Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Chelsea Retro: A Preview of May 2006

Another piece of Chelsea Retro, a preview of the last month of the 2005/2006 season, written after Chelsea had clinched the Premiership title for the second successive season. This is quite funny looking back bearing in mind the results Chelsea did (or didn't) get.

As I write this Chelsea have just wrapped up their second successive Premiership title with a 3-0 defeat of Manchester United. As we finally left the ground the talk in the media was not just about Chelsea’s back-to-back titles, but of Wayne Rooney. We all watched in deathly silence as England’s star player and great hope for the World Cup left the field, and now looking like he will miss the World Cup. No-one likes to see a player, especially such a key player and great player for England, go off with an injury like that. For me it took the gloss just a little - although only a little - off what was a great day, arguably the best atmosphere I’ve ever experienced at Stamford Bridge. We should celebrate too, back to back titles is a great achievement, only achieved by great teams – which is what we have.

This of course changes the whole complexion of May’s fixtures. We have two away fixtures, both in the first week of May, to complete our league season. The results are now academic in terms of winning the title, but if we win these two games then we will break our own record points total and achieve 97 points, two more than last season. This is from a team who apparently are worse than last season! In fact even a draw and a win would see us equal the 95 points of last season, having lost two more games. Quite an achievement if it can be done – and I believe it will be.

As for team selection for these games, well it could be interesting. We must face these fixtures without our skipper John Terry, cruelly denied the chance to play all 38 league games this season. He will be anxious to make sure he does it next season. It will be a chance for fringe players to get a run out in the first team. Jose spoke yesterday of giving players some rest, especially with the World Cup coming up for most, so expect some changes. SWP will probably play both, as will Damien Duff. Lassana Diarra could also be given some first-team experience in the Makelele role, with Maniche, Carlton Cole, Glen Johnson, Robert Huth and Carlo Cudicini likely to play some part in at least one if not both games. This will give some a perfect opportunity to stake a claim for a first team spot next season, while for others it may be their farewell appearance. The good thing is that it will keep the team hungry and players will be fresher, meaning no lack of effort or complacency. Jose and the team will want to end the season on a winning note and break that points record, which will be their goal now.

Blackburn away is the first of these games. Always a difficult fixture, Blackburn have a lot to play for, with the possibility of European football going to Ewood Park. In contrast to last year Blackburn have actually played some good football this season and deserve their league position. Craig Bellamy has proved to be a great signing and is looking back to his best. A real danger man for us and arguably Blackburn’s biggest chance of achieving a result. This will be a difficult match and therefore most likely a low scoring affair. 1-0 to Chelsea.

Newcastle away is yet again our final league match. Newcastle, who may or may not have Michael Owen available, are in good form currently and proving just how correct they were to sack Graeme Souness. From lower table they have climbed up into European contention and what with it being their final home game and a European spot up for grabs they will be very up for it. This again will be a difficult fixture for us, especially having already won the title and it being at St James’ Park, which is always a difficult atmosphere. However with a team selection which will again give opportunity for lesser used players, who are fresher and arguably hungrier to play than first team regulars now the title has been wrapped up, I believe Chelsea will record another victory. 2-1 to Chelsea.

Also this month we will begin to get the papers coming out in force with rumours and gossip about the comings and goings at Chelsea Football Club this summer. The inevitable rumours will surface about top strikers like Adriano, Shevchenko and Eto’o and numerous left-backs and centre-backs. It could also be the month when we complete the free transfer of Michael Ballack. Whatever, the rumour mill will be going into overdrive now that Chelsea’s season is effectively over.

It has been another great season. Back-to-back titles is not to be sniffed at, and we could easily beat our points total of last season. Whatever happens though we can be proud to be Chelsea supporters and enjoy this time – we are the Champions!!! Again!!

