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…


Cesc Fabregas - a season to remember?No real surprises in the list of nominees for this season’s PFA Player of the Year Award, although Michael Essien is unlucky to have missed out, and Cesc Fabregas hasn’t exactly been in scintillating form since the turn of the year (although his goal against Bolton at the weekend finally justified his continued inclusion in my fantasy football team).

My only gripe with the PFA Awards is that they are announced so early. This season the gongs will be handed out on April 22nd, before the destinations of the Premiership, FA Cup or Champions League have been decided. Suppose Didier Drogba scores a further ten goals to secure the Quadruple for Chelsea, but Cristiano Ronaldo has already received the award?

It’s happened before. In 1999 David Ginola won it, despite the contributions of players like David Beckham and Roy Keane in securing United the Treble. In 2002 Ruud van Nistelrooy got the nod, but it was Arsenal’s Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry who plundered the silverware as they inspired Arsenal to Arsene Wenger’s second Double.

The big problem with the PFA Awards is that the players vote for them months before the end of the season. I think I’m right in saying that the votes are gathered around the turn of the year, which gives a massive advantage to players who start the season strongly (such as Fabregas) but fails to acknowledge the contribution of players such as Dimitar Berbatov who find their form in the second half of the season.

It’s also interesting that Wayne Rooney has once again been nominated for the PFA Young Player of the Year Award – an award he’s won for the past two seasons – but has missed out on a nomination for the senior award. Ronaldo and Fabregas have both stepped up. Let’s hope Rooney uses their example to spur him on to greater things next season.

Sparks fly

March 1 2007

Former Man United forward and current Blackburn Rovers manager Mark HughesNo particular reason for posting this today, but I don’t think you really need an excuse to watch one of Britain’s classiest and most powerful forwards in his pomp.

Ladies and gentlemen: Mark Hughes.

And it’s good to know that, even though he’s long departed the Theatre of Dreams, he still hates Arsenal:

Hughes v Fabregas

Hughes v Wenger

You tell ‘em Sparky.

Chelsea win the battle…

February 25 2007

Players from Chelsea and Arsenal clash towards the end of the 2007 Carling Cup FinalChelsea 2-1 Arsenal. A gripping game. Goals, fisticuffs, controversy, near-decapitation and the occasional flourish of sweet passing football. Shame Chelsea won though.

I am a Man United fan, but I must confess that I love the football Arsenal play. And they began today’s game with such gusto and enterprise. Walcott took his goal so well, and I began to secretly hope that they would swarm all over Chelsea’s expensively assembled team of strop-throwing primadonnas, proving once and for all that, in the long term, you really can’t buy success.

But, inevitably, Chelsea came back at them. And when Drogba notched the winner, Wenger’s ‘Young Guns’ proved that they are just as much a bunch of strop-throwing primadonnas as Mourinho’s ‘men’. It was a shame the game had to end that way – particularly after the injury sustained by John Terry – but it did make bloody good television.

And yet, when the dust settles, how happy can Chelsea be? Yes, they have the season’s first piece of silverware – and Mourinho’s attachment to the League Cup is commendable – but they are now nine points behind United and once again without their inspirational skipper. Methinks the Premiership trophy is beginning to inch its way back towards the M6…