Wright-Phillips in Chelsea talks as Diarra signs

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The Independent Football

On the eve of Chelsea's departure to play a friendly against Benfica in Lisbon today, followed by a three-game tour of the United States, Mourinho escaped the request for an opinion on the new Pope or the new Coldplay album, but the new football season and its implications for his club were subjected to a good chewing-over: Arsenal's reasons for selling Patrick Vieira, Chelsea's reasons for bringing back Hernan Crespo from loan in Italy, Mourinho's reasons for asserting Chelsea are stronger than last year.

Before leaving the Cobham training ground, Mourinho doubted that he could make more than one new signing before his team set off for America on Tuesday. But, with the young French midfielder Lassana Diarra signed from Le Havre on Friday, Shaun Wright-Phillips yesterday asked for permission to talk to Chelsea after Manchester City had turned down £20m for the England winger the previous day. It now seems likely that Wright-Phillips, who was withdrawn from City's friendly game at Macclesfield yesterday after complaining of feeling unwell, will be bagged by Mourinho before Chelsea exit for the US.

For someone whose comments pitched Chelsea into trouble more than once last season, Mourinho professed contrition, but only to an extent. "I don't want fights, yet I will always say what I feel. And specially facts. Facts are not controversy."

At which he reeled off the previously stated "fact" that the Champions' League fixture list is tough on Chelsea and helpful to Arsenal, because all his club's Premiership games are away after the first-stage European matches, while Arsenal's are, almost without exception, at home.

"Comments, analysis, opinion, can make controversy," he acknowledged. "Yes, you have to cool down before you say something. If I have to make a comment or analyse a problem I will think twice." This from a man who three days earlier had slated Arsenal vice-chairman David Dein for holding a similar position at the FA.

One opinion which will dismay every other Premiership club is that Mourinho considers Chelsea are stronger now than when they won the Premiership two months ago. He cites the signing of the £8m left-back Asier del Horno from Athletic Bilbao and the return from loan of the strikers, Hernan Crespo and Carlton Cole. He considers Crespo "one of the best strikers in the world" and Cole "a boy full of motivation". Having sold Mateja Kezman, Mourinho asserts that Chelsea now have four top strikers - Eidur Gudjohnsen being one of them - as opposed to last season's three.

The return of Crespo, the Argentinian he packed off on loan to Milan at the start of last season, seems to have particularly satisfied him. "The return of Crespo is a big plus for us. We gave Milan the chance to buy him and we arrived at the conclusion they were not ready to buy. Why should I leave a player like him on loan at Milan? I think also Crespo convinced himself to come back. He has been a successful player everywhere he has been, the only place people still have a question mark is in England. He is a proud player, he wants to come and prove himself and score goals. And I think he will do it.

"We haven't spent any money. He already knows what England is like and he is a different sort of striker to the ones we already have. I can say that [Didier] Drogba is better than Crespo in this, or that Crespo is better than Drogba on that. It is easy for me to analyse the difference."

After failing to sign Steven Gerrard and having two bids for Lyon midfielder Michael Essien turned down, Mourinho seemed to have hit a brick wall in his attempts to lure Wright-Phillips. "The kid wants to stay here," claimed City manager Stuart Pearce on Friday. However, yesterday Wright-Phillips seemed to have changed his mind, as a City spokesman confirmed by saying: "Shaun has expressed a desire for Manchester City to reach an agreement with Chelsea over his transfer."

Diarra, a France Under-21 international, was more than happy with his move for an estimated £3m from the French Second Division club Le Havre. "Everything went smoothly with Jose Mourinho. He told me he wanted me to be the next Claude Makelele," Diarra said.

Mourinho accepted it was natural for supporters to want to win everything in the new season. "Yet in modern football this is almost impossible, nobody is doing that. We won two trophies last season and that's why it was a fantastic season." And clearly he feels another is in store, since he thinks Chelsea capable of winning two out of the four.

But what if he wins nothing? Clearly, this is a possibility that has not occurred to Mourinho before. "If I win nothing, Jesus, I don't know. I have never experienced failure. One day it will happen and I will have to cope with it. But it will be difficult."

As for the ongoing sneers that Chelsea bought their title, Mourinho professes indifference. "I am very happy with what we did and I am very happy with the bonus we all received."