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…


And so, after weeks of unprecedented hype – which, given the levels of hyperbole which have surrounded England’s top division since Sky invented exciting football in 1992, is an achievement in itself – the Premiership is back. Or, rather, the Premier League, for its name has now been officially changed as well.

The reason for all the hype is the hope that in the huge bucketfuls of TV cash which have been thrown at the league’s 20 clubs there lies the possibility that this season will be genuinely competitive. And the opening weekend’s results suggest that may well be the case.

All of the ‘big four’ were made to struggle, and – with the exception of Liverpool – made to struggle against teams they would have felt pretty confident about overcoming without too much fuss. Chelsea were made to look ragged by a resolute Birmingham City, Arsenal were minutes away from an underwhelming home draw with Fulham, and Reading struck a blow for fans of stubbornly unadventurous 4-5-1 football with their ‘gutsy’ 0-0 draw at Old Trafford.

Of the teams harbouring serious ambitions of playing in Europe next season, Tottenham lost, Portsmouth were held to a draw by lowly Derby, Villa succumbed at home to Liverpool and only Everton, Blackburn and Newcastle recorded victories – and only Newcastle’s was comfortable. In The Battle of the Shiny New Squads at Upton Park, Sven Goran Eriksson’s team of strangers played with a cohesion seemingly at odds with the fact most of them were signed on the basis of video footage alone.

But most heartening of all were the performances of the three promoted teams. Birmingham may have lost, but they gave Chelsea some real scares along the way, Derby’s draw with Portsmouth proved they can tough it out with the Premier League’s established players and Sunderland’s last gasp win over Spurs suggests the Black Cats are already imbued with a doggedness and resilience that were the hallmarks of their illustrious manager.

Goal of the weekend was Steven Gerrard’s inch-perfect free kick to clinch victory at Villa Park, but Obafemi Martins’s overhead kick against Bolton and Matt Derbyshire’s sweet curling finish at the Riverside caught the eye as well.

So, twenty-eights goals, some truly competitive fixtures and signs that the big four have really got their work cut out if they wish to continue to lord it over their more fiscally challenged opponents. Things are shaping up nicely…

Two goals, four yellow cards, three penalties missed, three penalties scored. Some good football, a few niggly moments, and a handful of largely inauspicious debuts. The Community Shield is out of the way, but has it told us anything more about the teams that contested it?

1. Will Jose Mourinho behave himself this season?

Well, he behaved himself today. He may have been typically animated on the touch-line, but he took the defeat in a dignified manner, even if his claim that Chelsea had “controlled the game” was stretching the truth ever so slightly…

2. What is Alex Ferguson’s first-choice XI?

Impossible to tell, given the injuries that forced his hand. It is, however, safe to assume that Mikael Silvestre and Patrick Evra are unlikely to be seen linking up on the left wing anytime in the near future. Pairing Carrick with O’Shea might suggest Fergie favours a deep-lying central midfield pairing (which is obviously good news for Owen Hargreaves), but there’s no point speculating until the big names are all back to full fitness.

3. Is the Chelsea 4-3-3 back for good?

They certainly started with a 4-3-3, but it was rendered rather toothless by the absence of a recognised striker in the front three. The decision to leave Pizarro on the bench and field three wingers up front suggests Mourinho feels no pressure to make any concessions to the purists this season.

4. Is Wayne Rooney destined for the role of lone frontman?

With Louis Saha out, it does look like it. Rooney played well enough today – and took his spot-kick superbly – but United fans will worry that a strikeforce of Rooney and Tevez could easily be forced back towards their defenders, thereby robbing United’s flair players of the space they need to operate.

5. Has Andriy Shevchenko put 2006-2007 behind him?

Didn’t play. Maybe he has, maybe he hasn’t. If you ask me? Probably not.

6. Is the Wembley pitch any more conducive to good football?

It was certainly a lot better than in the Cup Final. The ball ran much more truly, and there was little sign of the pitch cutting up. Increasingly slower pace had more to do with the heat than the playing surface.

7. Have United shored up their defence?

Didn’t look shaky at all, and restricted Chelsea to just three shots on target. Malouda’s well taken goal suggests the greatest threat to Edwin van der Sar’s goal in the coming season is likely to once again take the form of lapses of concentration from everyone’s favourite prankster, Rio Ferdinand.

