No way, Jose! Now Mourinho tackles the Middle East crisis

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The Independent Football

With his tactical acumen and inscrutable pitchside manner, Jose Mourinho has transformed Chelsea football club into a team that is the talk of Europe.

With his tactical acumen and inscrutable pitchside manner, Jose Mourinho has transformed Chelsea football club into a team that is the talk of Europe.

And his brooding good looks and impeccable wardrobe may be winning over legions of female fans to the Premiership, which Chelsea lead by 11 points.

But, not content with that, the Portuguese coach will take advantage of a brief break in what promises to be a historic climax to the Blues' season to make his contribution to the Middle East peace process.

On Easter Day, Mourinho will fly to Tel Aviv to take centre stage in a two-day festival of football featuring mixed teams of Palestinians and Israelis, who are expected to be too much in awe of their star guest to worry about the wider conflict. Mourinho will manage one of the teams taking part in a youth game and, as arguably the most highly regarded manager in the world, will offer tactical advice to their coaches.

His visit will culminate in a press conference on Monday where he will be accompanied on the podium by Shimon Peres, the former Israeli prime minister and Labour Party leader, who invited the Chelsea manager.

It will be a meeting with the media like no other for Mourinho, who is expected to address, in his inimitable wry style, the potential of football to resolve conflicts. It will be a refreshing change from the difficulty he faces at Stamford Bridge, where he is on the defensive over a recent outburst against the Swedish referee Anders Frisk who officiated at Chelsea's European Champions' League tie at Barcelona. His remarks became the subject yesterday of disciplinary proceedings brought by Uefa, the governing body of the sport in Europe.

Mourinho announced his Middle Eastern adventure in his column for the Portuguese sports newspaper Record. "It is a different challenge, but one which I could not turn down," he said. "It will be my modest contribution to the strengthening of ties of understanding and friendship between these two sets of people who, like me, desire a peaceful future."

To those involved in the event, the importance of Mourinho's arrival cannot be overstated. The Peres Centre for Peace, which has organised the trip and was, last night, finalising complicated security arrangements, has been inundated with requests for a place in the team from its 700 youth members.

Organisers are at pains to stress that the four sides ­ two adult and two youth teams ­ are a mixture of Israelis and Palestinians. Some of the players come from the Tel Aviv area but others will have to overcome the hurdles of travelling from the West Bank on match day, passing through numerous check points, and returning home after the final whistle to avoid breaking curfews.

Shiri Ourian, a spokeswoman for the organisers, said: "There are a lot of kids who are coming because they are very excited about Mourinho being here. It's difficult for some of them to get to games and Mr Mourinho's presence will validate what they are doing. He's showing support for an initiative for Palestinians and Israelis coming together unrelated to the conflict. It's a case of citizens coming together and having fun. That is a basic quality of conflict resolution."

She seemed unaware of the potential for irony of involving in the peace process one of the Premiership's more controversial managers. "Nobody is saying that this one act will bring lasting peace, but it can't harm relations and certainly can do some good," she said.

Mourinho will hold his masterclass at an indoor football school a few miles from the home of the local semi-professional team Hapoel Tel Aviv. An away game there three seasons ago in the Uefa Cup was boycotted by six Chelsea players who cited safety concerns despite assurances from security services.

Simon Greenberg, Chelsea's director of communications, said Mourinho had been approached about the trip while he was the coach of the Portuguese side Porto, but it had taken until now to find time in his schedule.

"Outside the façade of his professional profile, he is a very, very big family man and it doesn't surprise me that when kids are involved he takes a keen interest," he said of Mourinho, who brought his wife and two children to London after his appointment at Chelsea.


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