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…


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…

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.

Former Real Madrid coach Jorge Valdano thinks teams like Liverpool and Chelsea are taking the skill out of football with their conservative approaches to the game. He likened their Champions League semi-final to “a shit hanging from a stick”.

I’m not entirely inclined to agree with him – there are no rules in football as to how you should go about winning, and both Chelsea and Liverpool are capable of playing fairly attractive football – but I do think he has a point. The style of football both teams play is arguably a result of a coaching style that relies on dossiers and statistical analysis which calculate hard running and defensive solidity to be of greater value than individual expression.

Valdano attributes the two teams’ direct tactics to their respective managers’ failures as players, arguing that, as they had no talent, they are unable to trust the talent of their players, and rely instead on compactness and physicality.

While it’s a commendably interesting argument, I feel the aforementioned tactics are symptomatic of a wider malaise affecting football around the world.

With the money currently sloshing around in the game (particularly in England), the financial risk of failing is just too great. Quite simply, cash-strapped clubs run on tight budgets can’t afford the extravagance of having flair players in their team. They need solid, honest grafters who are going to keep them in the league.

At the same time, weak teams are learning that, by being organised and hard-working, they can achieve success. You just have to look at what Greece achieved in Euro 2004 to see that a relative absence of talent needn’t be a barrier to achievement.

The sad fact is that a lot of teams no longer go out to win. Instead, they go out not to lose, and the popularity of the lone-frontman 4-5-1 in the Premiership bears testament to this.

You can see it in the way results have evolved over the years. Look at the Premiership. When was the last time one of the smaller clubs got absolutely spanked? Teams occasionally score four or five goals, but if you look at an average weekend of First Division football from the 1950s, you’ll see that such hauls were more regular occurrences.

The same thing is happening on the international stage. Germany’s 13-0 mauling of San Marino last autumn caused such a shock because results like that just don’t happen any more, particularly in Europe. The Republic of Ireland can certainly testify as to how far San Marino have improved in recent years.

Smaller teams are getting organised, and as a result, the game as a spectacle is suffering. You can hardly blame them, but then, when the stakes are so high, you can hardly blame Liverpool or Chelsea either.

The dust has settled, the hype has abated, and United have once again been found wanting in the Champions League.

But before we begin to assess the reasons for this failure, it should be noted that United were eliminated by an AC Milan team Back to the tactics board...playing at the peak of their organisational and expressive powers.

Fatigue was obviously a factor, as was the lack of no less than three first-choice defenders. No matter how dangerous your attack, no team can be expected to win when confusion reigns supreme in the back four. Gabriel Heinze’s erratic performance was particularly disappointing, but sadly not without precedent this season.

I think Fergie missed a trick with his tactics. 4-3-2-1, with a three-man midfield shield, looks solid enough on paper, but last night it succeeded only in inviting Milan to set up camp within striking distance of the perilously nervous United defence.

The 4-2-3-1 – a subtle but nonetheless significant variation – would have allowed United to take the game to Milan and peg them back in their own half. It was, after all, the formation that bewildered Roma so unforgettably in the second leg of the quarter-final, and it is the shape that has yielded United’s finest football in the last few weeks.

A 4-2-3-1 with Smith or Saha at its head allows Rooney to come deep in search of the ball, and doesn’t put him under the pressure of being the team’s only nominated centre forward. The World Cup demonstrated that he simply cannot lead the line on his own.

On Wednesday night Rooney struggled with the burden of the lone striker, and as he, Ronaldo and Giggs found themselves outnumbered, the Milan defence was able to step up and push them back towards the three men behind them who, in spite of their number, were unable to get to grips with Kaka’s movement and Seedorf’s subtlety.

Rafa Benitez has demonstrated on at least two occasions this season that when it comes to playing away from home in Europe, attack really is the best form of defence. As such, he fielded an attacking 4-4-2 against both PSV Eindhoven and Barcelona, and this tactic was only negated in the away leg of the semi-final against Chelsea by a similarly bold performance from the home side.

It is this unique understanding of the demands of European football that currently puts Benitez above Ferguson and Mourinho when it comes to the Champions League.

Fergie may claim to favour attacking, expansive football – and the heights United’s football has reached at times this season certainly bears testament to that – but in the big European games a natural (and understandable) tendency towards conservatism costs him dearly.

Mourinho - master or madman?Mourinho really is losing it. The controlled manner of Chelsea’s 1-0 victory over Liverpool last night was highly impressive, and yet following the game Mourinho chose to focus on the penalty he felt his team were denied for a handball by Liverpool right-back Alvaro Arbeloa which occurred a good two feet outside the penalty area.

“I just go for facts, and again it is a fact. I don’t think anybody can say it was not a penalty. It was a clear penalty, and I don’t know why. It’s happening, it’s happening, it’s happening.”

Are these the words of a great manager or a madman?

Therein lies the fundamental dichotomy in Mourinho’s character which polarises opinions about him in such a pronounced manner. On the one hand is the shrewd tactician, urging his team to attack a Liverpool side and thereby negating the impact of Benitez’s adventurous 4-4-2 which had reaped such handsome rewards in previous away games against PSV Eindhoven and Barcelona.

But on the other hand is the whingeing moaner who sulks like a petulant child at every single decision that doesn’t go his way. He should have been revelling in another accomplished performance from his side, but he chose to moan about the referee. Those who hail him for trying to deflect attention (and pressure) away from his team fail to acknowledge the irreparable damage such behaviour does to his reputation.

His latest outburst creates the impression that he is a genuinely paranoid, compulsive complainer. And no matter how much success he brings to Stamford Bridge this season, it is something football fans are unlikely ever to forget.