8. How serious is Frank Lampard’s toe injury?

Actually not that serious at all. Lampard wasn’t particularly influential, but there’s nothing to suggest it’s anything to do with his toe.

9. Will we get a better game than the Cup Final?

Well, yes we did, just about. It wasn’t exactly a thriller, but the first half in particular was graced with some fine attacking football, and penalties at least brought one last flourish of excitement to a fixture that always ends in anti-climax.

10. Are United still the best team in the country?

They were better than Chelsea today, but not by much. And both sides were missing key players. Tottenham, Arsenal and Liverpool have all had promising pre-seasons as well, so it’s hard to say. I think I’ll wait a little bit longer before sticking my neck out on this one…

The Community Shield is, needless to say, nothing more than a glorified friendly. For all the no-such-thing-as-a-friendly guff about fierce rivalries and psychological advantages, it’s a game both sides could probably do without, and getting through it without picking up any new injuries will be a priority for both managers.

But it can tell us a few things. Which player has had the most ill-advised off-season haircut? What wacky new graphics have the men at Sky Sports been working on over the summer? And which player will earn the dubious honour of the first ironic ‘Wahey!’ of the season, after a touch that suggests he thinks he’s still on the beach in Marbella? Amongst other things…

1. Will Jose Mourinho behave himself this season?

He says he’s going to be more “mellow”. Time will tell. Expect a dubious winning goal for United in the sixth minute of injury time to test his resolve.

2. What is Alex Ferguson’s first-choice XI?

Injuries and lack of fitness mean Fergie does not have a full squad to pick from for the game, but it will be interesting nonetheless to see who he selects to start. Can Michael Carrick stake a claim for a starting role in the absence of Owen Hargreaves? How much have Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs got left in the tank? And how will Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, Giggs, Anderson, Nani, Carlos Tevez and Louis Saha be filtered down into four attacking positions?

3. Is the Chelsea 4-3-3 back for good?

Mourinho has declared that he wants to start playing with width again, which should mean a first-choice front three of Didier Drogba, Florent Malouda and Joe Cole. A 4-4-2 formation tomorrow might suggest he’s not yet prepared to sacrifice the defensive instincts which characterised last season.

4. Is Wayne Rooney destined for the role of lone frontman?

Anyone who watched last season’s Champions League exit against AC Milan or the FA Cup Final defeat at the hands of Chelsea might be forgiven for thinking that Wayne Rooney isn’t at his best when played as a lone striker. Anyone, that is, but Sir Alex. With Saha and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer both injured, Rooney might just have to get used to going it alone.

5. Has Andriy Shevchenko put 2006-2007 behind him?

Shevchenko capped his domestic Chelsea debut in last season’s Community Shield with a well-taken goal against Liverpool, but it’s been down-hill rapidly since then. He’ll probably start on the bench, but if he comes on and plays well it might be a sign that he’s put his woes behind him.

6. Is the Wembley pitch any more conducive to good football?

The pitch was heavy and cut up badly in the first few games that were played there at the end of last season. The chances of an entertaining game will owe a lot to the condition of the playing surface.

7. Have United shored up their defence?

The men from Old Trafford enjoyed some pretty comfortable victories during their pre-season tour of the Far East, but in the 3-2 friendly defeat against Internazionale on Wednesday they looked sloppy and disorganised at the back. Ferguson admitted there was work to be done, and his back four will get a stern test from Didier Drogba and co.

8. How serious is Frank Lampard’s toe injury?

The medical staff at Chelsea have been quick to play down the injury, but it’s been plaguing Lampard for a while now. He’s by no means guaranteed to start tomorrow, and if he does play, could a knock to the toe set his recovery back?

9. Will we get a better game than the Cup Final?

It was a long game on a hot day played between two teams of tired players on a heavy, sapping pitch. Add to that the pressure of contesting the first Cup Final at the new Wembley, and it’s no surprise the game was such a complete wash-out. Tomorrow, by contrast, both teams will be fit and fresh and full of players fighting for a starting place. And neither side particularly likes each other. Could be quite a game. But don’t bank on it.

10. Are United still the best team in the country?

United are the reigning Premiership champions and have brought in some big names over the summer, but Chelsea pushed them all the way in the league last year – as well as winning both domestic cups – and have added depth to their squad as well. There are no points on offer at Wembley tomorrow, but the victors will start the season with an extra little spring in their step…

1st. Manchester United

Owen Hargreaves, Nani, Anderson and (legal wrangle pending) Carlos Tevez will give United strength in depth and options in attack, both of which were missing last season. Ferguson’s biggest problem will be managing such a talented squad. Injury to Louis Saha will leave the team bereft of a traditional attacking spearhead, but United have too much quality in midfield to be denied.