What actually happened:
Chelsea lost their last two league games away to Blackburn and Newcastle, both 1-0. In both games they fielded under-strength teams, but still involved Shaun Wright Phillips and Damien Duff in both games and Frank Lampard in one of the games. At Blackburn they had three penalties not given and created enough chances to win and against Newcastle again had chances to at least draw if not win the game but lost to a Titus Bramble goal. At the end of the month Chelsea confirmed they were signing Michael Ballack on a Bosman free transfer, and the next month Andriy Shevchenko arrived for a British record £31 million from Milan. By the end of August they had signed England left-back Ashley Cole from Arsenal as well, despite the eventually unfounded rumours of Roberto Carlos arriving from Madrid.

Chelsea Retro: A Preview of April 2006

Here's some more Chelsea Retro for you. This is a monthly preview of April 2006, which turned out to be the defining month in Chelsea's season.

This preview comes a little late, so apologies. I would’ve said we should have no problems beating Birmingham, but looks like that prediction was wrong! We go into the rest of this crucial month with a seven point lead at the top of the table. This is the month when we could either win the title and get to the FA Cup final, or throw away a seven point lead and get knocked out of the FA Cup. Basically, this month is make or break for our season. We play five games – four league and one cup, which will effectively decide the season.

So what’s going to happen? Well as a Chelsea fan of over 20 years I can safely say you never know with Chelsea. However there seem to be a lot of people starting to doubt us and saying we going to ‘do a Devon Loch’. However we need to look at this more objectively. The fixtures are West Ham and Everton at home with Bolton away sandwiched between. We then have the two biggest games, United at home and at Old Trafford against Liverpool in the FA Cup.

Despite what’s being said about us recently we are starting to play a bit better in recent games. We’re keeping the ball better and creating chances, and most importantly something is going right with our defence (funnily enough, since Gallas got suspended we haven’t conceded a goal). We are keeping clean sheets and as long as we keep doing that we will win games. Yes at times we’ve only played one half of games, but in those halves we’re creating enough chances to win.

There is no need to panic. The facts show that we have only dropped two points at home this season and have beaten Liverpool and Arsenal amongst others. If we keep this form up we will win the title either before or at the game against United – depending on how many points they drop. If United drop four points and we win our next three, we’ll win the title at home to Everton. If not, and we win two of those three , a victory against United will secure the title and even a draw will mean we only need a win or two draws from our last two to win it. The chances of United catching us are still slim and we should still be confident of retaining our title.

In the FA Cup it’s always about how you play on the day. We’re not scoring as many goals, especially away from home and Liverpool seem to have found their shooting boots. However, our domestic record against Liverpool in the last couple of season is superb and hopefully we’ll have our tails up from just winning the title. The odds are we’ll go through here.

We shouldn’t be worried at all about the mentality of the players. They know how good a position we’re in and will still be confident of winning the title and getting to the FA Cup final. Mourinho has instilled that belief and confidence in the squad and a couple of dodgy away results won’t shake it.

It’s us fans who must keep the faith and really get behind our teams at games. Let’s be loud, let’s be bold and really get behind the team. We must also stay confident and positive about our prospects. We still have a healthy lead at the top. Most years a seven point lead at this stage is a great achievement – we just have higher expectations after winning the title by 12 points last year. Winning a title a second year running is always more difficult and so it’s proving. Man Utd would much rather be in our position than theirs and even Alex Ferguson after the Bolton game said that Chelsea are still heavy favourites with their lead. All of us, the fans, the players and everyone involved at the club, just need to keep our nerve. If we do that, we win end this month as Champions looking forward to an FA Cup final and potential double – and all the critics and doubters will have been silenced. How good would that feel?

What actually happened:
Chelsea won all their league games after Birmingham up till the Man Utd game. They came from behind with 10 men to beat West Ham 4-1, beat Bolton 2-0, Everton 3-0 and then trashed Man Utd 3-0 at home to win the league. They did however lose 2-1 in the FA Cup Semi-Finals to eventual winners Liverpool. But nevertheless, a great month for Chelsea FC.

