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…


The King is dead! Long live the King! Rooney is out, Tevez comes in! Simple, n’est-ce pas? Maybe not as simple as you’d think.

Manchester United began their opening fixture against Reading with the 4-2-3-1 formation that many commentators expected them to adopt this season. Carrick and Scholes sat deep in midfield, Evra and Ronaldo attacked from the flanks and Giggs played in support of Wayne Rooney up front.

This! – cried The Mirror, in the wake of the signings of Nani and Anderson – is Fergie’s vision of United’s future. Carrick and Hargreaves in midfield, Nani, Anderson and Ronaldo just ahead of them, Rooney in attack.

As far as I’m concerned, they’ve all got it wrong. Including Fergie.

The 4-2-3-1 requires certain types of player, all of which United possess. The key is in fitting them all together. Observe the following, hastily scrabbled together diagram:

I’ve used ‘old-fashioned’ shirt numbers, because they will help me to embellish my point(s). In this system, the two central midfielders sit deep in front of the back four. The number 4 is responsible for winning the ball and breaking up opposition attacks. It’s the number 8’s job to get on the ball, pick out a team-mate and set the team’s attacks in motion.

The wingers (number 7 and number 11) play further forward than mere ‘wide midfielders’. It is their job to a) attack the goal directly and b) create chances for the strikers. The presence of the deep-lying central midfielders enables the full-backs to push forward alternately (it can be dangerous if both do so at the same time), so the wingers are not required to hug the touchline like wingers of old.

Crucial to this formation are the two forwards (number 9 and number 10). The number 9’s role is fairly conventional. He is the goal-getter and target man, but he must also be skilled at holding the ball up and playing with his back to goal.

The number 10 is the man who brings it all together. He is the metronome which sets the pace for the entire team, and he needs to be on the ball as often as possible. With the central midfielders sitting deep and the number 9 pushing the opposition centre halves as close to their own goal as possible, he has the run of the pitch to create magic. And that is exactly why he is in the team.

To my mind, such a system would suit a United first eleven that looked like this:

1. Edwin van der Sar
2. Gary Neville
3. Patrice Evra
4. Owen Hargreaves
5. Nemanja Vidic
6. Rio Ferdinand
7. Cristiano Ronaldo
8. Paul Scholes/Michael Carrick
9. Louis Saha
10. Wayne Rooney/Carlos Tevez
11. Ryan Giggs

And there it is. Ferguson – despite having bestowed the number 10 shirt upon Wayne Rooney before the season began – is playing Rooney as the number 9. This is not a position he suits.

Any idiot could tell you that Rooney is at his most dangerous when he receives the ball in deep areas and then heads for goal. Working the line on his own – as he did until Michael Duberry’s untimely intervention against Reading – is not what he’s cut out for. Yes, he will provide moments of inspiration, but that’s despite, rather than because of, the formation.

Rooney is good enough to have a team crafted around him, but English football has tended to look scornfully at attacking players who demand a free role. Rooney is a natural playmaker, not a goalscorer, and playing him as an old-fashioned centre forward takes all the joy out of his game.

United will undoubtedly miss Rooney, but they have as good a replacement as you could possibly wish for in Carlos Tevez. The player who really makes the 4-2-3-1 tick is Louis Saha, and it is his currently unavailability – rather than Rooney’s – which makes Alex Ferguson’s decision to sell both Alan Smith (who played the number 9 role so admirably in the 7-1 demolition of Roma) and Guiseppe Rossi seem foolhardy.

There’s a good article on The Guardian website about Louis Saha, who Rob Smyth has dubbed ‘the forgotten man of Old Trafford’.

Amidst all the trumpeting about the attacking resources at Alex Ferguson’s disposal following the acquisition of Nani, Anderson and Tevez, few commentators have stopped to consider the role Saha might be asked to play in the forthcoming season.

Fergie might be bullish about Rooney and Tevez’s ability to play together, but I’m not convinced. True, a Rooney-Tevez front two could, in theory, be capable of bulldozing opposition defences into submission, but my concern is that their shared predilection for dropping deep to pick up the ball will invite teams to push United back towards their own goal.