2nd. Chelsea

The promised return of the counter-attacking 4-3-3 formation that brought Chelsea their first two Premiership titles could make goals, and subsequently victories, easier to come by. Much rests on the Stamford Bridge hierarchy avoiding the in-fighting and speculation that plagued them last season. New signings have added cover, but not much more, and the success of the 4-3-3 will depend largely on Joe Cole’s fitness, Florent Malouda’s ability to adapt to the Premiership and Andriy Shevchenko not kicking up too much of a fuss about sitting on the bench. Will suffer during the African Nations Cup.

3rd. Liverpool

If Fernando Torres hits the ground running, Liverpool could well prove unstoppable. If he struggles, important early-season momentum might be lost. Benitez has made some bold acquisitions, but he will have to get the balance of the team right quickly. Too much tinkering, and the Anfield faithful might be left ruing another false dawn.

4th. Tottenham Hotspur

Did well to recover from a slow start last time around. Ambitious signings show a commendable dedication to young talent. The signing of Darren Bent means they now possess the strongest set of strikers in the country, but they must stiffen up at the back if they are to force their way amongst the hallowed ‘big four’. Ledley King’s fitness and Paul Robinson’s confidence will be crucial.

5th. Arsenal

Last season’s glorious Carling Cup run suggested that Arsenal had the strongest squad in the league, but the departures of David Dein, Thierry Henry and Freddie Ljungberg have cast a cloud over that memory. The talent is undeniably there, but Arsenal’s youngsters will have to learn quickly if they want to avoid the ignominy of yielding the North London initiative to Spurs. Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie will feel the pressure of expectation more than most.

6th. Portsmouth

Have spent big and signed fairly well. There is no guarantee that David Nugent will score goals in the Premiership, but Harry Redknapp’s large squad boasts a wealth of striking options. Sylvain Distin and Sol Campbell looks like a formidable pairing at centre half. Last season’s 9th placed finish owed much to formidable home form, but Pompey will need to pick up more points on the road if they’re to sustain a serious European challenge.

7th. West Ham United

Another of the league’s big spenders. Although most fans would gleefully see them fall through the Championship trapdoor this season, one suspects it won’t happen. Curbishley has brought in some big names, and the Hammers now boast strength in every department, but he will have to learn how to soothe damaged egos if he wants his big names to achieve any kind of consistency.

8th. Everton

David Moyes has turned Everton into a well-drilled, hard-working outfit who play attractive football and know how to get results. But at the same time, the sole signing of Phil Jagielka is unlikely to propel them into the top five, and goals will be a real problem if Andy Johnson can’t find form. Players of the calibre of Lescott, Cahill and Arteta should ensure they keep their heads above mid-table.

9th. Blackburn Rovers

Blackburn will always be tough, and Ewood Park will always be a difficult place to play, but it’s hard to see Mark Hughes’s men flying up the table when the unproven Roque Santa Cruz is the only new signing of note that has been added to the squad. Solidity and hard work should see them through.

10th. Fulham

Lawrie Sanchez has worked industriously during the summer, and his signings blend youthful (predominantly Northern Irish) promise with Premiership experience. He’s trimmed the squad of deadwood, and if he can re-create the magic of his tenure as Northern Ireland manager, Fulham could be in for a memorable season. It will be interesting to see if David Healy can score as prolifically in the Premiership as he does on the international stage.

11th. Manchester City

Sven is hardly likely to turn City into a team of free-scoring entertainers, but clearly has a vision of what he wants to achieve, and the players he has already brought in look promising. However, the departures of Sylvain Distin and Joey Barton ripped the heart out of the team, and the squad looks bereft of leaders. Bianchi and Mpenza will have to start scoring quickly if City are to avoid a repeat of last season’s goal-shy drudgery.

12th. Aston Villa

Villa’s streamlined squad will need to avoid injuries if it is to build on last season’s progress. The first eleven picks itself, with Agbonlahor and Ashley Young supporting John Carew up front, Reo-Coker, Barry and Petrov manning the pumps in midfield, and Laursen and Mellberg holding the fort at the back. The team has a pleasing shape, but Martin O’Neill will count himself a lucky man indeed if he’s able to field the same eleven every week.

