It seems unnecessary to say it, but Jose Mourinho will undoubtedly be missed. He brought so much to football in this country, and our native football journalism will be all the poorer for his abrupt departure.

But it is the football journalists, rather than the fans, who will miss him the most. A lot of fans tired of his ungracious moaning and shameless referee-baiting a long time ago, but when you read the testimonies of journalists who have spoken to him face-to-face, you get an impression of a warm, charming and immensely generous individual who couldn’t be any further removed from the endlessly parodied cardboard cut-out ‘Special One’ so readily paraded before us at pre-match press conferences and post-match interviews.

Mourinho certainly did a great deal for English football. Tactically, he introduced a counter-attacking 4-3-3 formation that – in his first season at least – was breath-takingly efficient, and which has since been aped by managers the length and breadth of the country.

He developed promising young English players like John Terry, Frank Lampard and Joe Cole into the genuinely – OK, occasionally – world-class performers they are today, gave Eidur Gudjohnsen the chance to prove himself a midfield artisan of the highest quality and placed sufficient faith in Didier Drogba to enable him to become one of the most complete centre forwards in the world.

Likewise, he reminded us that, behind every media-peddled stock image of a manager – Ferguson the Firebrand, Wenger the Scholar – is a man, with a family and concerns of his own that have absolutely nothing to do with the over-hyped, endlessly self-publicising Premiership.

But, for all this, we must be careful not to overstate his achievements. He certainly produced a tremendously successful team at Chelsea – galvanised by a team spirit that, for all the rather stage-managed training ground joshing appears to be real and lasting – but he was nonetheless able to do so thanks to a quite simply incredible budget that is unprecedented in English football.

Yes, he brought the Premiership trophy to Stamford Bridge – twice – but he inherited a team already brimming with international talent that had finished second in the league (behind Arsenal’s 2003-2004 Invincibles) and reached the semi-finals of the Champions League.

He produced a trophy-winning team capable of playing brutally effective football, but how many top European managers would be confident of achieving similar results if given a budget of hundreds of millions of pounds?

And for all the success that players like Drogba, Michael Essien and Petr Cech achieved, let’s not forget the turkeys. Over £57 million were spent on Paulo Ferreira, Mateja Kezman, Asier del Horno and Andriy Shevchenko, not to mention free transfer Michael Ballack. Mourinho may have lamented how his team struggled without John Terry, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba in the side, but with the resources at his disposal it’s hard to feel genuinely sympathetic.

The less palatable elements of Mourinho’s managerial style must not be overlooked either. For all his great soundbites and mischievous charm, he remained a terribly ungracious loser, and was partly responsible for hounding Anders Frisk – one of the best referees of the last 10 years – into retirement in 2005.

Mourinho was – and is – a truly gifted manager. He brought a style both on and off the pitch which had never been seen before on these shores, and he achieved notable success. But he was also, at times, deeply unpleasant, and for all his love him-hate him popularity, his most impressive achievement to date remains the Champions League trophy he won with Porto in 2004. That was a team he can genuinely claim to have crafted himself.

The record books will show that Chelsea were an ambitious, underachieving club who suddenly won everything there was to win in the domestic game following the arrival of a Russian billionaire. The sad thing for Mourinho is that he wasn’t given the time to intertwine his own story with Chelsea’s more irrevocably, and for that the blame must lie squarely with Roman Abramovich and Peter Kenyon and a Stamford Bridge hierarchy that expected too much too soon.

If they want to know what the future holds for Chelsea Football Club now, it might be an idea to cast their minds back to the summer of the 2003, and the departure from Real Madrid of a certain Vincente Del Bosque…


Owen Hargreaves - Old Trafford-bound?Manchester United’s season finished less than twenty-four hours ago, and already Alex Ferguson appears to be on the verge of sealing the long-expected signing of Owen Hargreaves from Bayern Munich for a fee believed to be in the region of £18 million.

The notion of Hargreaves joining United for such a fee would have provoked derision a year ago, but such were his performances in the World Cup that his reputation as England’s most accomplished defensive midfielder is now secure.

His arrival will obviously add graft and industriousness to United’s midfield, but it might also paradoxically make them stronger in attack.

In too many big games this season (most notably in the away leg of the Champions League semi-final against AC Milan and in yesterday’s FA Cup Final) Ferguson has allowed his natural tendency to attack to be overcome by caution. Thus, in both games, he fielded a solid 4-3-3, rather than the more attack-focused 4-2-3-1 that has enabled United to play such insistently thrilling football this season.

