As hordes of Chelsea fans wept into their beer after our dire Anfield outing, Mourinho mumbled his prayer into the microphone: “Please God, let Manchester United falter tomorrow”. Prayer granted, still six points behind, but the worst is averted and the best is yet to come!
Of course, the Anfield result was bad, but we were desperately unlucky with injuries and suspension. Against a terribly smarting Liverpool with a lot to prove after their nightmarish outings against Arsenal, the best we could have hoped for was a draw with the team we had out there. But now, Arsenal have saved our bacon and we need panic no more. Mourinho’s teams in the last two years have won the Premiership title with nothing less than eight points, so what is a six-point gap for the Champions? Okay, we’ve never had to chase any team at this stage of the season in the past two campaigns, but here’s an opportunity to show just why we’re the Champions.
Now, as for all the stories making the rounds, I’m not one to speculate on who’s punching who at Chelsea; but one thing I’m sure of is that Roman Abramovich did not arrive at where he is today by being dumb. First, the Andriy Shevchenko story is evidently orchestrated by the press in their desperate attempt to put a wedge between players and management and between Shevchenko and the rest of the boys. Why in God’s name would Abramovich now suddenly decide he needs a snitch in the dressing room after three years of owning the club? If he needed a snitch, did he need to wait this long to get one? Was Alexey Smertin not a fellow Russian who could have easily done the job for him if he wanted? What kind of coup would Mourinho and the players be planning against such a benevolent owner in their dressing room and why? What exactly would the players be talking about that they’d wish Abramovich not to hear? And if indeed he needs a snitch in the dressing room of an English club side, would the candidate be a non-English speaking Russian?
Obviously, Mourinho is not happy that Shevchenko isn’t scoring and being no respecter of reputation, it wouldn’t be beyond him to let Shevchenko know. Shevchenko himself isn’t happy with his own form and he’s said as much. But both these people are consummate professionals who know from experience that such situations arise in football. Mourinho has his style of using tough love to motivate players. He’s done it with Joe Cole; he’s done it with Damien Duff; he’s done it with Arjen Robben and he’s done it with Ricardo Carvalho – all successfully and with no malice. If he’s doing it with Shevchenko, the latter is experienced enough to know what the objective is. Shevchenko understands that Mourinho determines how and when to use him. He knows Mourinho has given him ample opportunities to make his mark. In his mind, all he wants to do is prove his worth and he knows that in spite of Mourinho’s posture, he’s also wishing him to come good soon, because he’s clearly making the effort even though the goals aren’t coming. Abramovich wouldn’t for the sake of any player antagonize Mourinho and no player is big enough in Chelsea not to understand that. Shevchenko was very close to Silvio Berlusconi and can speak fluent Italian, but no one ever accused him of being a snitch at Milan. What I think is that the English press have found in him a convenient scapegoat by exaggerating his friendship with Abramovich, despite his protest to the contrary. I do not think there’s any iota of truth in that story. All Shevchenko wants to do is score and when he does, expect him to run to Mourinho on the sidelines to celebrate.
Mourinho obviously has some differences with the board reportedly over transfer targets, but his job is to identify and nurture talent and it is the board’s business to sanction and implement a purchase as it deems fit. Mourinho is not bitter because the club aren’t buying (or at least aren’t buying yet), after all he’s had countless of such situations at Porto and still succeeded. He’s merely stating that if the policy is that we aren’t buying after the manager identifies the need, then the least to be expected is that nobody should be sold. The last I checked both parties have kept to their bounds. No Chelsea player has so far been sold and we have men returning from injury, not least Mourinho’s “£50 million” man, Petr the Great! The transfer window is still wide open and managers everywhere are haggling and negotiating with their boards regarding their needs for the rest of the season. Mourinho is no different, but because we’re Chelsea and he’s Mourinho, the press is making a mountain of salad out of one tiny stick of carrot. Such is Mourinho’s influence, that having raised the bar, people expect the impossible. The fans particularly and the football world generally simply expect Chelsea to demolish every opposition put before them. In Mourinho’s world, a little stutter masquerades as a mighty tremor.