Saha, by contrast, stretches the play, and when he played last season he created acres of room for Rooney to explore. Ruud van Nistelrooy might have been a goal machine, but United’s link-up play is so much better with the powerful Saha in the side, and he creates an awful lot of chances for his team-mates.

I wouldn’t be surprised if this Rooney-Tevez talk is a bit of a smokescreen. I’m not saying Ferguson won’t want to see if they can play together – and attacking fluidity will be a key feature of United’s tactics this season – but when it comes to the crunch I think he realises there’s still a great deal to be said for the old fashioned Number 10Number 9 combination.

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…

It’s always a shame when a young player has to leave the Premiership before he’s had a chance to really shine, and that’s certainly true of Giuseppe Rossi, particularly as he’s left a club famed for putting its faith in youth.

The thrilling thing about Rossi is that he is a very highly rated young Italian footballer who chose to play in England. Italy usually does a very good job of keeping its most exciting young players under wraps on native soil, and had Rossi stayed at United and been successful it would have represented a ringing endorsement of English football as a real breeding ground for international talent.

This may seem an anomalous observation at a time when the number of English players graduating from the Premiership’s academies is under intense scrutiny, but had Rossi remained in England it would have sent out a clear signal that the Premiership is as good a league as any for the game’s future superstars to earn their spurs.

His departure suggests that even managers like Alex Ferguson will only go so far when it comes to giving youth the chance it so desperately deserves.

With the arrival of Portuguese winger Nani and Brazilian attacking midfielder Anderson at Old Trafford apparently imminent, Alex Ferguson appears to be confirming his conviction in the fluid 4-2-3-1 formation that he adopted in the second half of the 2006-2007 season.

Many observers have declared that a frontman must be Ferguson’s chief priority in the transfer window, but the signings of Owen Hargreaves, Nani and Anderson suggest a distinct change of emphasis.

Talented attacking midfielders are one commodity which United – in Scholes, Giggs and Cristiano Ronaldo – possess in abundance. So why sign two more?

It is my belief that Ferguson envisages a new shape for the new team he hopes to propel to greatness over the coming seasons. A Gattuso-Pirlo-style midfield axis of Hargreaves and Carrick will support a trio of attacking midfielders capable of playing on either flank and interchanging positions at will. They provide the attacking impetus for the team – much as Rooney, Ronaldo and Giggs did last season – reducing the frontman to the role of mere link-up player. As a consequence, the need for a Samuel Eto’o/Fernando Torres-style 25-goals-a-season striker diminishes.

Here’s how United might line up at the start of the 2008-2009 season:

1. Ben Foster
2. Danny Simpson
3. Patrice Evra
4. Rio Ferdinand
5. Nemanja Vidic
6. Owen Hargreaves
7. Cristiano Ronaldo
8. Michael Carrick
9. Louis Saha (?)
10. Wayne Rooney
11. Anderson/Nani

Louis Saha might not be United’s first-choice centre forward by then, but in the context of the present discussion the incumbent of the number 9 shirt matters not. In this 4-2-3-1, Carrick and Hargreaves protect the back four, and Rooney, Ronaldo and Anderson/Nani buzz around in support of the striker.

The team has an English spine (Foster, Ferdinand, Carrick, Hargreaves, Rooney) supplemented by Portuguese/Brazilian flair on the flanks. The trio of Ronaldo, Rooney and Anderson/Nani can change positions at will, and Giggs can be brought on to replace any of them.

The result is a team with a solid centre, pacy wings and a bewildering array of attacking talent capable of blowing through even the most disciplined defence. With six players allocated predominantly defensive responsibilities, the team is compact and hard to break down, but with three pacy young players largely absolved of such duties, it is a team which would be even more devastating on the counter-attack than Jose Mourinho’s 4-3-3. In theory.

Of course Ferguson might now go out and spunk £50 million on David Villa and prove that this is all bollocks. So we’ll just have to wait and see…