Chelsea Retro: Air of Invincibility Shattered

Here's a little look back at something I wrote at the end of March 2006 reviewing Chelsea's then poor form and looking at our prospects for the rest of the season. Interesting reading in hindsight:

In recent weeks, Chelsea has had some bad results. We’ve not been playing well for a long time, in fact the only decent performance of 2006 was in the FA Cup v Everton. Chelsea haven’t really been playing well consistently since we beat Bolton in the league back in the autumn. Yes, we’ve put together a run of 10 successive victories in that time, but nevertheless even during that run we never really were playing great football. But at the time it didn’t matter, we were still getting results and didn’t look like getting beaten.

Last season’s achievement and the sheer scale of it – records broken aplenty, only losing one game – gave us an air of invincibility coming into this season. Teams were sent out to stop us scoring, rather than to attack us and defeat us. Teams were looking for draws if they were lucky. We beat Barcelona 4-2 at home and looked unbeatable.

That form carried on into the start of this season. At one point our defence was so good they were having bets on us not conceding a goal all season and one tabloid newspaper was offering a reward for the first person to score past us. People were afraid of us, and there was talk of us not losing a game all season and in fact winning all our games. Of course these were probably unrealistic expectations, but people were saying these sorts of things about us.

How things change. Until Middlesbrough away it looked like a coast to the title, we would have it wrapped up by early April or even the end of March. We didn’t think we could lose a game. Then we lost to Middlesbrough 3-0 playing very poorly. Barcelona knocked us out of the Champions League after a combination of a refereeing decision and a poor away performance at the Nou Camp. The criticism that surrounded it – not enough flair or creativity, no world-class finisher, poor tactics, were heavy. The media laid into Mourinho in the way they had wanted to ever since he came to Chelsea and proclaimed himself “the special one”. They talked of Mourinho being a moaner, ungracious, a bad loser and not as special as he thought. Of course this criticism continued after the win at West Brom where Chelsea players and Mourinho were criticised for their behaviour, completely ignorant of the Bryan Robson swearing and shouting and his players’ intimidation of the referee. More criticism.

Then came Sunday and what was expected to be a stroll against Fulham, who were conceding goals like nobody’s business. The end result was a poor performance by Chelsea, especially in the first half, and a bit of bad luck giving us a third defeat of the season. Now there are articles springing up in the papers about how Newcastle threw away their 12 point lead in 1996. People are starting to ask ‘Will Mourinho do a Keegan?’ Even Chelsea fans themselves are starting to question some of the managers’ decisions, which could have been regarded as heresy only a few months ago. Suddenly teams are now going to start fancying their chances against us. People now think we’re beatable if you attack us and put the pressure on the midfield. The fear factor is fast disappearing.

However, I believe this could work to our advantage. Last season not many people expected us to win the league at the beginning. Even when we were five points clear many expected us to implode. The expectations from outside were nowhere near as high as this season. The same may start happening now. Teams may think they have a chance against us or underestimate us.

Will Jose and Chelsea ‘do a Keegan / Newcastle’? I have my doubts. We are made of sterner stuff and have a manager who has won three league titles already. His confidence is unshakeable and his man-management flawless. The one-hour team meeting at the training ground, which didn’t even happen after the Boro’ game, is a good sign that they are determined to put things right and will be doing all they can to do so. Knowing the temperament of this Chelsea team they will respond in the way Champions do, but putting together a great run to the end of the season.

We now have something to prove again. Last season we needed to prove we could win the league and silence the doubters. This season we now need to silence those doubters, those sceptics in the media, those who try and put us down, by finishing the season in style. By winning our next five games in the league so only a draw against either Blackburn or Man Utd (depending on whether we reach the FA Cup semi-finals) will give us the title. By going unbeaten to the end of the season and win our first ever double. Only then will that air of invincibility we held for so long begin to return.

What actually happened:
Chelsea won the league title with a 3-0 thrashing of so-called title rivals Man Utd at Stamford Bridge with goals from William Gallas, Joe Cole and Ricardo Carvalho. Wayne Rooney got the injury that almost put him out of the World Cup. They also lost in the Semi-Finals of the FA Cup to eventual winners Liverpool. In the summer they signed Michael Ballack, Andriy Shevchenko and Ashley Cole and after ten games of the this season are joint top on points with Man Utd in the Premiership and top of their Champions League group after three games, with three wins - including defeating the reigning European Champions Barcelona 1-0 at Stamford Bridge with a superb performance. The air of invinciblity is now returning.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Have they gone too far?