13th. Newcastle United

Big Sam has had the whole summer to prepare his squad for the new season, but he’s still not happy with the players he’s got. Newcastle should be a little tighter at the back now that Titus ‘Calamity’ Bramble has been shipped off to Wigan, but Joey Barton’s injury leaves them looking light in midfield, and Michael Owen and Obafemi Martins have had very little time to work on developing their partnership up front. Need new blood if they are to escape the mid-table quagmire.

14th. Bolton Wanderers

Poor Sammy Lee. The season hasn’t even begun, and critics are already grimly forecasting Bolton’s post-Allardyce demise. Christian Wilhelmsson is an exciting acquisition, but the other new players hardly set the pulse racing, and Lee’s ready admission that Nicolas Anelka is free to join any Champions League club that meets his asking price is hardly a statement of intent.

15th. Middlesbrough

It’s been a fairly uneventful summer at the Riverside. Jeremie Aliadiere looks a poor replacement for Mark Viduka, but Luke Young is a good signing, and with the club’s academy continuing to churn out impressive home-grown talent, Boro fans can look forward to another season of characteristic trundling along at the Riverside.

16th. Wigan Athletic

Chris Hutchings is relishing his first season in charge, and he has invested in tough, proven players who won’t be afraid to get their hands dirty. It won’t be pretty, but it should be reasonably effective. Jason Koumas has a big opportunity to prove his previous reputation as The Best Player Outside the Premiership, and the JJB Stadium is a sufficiently inauspicious location to allow him to go about his business diligently.

17th. Reading

Ah, that tricky second season. As Paul Jewell found out last season, that Premiership first-season mentality is a difficult thing to stretch out over two years. Key man Steve Sidwell has hot-footed it to the Stamford Bridge subs’ bench, and with only the unheralded Kalifa Cisse brought in over the summer, it’s hard to see them repeating last season’s heroics.

18th. Birmingham City

It seems unfair to consign all three promoted teams to relegation, but even with the money they’ve spent they will struggle. Steve Bruce has done better than most in the transfer market, but a lot of his signings are risky, and there’s no guarantee the whole will equal the sum of its parts.

19th. Sunderland

Roy Keane has spent a lot of money, but most of his new players were signed on potential alone. If Michael Chopra can’t adapt quickly enough they will struggle to score goals, and there’s no guarantee last season’s Championship heroes will be able to step up to the plate. Having said that, Keane’s first season in management was such a spectacular success that he might just surprise us all over again. He’ll certainly make sure his team plays the football he wants to see.

20th. Derby County

A predictable prediction, but it’s hard to see anything but a long hard struggle ahead for Billy Davies and Derby. Robert Earnshaw can be relied upon for goals, but it might all be a bit too much for what is a recently assembled and largely inexperienced squad.

Rafa Benitez - keeping his cards close to his chestIt won’t be pretty.

Just as in the FA Cup Final, both sides are likely to flood the pitch with midfielders, so it will be tight, tense and tactical.

Most of today’s papers seem certain that Benitez will opt for a 4-5-1, with Gerrard pushed forward in support of Dirk Kuyt and Javier Mascherano and Xabi Alonso forming a deep-lying defensive barrier in midfield to protect against the marauding movements of Kaka and Seedorf.

But he does like to spring a surprise, and – given the tactics in the away games against Barcelona and Chelsea – there’s a chance Crouch might be chosen to partner Kuyt up front, with Gerrard moved to the right wing.

Zenden will probably get the nod over Kewell if fit, although Benitez could go for Riise in midfield and Arbeloa behind him if he wants solidity on the left and Zenden fails to prove his fitness.

For Carlo Ancelotti the main selection dilemma surrounds who to pick up front, and I would expect the wily Philippo Inzaghi to be chosen ahead of the goal-shy Alberto Gilardino.

It won’t be a thriller, but it should be a fascinating game. United made the mistake of giving Milan too much time on the ball at the back, and soon realised how quickly they can slip through the gears. Liverpool will have to be on alert all night.

With both sides mindful of their opponents’ powers on the counter-attack, gung-ho attacking will not be on the agenda, and penalties are thus a distinct possibility.

And in Jose Reina, Liverpool possess a goalkeeper fully qualified to follow in the bendy-legged footsteps of Bruce Grobbelaar and Jerzy Dudek.

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.