder John Obi Mikel before the rest of his squad return on Thursday.

It may, despite his protestations, mean there will be a greater bite to tomorrow's proceedings. He will certainly field his strongest line-up. "I would love to play this game, for example, in two weeks' time with every player in top condition," Mourinho said. "But we will play the game in the maximum of our capacities. Our capacity is not 100 per cent at this moment but we will give them maximum we can."

A sense of community: How the big guns fare in traditional curtain raiser

By Stephen Attree

* 2005
Chelsea 2 Drogba 8, 57 Arsenal 1 Fabregas 65
Didier Drogba's brace gave Arsène Wenger an early-season headache as his defence struggled with direct, physical football.

* 2004
Arsenal 3 Gilberto 49, Reyes 59, Silvestre og 79
Man Utd 1 Smith 55
Jose Antonio Reyes starred in an Arsenal performance of pace and skill, scoring one, creating another, frightening United's defence throughout.

* 2003
Man Utd 1 Silvestre 15
Arsenal 1 Henry 20
United won 4-3 on pens. A highly competitive affair, in which Francis Jeffers was sent off. Tim Howard atoned for his slow reaction to Thierry Henry's free-kick with two penalty saves.

* 2002
Arsenal 1 Gilberto 69
Liverpool 0
Jerzy Dudek was outstanding but the half-time substitute Gilberto Silva stroked Dennis Bergkamp's cut-back through the keeper's legs to mark his debut with a goal.

* 2001
Liverpool 2 McAllister pen 2, Owen 16
Man Utd 1 Van Nistelrooy 51
Liverpool had their keeper, Sander Westerveld, to thank for restricting United to one goal.