Outbursts of immaturity threaten magnificent creation

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The Independent Online

If you were looking for a perfect representation of modern football, if you wanted a fury of competitive brilliance and a beautiful balance between the value of exquisite skill (Ronaldinho) and superbly realised teamwork (Chelsea), you would have frozen Tuesday's action.

If you were looking for a perfect representation of modern football, if you wanted a fury of competitive brilliance and a beautiful balance between the value of exquisite skill (Ronaldinho) and superbly realised teamwork (Chelsea), you would have frozen Tuesday's action.

You would have done it precisely at the moment the great Italian referee Pierluigi Collina blew for the end of the game

You would have done it then because never again would you have wanted to see one of Jose Mourinho's underlings when he spat out what were alleged to be cheaply vindictive insults at the Barcelona bench, or hear the marvellously focused African striker Samuel Eto'o complaining that a bully-boy Chelsea steward had taunted him with the cry of "monkey".

Nor did you want to see any more histrionics from the architect of the glory, Mourinho, dancing on the field and kissing off the pain of Barcelona.

Mourinho blighted his finest moment since his sensational takeover of Chelsea and English football. It should have been enough simply to savour the degree of his achievement, and if there was any doubt about that it was confirmed by his beaten rival Frank Rijkaard, who had to be hustled down the tunnel, so outraged was he by the provocation directed at his bench. Rijkaard said that his pain was so acute because his team, given the chance to make a great "statement" at Stamford Bridge, had failed.

That statement, one of thundering ambition, had come from Mourinho. It was his declaration of his football values and it was magnificently translated by his players. That should have been enough for Mourinho, and later you did have a sense that he might just have understood this when he spoke generously of the quality of Barcelona's team. So why another burst of self-advertisement, why the latest immature playing to the gallery? It is a problem he needs to address at some speed if he doesn't want his extraordinary work, and that of his players, to be deflected and compromised.

This was the night when true power in English football passed quite formally from Old Trafford and Highbury to Stamford Bridge. In much less than a year Mourinho has stamped himself indelibly on a place which was awash with wealth but desperately in need of direction. Now among other charges will be the one that Mourinho has simply inherited success, that Chelsea were an empire waiting to happen.

It sounds easy when you say it like that. But of course it isn't so. So much of Italian football, and for the last two years that of the galactico club itself, Real Madrid, have provided evidence that a huge wage bill is no guarantee of success.

Are Damien Duff, John Terry, Frank Lampard and Joe Cole, Tuesday's revelation, any less affluent since the arrival of Mourinho? Of course not. But see the difference in their play. See the work-rate of Lampard and Duff. See the sheer self-belief. See Cole finally getting hold of his ability and making some real progress.

It is also true that Manchester United were not cobbled together in a pawn shop: Wayne Rooney, Rio Ferdinand, Cristiano Ronaldo, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Louis Saha and Alan Smith gave no change from £100m, and who could argue too strenuously with Mourinho when he asked, after Arsène Wenger had pleaded poverty, "was Jose Antonio Reyes a gift, did he find Thierry Henry on a Christmas tree?"

With the Carling Cup gathered in, with the most talented team in Europe ejected from the Champions' League, with the Premiership all but his, Mourinho is in search of one last dimension. He needs to acquire, along with his potential for charm and psychological intrigue, a touch of genuine style.

At the height of his success at Manchester United, Sir Matt Busby once walked, beautifully suited, out to the old training pitch and watched one young player briefly get above himself. Busby strode on the field, looked the boy in the eye, and said, "Never behave like that again... It isn't Manchester United."

It was leadership from the top and it was unequivocal. Mourinho should be enough of his own man to shape a similar authority. He should be able to say, "that isn't Chelsea" - but first he must look in the mirror.

Instead, he is beginning to ape the worst of Ferguson and Wenger, as though this was the basis of all their success.

Mourinho now has the chance to break the cycle. He can offer his team as his supreme statement about who he is and what he does, as Rijkaard planned to do if he had prised victory from a magnificent match.

If Mourinho is as smart as so much evidence suggests, he will take that as a gift from Rijkaard, a man whose greatest fulfilment will probably always be the time he played alongside Ruud Gullit and Marco van Basten and Franco Baresi when Milan ruled Italy and Europe. Mourinho does not have such a memory, and that, deep down, may be the explanation for some of his more extreme behaviour. However, after Tuesday night, if this is the problem he would be wise to flush it away. It is unbecoming in a man who has the whole of football at his feet.

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