Mourinho imposes deal deadline

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The Independent Football

Jose Mourinho provided yet another compelling example of his single-mindedness yesterday by setting a Wednesday deadline for completing the Chelsea squad he hopes will challenge Arsenal and Manchester United for Premiership and Champions' League honours next season.

Jose Mourinho provided yet another compelling example of his single-mindedness yesterday by setting a Wednesday deadline for completing the Chelsea squad he hopes will challenge Arsenal and Manchester United for Premiership and Champions' League honours next season.

Mourinho is still hopeful of signing Benfica midfielder Tiago and the £24m-rated Marseille striker Didier Drogba, but wants no more distractions once his players leave for their pre-season tour of the United States in the middle of next week, even though the transfer window is open for another month and a half.

"Any new players we want will have to arrive before we go to the United States," he said. "I want to go there and begin preparations for the season with my full squad. Wednesday is the cut-off date for any new signings. I want the same group."

In stark contrast to the regime of "The Tinkerman", otherwise known as Claudio Ranieri, Mourinho oozes decisiveness and Chelsea's public relations machine, which was virtually non-existent last season, has been cranked into overdrive as a result.

He may not be everyone's cup of tea; indeed, if prizes were awarded for talking a good game, he would have won the Premiership title before a ball had even been kicked. But there is something refreshingly direct about the way he speaks his mind without resorting to clichés and platitudes.

Yesterday, instead of asking the public to wait and see, he was happy to name the entire starting 11 for today's warm-up game at Oxford, the first time he has sent his Chelsea team out to play, albeit in a friendly.

The side, without most of Chelsea's Euro 2004 participants, comprises the new, the young, the inexperienced and the already established, perhaps the most notable inclusion being the Serbian striker Mateja Kezman, Chelsea's latest major signing. "He's arrived with a lot of motivation," said Mourinho. Another starter today is Joe Cole, who has endured a frustrating time with both club and country but who, according to Mourinho, could play a prominent role in midfield in the forthcoming season.

"Joe has returned early from his holiday to work, which is not normal for most players," he said. "For a month he's been reading about new players possibly being signed in his position but I told him before Euro 2004 that I like his qualities and hopefully he realises I trust him. Maybe good things will happen for him this season."

The admiration is clearly mutual. Cole admits he has a difficult summer but is raring to go. "I've virtually sat and watched two tournaments from the bench and obviously I feel I could have made an impact if I'd been given the chance, especially in Portugal," he said, after being ignored, perhaps surprisingly, by Sven Goran Eriksson at Euro 2004.

"I don't seem to have been given the trust to have a run in the team but I'm really looking forward to the new season and, hopefully, winning trophies with Chelsea," he continued. "Obviously it would have been nice if I had played more last season, because I felt my performances warranted it. It's nice to have a manager who trusts you and I'd like to repay him."

Mourinho was quick to play down the importance of today's friendly, which understandably has generated considerable interest. "I look at it more as our 21st training session rather than an actual game," he said. "I want the players to use the occasion to improve their individual condition. I don't want the fans to be too worried about the result."

Having hardly had time to catch his breath since leaving Porto, Mourinho looks and admits to being tired as he juggles all the entrances and exits to and from Stamford Bridge as well as setting up home with his family.

Why, he was asked, did Hernan Crespo have to be loaned out to Milan? Not for the first time, he had a veiled dig at his predecessor for failing to motivate some of Chelsea's big-name players.

"Ask Mr Ranieri why big players like Crespo and Veron did not have enough success at Chelsea," he said. "The problem started because the players were not happy and I don't like to work with people who are not happy."

Mourinho suggested that Crespo should never have been signed in the first place. "He was not really well-adapted to the British way, either in football terms or socially. He told me he preferred to play in Italy so my door was open. But we were very open with each other and I wish him all the luck. If things go well for him, it's good for everyone because either he returns or we sell him and get our money back."

Today's team at Oxford: Cuducini; Johnson, Watts, Huth, Babayaro; Geremi, Smertin, Parker, Cole; Kezman, Gudjohnsson.

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