So often in the last few years Jose Mourinho and Chelsea fans themselves have gone on about being victimised by the media. Comments written in newspapers and made by people on radio or TV coming out criticising the actions of Mourinho, CFC or the players or spreading gossip about Mourinho’s future at Chelsea, criticism of their style of play and conduct in comparison to clubs like Liverpool and Arsenal have been commonplace. Until now I was willing to put up with this, being the best means you are going to get criticism. However, when it came to the issue of Steve Hunt v Petr Cech, which was reckless and avoidable, the majority – with one notable exception – side not with the player who almost lost his life or with the club he plays for, but no, with Steven Hunt and Reading.

Let it be clear, Petr Cech could and would have died of his injury if it had been left unoperated or undiagnosed. Get that? Not just his career, but his whole life would be over. Gone. Past. Nobody who has experienced the loss of a close relative or friend would wish that on anyone. Yet in my opinion a lot of the media have used this as an opportunity to attack Chelsea and Jose Mourinho while they’re down. That is inexcusable.

When Jose Mourinho was first interviewed after the game he said it could be a life-threatening injury and a lot of people at first thought he was over-reacting. Yet it came out later that indeed he was right. Petr Cech could have lost his life. Then Mourinho went on to say that the tackle on Cech was entirely deliberate and that Hunt should be punished. The Monday after the game had a feature written by a tabloid journalist saying that not only was Hunt completely innocent, but that he should sue Mourinho for slander or libel.

Looking at the incident over and over, it seems more and more clear that this was an avoidable injury. Petr Cech had control over the ball and there was no chance of Hunt winning it back. He had long enough to realise this and jump over Cech and avoid any injury. Instead, to ‘let him know he was about’ he left his leg in. I’m sure that his intention was not to cause injury, just enough pain to know that Hunt wasn’t going to take any prisoners. Nevertheless, whatever the intent, in my opinion, and that of many Chelsea fans and indeed players and staff, is that the tackle was reckless and avoidable, and caused serious injury to the player. Under the laws of the game that is a sending off offence.

But however clear this may be to a lot of people, both the media (largely) and the FA have decided that it was an unavoidable accident and attach no blame to Hunt whatsoever. Hunt is not punished and the media launch a headlong assault on Chelsea and their manager for over-reacting and making false accusations.

This got even worse when Mourinho made what were probably in hindsight unwise comments regarding the situation with the ambulance on the Tuesday afterwards. Of course, the media took that one line out of a very long press conference, most of which I am reliably informed was not reported on at all, and used it again as a stick to beat Mourinho with.

However, you can understand how Mourinho felt. Emotions were running very high amongst everyone at that time, even the fans, yet alone his family, friends, manager and team-mates. Mourinho was upset and frustrated about what had happened and maybe said things that in hindsight he wouldn’t. He had every right to be angry at that time. To me, his actions are excusable given the situation. But whatever he said, it was interpreted as an attack on Reading and the local ambulance service, which of course it wasn’t. If people had listened to him after the game, he had been in fact very complimentary to the Reading team and their manager for the way they played and approached the game. But of course, being positive, this was lost in the carnage that followed.

More allegations of arrogance and even worse of exploiting the incident to fire up his players for a big match. That was absolutely sickening. Mourinho would never stoop so low about anyone, yet alone one of his own team. And all this while Petr Cech was still in his hospital bed recovering from a life-threatening injury, which had been lost in the clamour to criticise Chelsea and Mourinho. In the last week I’ve read articles calling Mourinho a buffoon, arrogant, a moaner and that no-one listens to what he says anymore. Well if that’s true then they aren’t really doing a very good job of proving it.

The media are the ones in my opinion who have exploited this situation, not Mourinho. They have leapt on the opportunity to attack Mourinho and Chelsea, whilst Cech was still in hospital recovering from an injury that threatened his life and was completely avoidable. The FA have as usual washed their hands of the whole thing, and Hunt comes up smelling of Roses and Mourinho, who has to suffer the consequence of losing his best goalkeeper to an avoidable injury, is the one criticised.

