Mourinho waits in wings for Chelsea to take place in history

Chelsea 3 - Fulham 1
Click to follow
The Independent Online

As befits the man who has been ordained to take the place at the head of English football as early, possibly, as this evening, Jose Mourinho found himself surrounded by the adoring courtiers of Stamford Bridge on Saturday afternoon. In the tunnel, Gérard Houllier waited patiently for a chat, members of Chelsea's 1955 championship side looked on intrigued and there was a word of congratulations from a fellow countryman.

As befits the man who has been ordained to take the place at the head of English football as early, possibly, as this evening, Jose Mourinho found himself surrounded by the adoring courtiers of Stamford Bridge on Saturday afternoon. In the tunnel, Gérard Houllier waited patiently for a chat, members of Chelsea's 1955 championship side looked on intrigued and there was a word of congratulations from a fellow countryman.

For the benefit of the Chelsea manager, Luis Boa Morte translated the last desperate chant that the Fulham support had directed at the home dug-out, a song that accused Mourinho of being guilty of a crime more often committed by the wives of footballers: sporting a fake tan. With his domination of the Premiership all but complete, his side supreme, there was simply nothing more cutting an envious band of fans from across west London could throw at Mourinho.

That was all the joking there would be on a sunny afternoon at Stamford Bridge at the end of which Mourinho's team behaved as if they had won the title already. Failure by Arsenal to beat Tottenham tonight and the trophy will leave Highbury for Chelsea as soon as the postage and packaging are paid.

Despite a second-half revival that competed with some of the best under Mourinho, the reports from the dressing-room were that this was not the most inventive half-time talk their young manager had delivered. Faced with a side that was playing its 53rd game of the season on exhaustion and nerves alone, Eidur Gudjohnsen said that Mourinho had left the manner of victory up to his players. "Basically, what he said at half-time was, 'I don't care how you do it; just win the game'."

That Mourinho was able to introduce Arjen Robben at half-time would suggest that his laissez-faire approach did not quite leave his players to plot their own course. The Dutch winger was breathtaking, raiding down the left flank, slipping the ball between the legs of Moritz Volz in the time-honoured tradition of full-back humiliation before picking out Frank Lampard for the second. How Rafael Benitez deals with Robben's threat on Wednesday will be crucial if Liverpool are to keep the second leg of the Champions' League semi-final competitive.

After Mourinho's pronouncement on Friday that he would be retreating into the shadows to allow his team to bask in their achievement, he must have felt that he owed himself one more scene-stealing performance before the trophy was handed over. It was his preference, Mourinho said, that Arsenal would beat Tottenham and Chelsea would have the chance to win the title themselves at Bolton on Saturday.

Expressing himself, as usual, without any ambiguity or acknowledgement of the eccentricity of what he was saying, Mourinho said that he feared winning the title in absentia would mean his team could allow themselves to lose against Bolton. But he also bemoaned the demands of a season that had not given him the freedom he had enjoyed through Porto's Champions' League success last season.

"Before we played Deportivo in the semi-final last year, the previous game in the Portuguese league I picked not six or seven different players but 11," Mourinho said.

There will be no injury problem hanging over Joe Cole for Wednesday's game after the England midfielder was substituted at half-time. He turned and struck a superb shot past Edwin van der Sar on 17 minutes after Volz's mistake had presented Didier Drogba with the ball. Fulham's resistance lasted past half-time after Boa Morte's through ball found Collins John, who poked the ball in after Ricardo Carvalho inexplicably failed to make a tackle.

Mourinho may not have done much more than remind his players of the importance of the occasion but they responded with Lampard's goal on 64 minutes and a neat finish by Gudjohnsen with three minutes left.

The old men of 1955 represent a proud episode for Chelsea but those kind of sepia memories can also impose a burden of expectation that needs to be shifted eventually. On the 50th anniversary of the first Chelsea title, Mourinho reminded his team of the new century that they have an opportunity to move the club's history on at last.

"To win the championship after 50 years is very big," Mourinho said. "After 50 years the fans have not forgotten and they will not forget this year either. Whether it is the players, the staff, the managers, whoever. Roy Bentley is rightly remembered as the captain of that team and so too will John Terry this time. Nobody forgets their names."

Goals: Cole (17) 1-0; John (41) 1-1; Lampard (64) 2-1; Gudjohnsen (87) 3-1.

Chelsea (4-1-4-1): Cech; Johnson, Carvalho, Terry, Huth (Jarosik, h-t); Makelele; Cole (Robben, h-t), Lampard, Gudjohnsen, Duff; Drogba (Tiago 74). Substitutes not used: Cudicini (gk), Kezman.

Fulham (4-4-2): Van der Sar; Volz, Knight,

Goma, Rosenior; Radzinski, Pembridge (Malbranque, 84), Clark, Boa Morte; John, McBride. Substitutes not used: Crossley (gk), Bocanegra, Jensen, Rehman.

Referee: A Wiley (Staffordshire).

Booked: Chelsea Terry; Fulham John.

Man of the match: Lampard.

Attendance: 42,081.

¿ Chelsea are today expected to claim to have signed the most lucrative shirt sponsorship deal in football history when they reveal their new £10m-a-year partners, believed to be Siemens or Samsung.

Comments