Why Mourinho is consumed by one rival

Chelsea manager's latest comment about his counterpart raised eyebrows but there is a rational explanation. Jason Burt reports
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The Independent Football

Apart from once more revealing the obsessive - and obsessively thorough - approach of Mourinho it also, along with its pettiness, simply shows how far he is prepared to go to try and dominate Arsenal and their manager.

It remains to be seen if the dossier actually exists or whether the claim was simply a typical piece of Mourinho bravura in response to Wenger's own empty threat of possible legal action. Indeed, sources in Portugal said yesterday that Mourinho is simply too vain to undertake such an exercise.

But if there is a file then the task of gathering the statements will probably have fallen to the media department run by Chelsea's director of communications, Simon Greenberg. Last season Greenberg himself consulted another work to try and understand the mind-set of the Chelsea manager. He read Machiavelli's The Prince, that handbook packed with advice from Renaissance Italy about acquiring power and holding on to it - and how it could be achieved without reference to ethics or morals. Five hundred years old it may be, but its relevance remains.

Lack of "moral leadership" was the accusation levelled by Wenger last spring against Chelsea and their owner, Roman Abramovich, and it was undoubtedly the comment above all that irritated Mourinho, especially as it was followed by the Ashley Cole tapping-up inquiry. Chelsea's corporate failure to respond to Wenger's taunt formed part of Mourinho's litany of complaints to the club, which resulted in his threat to walk out before he was appeased when negotiations on a new contract were hurried along.

That, like everything Mourinho does, was strategic. His antipathy towards Wenger was evident from the start. Mourinho's first day at Stamford Bridge, in June 2004, was punctuated by a remark aimed at his managerial peers: "If they don't touch me, I won't touch anyone. If they touch me, I'll be ready to hit back even harder."

But that was only partly true. Mourinho thinks nothing of being pre-emptive and having arrived in England with Arsenal champions, celebrating their unbeaten Premiership season, it is clear why Wenger was targeted. He was - and is - the biggest threat to Mourinho's rule.

The Arsenal manager has been here before. His spat with Sir Alex Ferguson rumbled on for years with neither man blameless. Wenger, like Mourinho, regards the pre- and post-match media interviews as much a part of the game as the 90 minutes on the pitch and he often hits the mark. "I had to show in the press conference that the boss was not afraid," Mourinho said of his own earlier dispute with Ferguson after the Champions' League tie between Manchester United and Porto and it is a belief shared with Wenger.

"Mind games" is a much over-used, simplified term - but there is a psychological confidence battle that has to be won because of its effect. Take the comments of Petr Cech after the surprising Champions' League defeat to Real Betis on Tuesday.

"We don't care what people think when they try to make it sound as though we have lost our confidence," the Czech goalkeeper said when asked about his opinion of Wenger's mis-quoted remarks on Chelsea's prospects. "We are just playing for ourselves and the manager. Not them."

There is, as Mourinho wants, focus. "He has to have an enemy," said a source in Portugal yesterday who has known the self-styled "Special One" for years. "It's important because it helps him to focus as well. In Portugal it was normal for him to do that. At Porto there was always a feud with Benfica or Sporting Lisbon or sometimes both. It's the same method as he is doing now. Nothing has changed."

When Mourinho took over as a coach of Uniao Leiria he sparred with the man he had replaced, Manuel Jose, who called him "Tarzan" because, he claimed, the style of long-ball football he played was more suited to the trees than the grass. Similar jibes - such as after Chelsea beat Bayern Munich last season - madden Mourinho, especially when pundits compare his team's football with Arsenal's. There was also a recent, nasty clash with that pivotal exponent of "Total Football", Johan Cruyff.

Mourinho was scathing about Arsenal's victory against Middlesbrough, when they came back from 3-1 down and was also disparaging after the 5-4 win over Tottenham Hotspur, calling it "a hockey score".

It is also revealing that in the recently published official history of Chelsea that the first - and only - time that the club's assistant manager, Steve Clarke, saw Mourinho lose his temper was at half-time when they were trailing Arsenal at Highbury.

By then, just before Christmas, it was clear to those close to Mourinho that Wenger had got under his skin. The pair do not like each other, though there are few Premiership managers who can say they have anything more than professional admiration for the Arsenal manager.

The Charlton manager, Alan Curbishley, summed up the feelings of many when he said: "I wouldn't say that other managers see Arsène as an outsider, but they would say that he is different."

Wenger refuses to join the League Managers Association and is intensely private, having been in London for almost a decade but knowing little more than his home in Totteridge, Highbury stadium and the training ground at London Colney.

Wenger will not have the traditional post-match drink with other managers and it is significant that last season Mourinho made much of his wine-sharing moments with Ferguson. The Chelsea manager has also cultivated other young managers - most noticeably Paul Jewell and Chris Coleman - with encouragement and text messages in the way that Ferguson aided, and then dominated, Curbishley, Sam Allardyce and Harry Redknapp.

The reason why Mourinho does so is simple. It may well be genuine, but it is also calculated. Of Ferguson he says: "He is a great manager and uses his power and prestige... I call him boss because he is the managers' boss. Maybe when I become 60, the kids will call me the same."

One thing is for sure. Wenger does not call Ferguson boss. It is a club he refuses to join. "He's studious, quiet and totally committed to football, perhaps too committed," Curbishley said. And that is what Mourinho is worried about and why he wants to destroy the only viable threat he faces in the Premiership - and why Wenger himself hits back.

To be fair, both men have been sorely misquoted in the newspapers at times and the media as a whole has been all too eager to stir up the conflict, especially as it appears the football is a one-horse race. But do not be fooled by the managers' claims of innocence. They are keenly aware of the effect their words have and although Mourinho has become annoyed at his inability to control the press here as he did in Portugal, there is a game being played at which they are both masters. And it's not football.

What could be in Mourinho's dossier? Some of Wenger's comments on Chelsea

* 'We have to be reminded of our values on and off the pitch. It would be helpful if Roman Abramovich said something. The way he wants to lead the club is important. Is it moral leadership? Yes.' Jan 2005

* 'You could say that our football was more attractive to watch, but they are efficient, like a matador.' Jan 2005

* 'If somebody has not respected the rules, it is not Ashley Cole - it is Chelsea.'

Jan 2005

* 'If people come to your window and talk to your wife every night, you can't accept it without asking what is happening.' Jan 2005

* 'I don't see especially that Chelsea play more English players than we do. Who have they produced, home-grown? Just John Terry.' Feb 2005

* 'They are a financially doped club. They have enhancement of performances through unlimited financial resources.'May 2005

* 'The teams that stay in your memory are the ones that play and make sport into an art. That's why people love football. If the way to play the game is not to play then I will stay at home and read a book.' Aug 2005