Sorry, but to me the media have gone too far this time. What they have done is completely out of order and shows a lack of respect for human life in favour of grabbing a headline. It truly sickens me and I suspect a lot of other fans out there. The sad thing is there is little we can do to stop it other than not read the newspapers. As long as the general public read it they will write it, conveniently ignoring the facts and the pain of a player and his family, in favour of getting a story. Sick.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

For the money or the glory?

Ever since Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea in the summer of 2003, and even before that, there has been more and more talk of players only being motivated by money. Even the poorest Premiership footballer probably earning upwards of £500,000 per annum, up to players earning over £5 million per year (in wages alone). In comparison, 10 years ago the top players only earned around £1 million a year, and 20 years ago wages were even less. What I want to discuss here is the argument that big players only move to Chelsea for money and that some, if not all, top players are only motivated by money. Personally I don’t believe that is the case.

The accusation goes that all the top players who move to clubs on big salaries only move for the money. The Bosman ruling has allowed players at the end of their contracts to move clubs for a big signing on fee and high wages. On top of this clubs, of which Chelsea is a prime example, without the track record of success of a ‘big’ club like Real Madrid, Liverpool or Man Utd, and have been perceived by some not to be able to attract these type of players on merit. Therefore any big players, who move to these clubs on big salaries, are by definition only going there for the money. Money is their only motivating factor, and they will go to the club which offers them the highest salary. Many have levelled this accusation against Chelsea’s big three summer acquisitions, Andriy Shevchenko, Michael Ballack and Ashley Cole. Also, because these types of players are at their peak and have won most trophies going in football, there is a perceived lack of hunger or ambition, so the only motivating factor must have been money. People say these players move for 'one final big pay day'..

To me, this argument is very simplistic and to a certain extent judgemental. It tarnishes all players that move on big salaries with the same brush, and makes big assumptions. I prefer the other argument.

To a certain extent money is important to all of us. We need it to live and provide for ourselves and our families. If we are good at a job we want to get paid what we’re worth, or rather the going rate. If another company offers us a similar position at their company, on a higher salary with more opportunities for promotion, then a lot of us would be tempted to accept. Most top international footballers in their prime, as the three players in question are, are already millionaires several times over. In fact, these top players don't need a big final pay day, so that idea is ridiculous. As long as they are paid the market value for their services - which I believe is fair enough, and not greedy - in recognition of their marketability off the pitch and ability on it, and what they could be paid by most other clubs, they will be happy to sign. That is not being motivated by money. It’s getting paid the market value for their services. They probably bring in a substantial amount of what they get paid into the club in terms of merchandise, and that value is recognised in their pay packets. Top players by definition are surely ones whose motivation is to play football at the highest level for as long as possible and to win as many trophies as possible. If they are only motivated by money their commitment and hunger on the pitch will be much less surely. This argument says that to top players, although they want to be paid a fair wage in comparison to other top players, that they go to big clubs just as much to win trophies as anything else. This is the argument that I tend to agree with.

Frank Lampard and John Terry both earn £5 million a year and allegedly have clauses in their contracts saying they will always be the highest paid players at Chelsea Football Club. Yet no one questions their motivation or loyalty. Why should it be the same with any other players? Gianfranco Zola took a pay cut when leaving Chelsea, but only decided to leave when Chelsea didn’t offer him a sufficient contract, which was ironically more than he earnt at Cagliari. Even though the salary offered by Chelsea even pre-Abramovich was more, because the amount was not what he felt he was worth in terms of his experience and contribution to the club, he decided to leave to his hometown club. Even when offered what he wanted post-Abramovich he declined, having giving his word already to Cagliari. A big-name player, clearly not motivated by money, but still wanting to be paid what he was worth. An example which demonstrates this argument.