Anyone wondering who to blame for the dreariness of yesterday’s game need look no further than the fact there were no less than six central midfielders on the pitch. In mirroring Mourinho’s formation, Ferguson allowed United to get dragged into a midfield wall of attrition.

In signing Hargreaves, Ferguson hopes to create an English interpretation of the silk-and-steel Andrea Pirlo-Gennaro Gattuso midfield partnership that laid the foundation for Italy’s World Cup success last summer and continues to prosper for AC Milan.

Where all this leaves Paul Scholes is another matter entirely, but with Hargreaves and Carrick sitting in front of the back four, Ferguson will be less inclined to field an extra pair of legs in midfield, as he did with Darren Fletcher in the aforementioned games against Milan and Chelsea.

All of which should mean a space in the team for a proper centre forward, allowing United to stretch the game and giving Rooney, Ronaldo and Giggs the space that allows them to function most effectively; the space Ferguson denied them yesterday by electing to go toe-to-toe with Mourinho, rather than relying on his team’s attacking instincts.

England coach Steve McClarenEngland 0-1 Spain. A dismal home defeat against the notoriously underachieving Spanish, and calls for Steve McClaren’s head. There are big problems with English football. But they have nothing to do with passion or ‘balls’ or desire, and everything to do with coaching.

Chris Waddle makes some valid points in this article for the BBC from October last year. England just isn’t producing exciting players. And it’s a problem that stretches all the way down to grass roots football.

As soon as a boy shows any interest in football, he is given a shirt, put into an 11-a-side game and told that he is a goal-keeper, a full-back, a centre-half, a central midfielder, a winger or a centre forward. And he will play that position all his life, because the 4-4-2 formation always prevails. And it prevails to such a ridiculous extent that when an England manager dares to experiment with his formation, we hear stories about groups of senior players lobbying him to change his mind. A top player should be able to adapt to a change in formation.

Look at the last World Cup. Germany were the only team that achieved any kind of success playing 4-4-2. Finalists Italy and France both played a variation of the 4-4-2 that was closer to 4-2-3-1. England were the only ‘major’ nation who did not consistently employ at least one dedicated holding midfielder.

One problem is that England doesn’t produce dedicated holding midfielders. It produces all-action, box-to-box marauders like Lampard and Gerrard, but not patient, composed ball-winners like Claude Makelele and Javier Mascherano. And nor does England produce classic deep-lying centre forwards (with Wayne Rooney being the obvious recent exception). Why? The 4-4-2. If a player is a good all-rounder, he becomes a central midfielder. If he is pacy and skilful, he gets stuck out on the wing.

And the blame for this lies with the coaches. Look at the disdain with which a lot of managers regard coaching badges. Look at the mass support that Glenn Roeder and Gareth Southgate received in their battle with the League Managers Association. We in Great Britain like to think that our players know the game so well they don’t need to be taught how to become coaches. And so we allow players to go straight into management, and then decry their ineptness when their tactical limitations are inevitably revealed.

It is not so in Italy. It is not so in France. It is not so in most European countries. They understand the importance of injecting fresh thinking into the game. In Italy there is the Coverciano coaching school, where trainee coaches are taught about a plethora of different tactical systems, and encouraged to bring their own ideas to bear on how they coach. Giovanni Trapattoni, Fabio Capello, Claudio Ranieri and Marcello Lippi are all Coverciano graduates, and look at the success they have achieved.

And now look at the Premiership. The top clubs are all managed by European or Scottish managers. But there are very few genuinely innovative English managers. Too many are slaves to the 4-4-2, to the old, English way of doing things. Even Steve McClaren – a very highly regarded coach during his time at Derby County – appears to have lost his way. At least the influence of Jose Mourinho has encouraged a few more managers to experiment with the counter-attacking 4-3-3.

English football has to realise that it is no longer a world leader. The Premiership may be “the most exciting league in the world”, but that’s only because we have so many foreign players who can make up for the technical deficiencies of their homegrown colleagues. English coaches need to realise that there is no shame in being coached. And only when England learns to follow the example of places like Italy and France will it break the stranglehold of the 4-4-2 and begin to produce more players capable of producing that little piece of inspiration that is the difference between moderate success and greatness.