Anyone who’s followed Mourinho’s history with the media even before he stepped on our turf would know that his TV acts of bellicose inscrutability are only for media effect. Mourinho is a psychologist. He anticipated a media backlash from the loss to Spurs and the strings of draws and for being six points behind United. Mourinho knows that the media feeds off Chelsea in a very negative way and when results aren’t so great on the field, it has always been the signal for them to create stories or play up minor differences of opinion to destabilize the fortress of the Kings of the King’s Road and Champions of all England. Mourinho is merely playing politics, but not with the board or Abramovich (because there’s no conflict to the extent being reported as everybody respects each other and understands the limits of their individual power within the organisation, even with what Peter Kenyon has paradoxically described as “healthy tension”). The way Chelsea is run, Mourinho would never have a disagreement over funds with Abramovich. All such matters are routed through Kenyon, so if anyone is going to wield the axe of refusal, it would have to be Kenyon, not Abramovich. Mourinho has repeatedly said all he discusses with Abramovich is football; so all these stories about Mourinho not on speaking terms with Abramovich over the latter not making funds available for players this window simply don’t add up. What I suspect Mourinho is doing is what he does any time his team is in a sticky spot, which is to create or encourage a situation that will attract attention to his person, rather than to the team. He knew the press are merely selling speculations as news, but he plays along, knowing that his people at Stamford Bridge (not the players) understand his game. It serves his purpose for the press to report an earthquake at the Bridge when it’s only a storm in a teacup. And then there is the further advantage of using such reports to motivate his team.
Mourinho will not take Roberto Mancini’s job nor look too closely at Fabio Capello’s seat. His love for Chelsea is not in doubt. He’s smart; his family loves it here; he loves it here and he knows he has the best job in the world and an owner who does not interfere negatively, but who is always available as a fan and lover of the game – an owner that actually respects him, despite the stories circulating. It wouldn’t be a big deal if the board overrules him on transfers in the areas of their powers, but if the press plays that up Mourinho would gladly oblige them as far as it deflects attention from his players. By the time the press wakes up to realize that they were put off the scent by Mourinho, it would be the beginning of 2007-2008 season when he (yes, the same old Mourinho) puts out a Chelsea team to continue his winning legacy. I mean, if there’s anything you’d expect in an Abramovich-run enterprise, it is organization. Chelsea have it on and off the field. Mourinho knows the job is his till at least 2010 and he in fact has been doing things that are more far-reaching than next year. The blueprint is for Mourinho to stay as long as possible to create the kind of distinct club and playing culture established by such long-serving managers as Bill Shankly, Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger, Mourinho’s imprints are everywhere at the Bridge and at the training ground in Cobham. The man who has the safest job on the planet will not gamble, even if there are many big clubs that will bay for his services. Chelsea value stability and Abramovich and Kenyon will ensure that’s what we get by keeping him. Kenyon’s latest statement of support is part of a well-managed ploy to move on now that Mourinho has achieved his aim. Don’t be surprised if Chelsea buys one or two players in the coming week.
The most important thing right now is to hunt down United. I personally believe that the loss at the Emirates will eat deeply into their confidence and it is left to Mourinho and the boys to exploit this. Whether we’re buying or not, we can’t afford any more wobbles. We’re at the business end of the Premiership and this is the perfect time to show why we’re Champions. I expect Mourinho and the boys to use the upcoming Cup games to boost confidence ahead of our next league match with Blackburn. It’s time to pull together – fans, owner, board, manager and players! If we all stand behind Mourinho and the team, I believe we can retain the title. And, if we do, it would be the sweetest victory of all.
So, it’s time to find out what Manchester United are made of by putting fire up their backsides!