In the case of Michael Ballack and Andriy Shevchenko, both were offered contracts by other clubs of equal value to the ones they signed with Chelsea. Hardly the actions of people motivated by money. Ashley Cole publicly fell out with Arsenal, his boyhood club, because they allegedly verbally offered him one contract only to withdraw it, and failed to support him at all when he was in trouble with the FA. Indeed, he would probably have earnt more going to Real Madrid than he does now at Chelsea. Factor in that Chelsea are clearly the best team in England at the moment and have a better chance of winning major trophies than Arsenal, then the argument about money falls down even more.

In fact that applies to all players in relation to Chelsea now. Chelsea are the best side in England, back-to-back title winners and one of the top teams in Europe. They have one of the best squads and best managers in Europe, are now regualr qualifiers and are among on the favourites for the Champions League every season. Why wouldn't any top player want to come to Stamford Bridge?

There are exceptions of course. Players who demand a certain salary, or else threaten to walk out on their club. Or refuse to play unless their wage demands are met. Players like Winston Bogarde who happily collected £8 million from Chelsea and was happy not to play. That is a clear example of a player being motivated by money. But to me that is the exception rather than the rule.

Yes, the sheer amounts are staggering, and I’m not in any way saying that the high wages are justified. Nobody is worth that much money per year in reality. But the amount of money in football now means that comparatively the wages and fees for top players is increasing

It is up to you to decide which side of the argument you fall down on, but I would argue that players do not move just for money or just for the glory. They move to big clubs to achieve success and win trophies, and want to be paid what they’re worth in comparison to other big players - in rare exceptions, some are even willing to pay cuts. Let's make sure we don't assume too much.

For the money or the glory? You decide.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Chelsea Managers: Jose Mourinho - The Special One

Now the start of a new series on this site, profiling some of Chelsea's best managers. Of course there's no better place to start than with a profile of the man largely responsible for their recent successes, Jose Mourinho.

José Mário dos Santos Mourinho Félix, to give him his full name, was born 26 Jan 1963 in Setubal, Portugal. Football was in his blood right from the beginning, as he was the son of Portugal goalkeeper Felix Mourinho. As the years passed it quickly became apparent that Jose was not the most gifted of footballers, but still had a great passion for the game. Management is where he would achieve greatness.

Looking back Jose’s path to management arguably began at the tender age of 15. His father was a manager at the time and asked Jose to go on scouting missions and prepare dossiers on players, a skill he has now brought into management. Jose studied Physical Education at University, specialising in sports methodology. He then began work as a PE teacher. To put this in context, at around the same time Sir Alex Ferguson was winning the FA and Cup Winners Cups at Man Utd.

Jose was ambitious and determined to make a name for himself in management. But he was wise enough to know he had much to learn. He got his big break in 1994 when Bobby Robson took over as Sporting Lisbon manager. Jose, being able to speak Portuguese and English, had the opportunity to work with him as his interpreter. Bobby Robson famously asked him to tell him everything Luis Figo was saying about him which he couldn’t understand. Mourinho quickly impressed Robson with his commitment and work rate and was slowly given more and more responsibility. Indeed, he impressed Robson so much that when went to Porto the next year he took Jose with him. There he assisted Robson as he took Porto to two league titles, amongst other successes.

When Bobby Robson was asked to take over as manager of Barcelona, he insisted on Jose coming with him as one of the terms of his employment. There Jose honed his coaching skills even more. When Louis Van Gaal took over from Robson in 1997 Jose continued as his assistant. Jose said that working with two very different styles of coach helped him in his development. As he said in his book, “Bobby Robson isn’t interested in study or planning the training practice; he’s about training and having direct contact with players…..with Van Gaal all that was left for me to do was training on the pitch”.

Working with two different styles of manager had allowed Mourinho to develop his skills both in terms of preparing a training session and studying opposition, and in running a coaching session. He watched and learnt from two great managers. In 1999 when Bobby Robson went to Newcastle, he invited Jose again to go with him, but Jose this time declined, despite the promise of the managers’ job when Bobby retired. Jose was his own man and knew his own mind. He would do things his way. He stayed at Barcelona for another year, but was now becoming restless. He was ready to go into management in his own right. He quit his well paid assistant’s job at Barcelona in the summer of 2000 and waited for the right opportunity.

Benfica were the first club to give the untried Mourinho his chance, in 2000. However this was short lived. A fall out with the clubs’ new owners let to him quitting after just 9 games in charge. Jose proved he was nothing if not strong minded. In 2001 he took over at unfashionable Uniao de Leiria and started to show his true qualities as a manager. He took the side into fourth position, even above Porto, arguably the biggest club in Portugal. They needed a new manager and Mourinho, who knew the club president from his time there with Bobby Robson, was appointed in January 2002. He finally had a platform to make his name.

When Jose took over at Porto he announced that not only were they the worst Porto side in 26 years, but that the next season they would be champions. His supreme confidence already showing itself. He was proved right. In 2003, on a budget Jose has since described as ‘the same as Sunderland’s’, Porto completed an unprecedented treble of league title, domestic cup and UEFA Cup. Jose was already getting offers to move, but stayed. He wanted experience in the Champions League. Little did he know what would happen next.

In 2004 Porto retained their league title, only losing one game. They lost in the Portuguese Cup final to Benfica. But it was in the Champions League they made the biggest impression. In the group stages they held Madrid to a 1-1 draw, and then the tie that made him famous in this country. Porto were drawn against Man Utd. In Porto they beat them 2-1, Ferguson furious with Porto and Mourinho and showing it at the handshake at the final whistle. But it was at Old Trafford it all came to a head. Porto going through with a last minute Costinha goal, causing Mourinho to famously jump out of his seat and run down the touchline in celebration. From then there was no going back. Now his name was starting to get linked to clubs all over Europe. Inter and Liverpool at first, and then of course Chelsea. By the time Porto played Monaco in the Champions League final it had become the most open secret in football that Mourinho was off to Stamford Bridge. After the whistle blew on his teams’ 3-0 triumph he immediately announced he was leaving Porto. Most football fans knew where his destination was.

On June 3 2004 Jose Mourinho was officially confirmed as the new manager of Chelsea FC. He wasted no time on his arrival in proclaiming himself as “a special one” (not THE special one as has been commonly misquoted since) and a ‘top manager’. At the start of that season Chelsea were among the favourites to win the title, and Mourinho wasn’t afraid to admit his ambitions. The first test came on opening day against Man Utd. Chelsea may have only won 1-0, but the confidence that came from that victory, combined with a rock-solid defence marshalled by new captain John Terry, a midfield run by Claude Makelele and Frank Lampard combined with the flair and creativity flying wingers Damien Duff, Arjen Robben and latterly Joe Cole, finally becoming under Mourinho the player he had always promised to be, drove Chelsea firstly to the Carling Cup, their first trophy for 5 years, but then to their first league title in 50 years. Only one defeat and the least goals conceded of any team in league history. A record number of points in Premier League history. Some good performances were also served up in Europe, including 4-2 demolitions of Barcelona and Bayern Munich, and only some poor luck against Liverpool denied Chelsea their first Champions League final.

Mourinho had changed the whole culture of the club. From being a club that hoped for success, they were now one expecting it and demanding it. Winning was now to become the norm. Chelsea swept to their second successive league title the next season, and the most that can be said about it is that it almost seemed inevitable from day 1.

Mourinho has proved himself to be a manager who reads and understands football and players perfectly. He prepares his teams to win, and trains them in a variety of tactics so they are perfectly prepared. He prepares his team to play either with or against 10 men, is not afraid to make big decisions during games and leaves absolutely nothing to chance. Every training session is planned right to the last minute in meticulous detail. Players get dossiers on their direct opponents in games and occasionally DVD’s to study in preparation. He’s also a brilliant man-manager, knowing how different players respond to different treatment. The obvious example of this being Joe Cole.

He’s often outspoken and accused of being arrogant. But he knows how to play the media. He himself has said that he sees press conferences as part of the game and everything he says is planned and thought through. He is supremely confident both in his own ability and in the ability of his team. He has proven he can handle pressure. At the age of 43, after only six years in management, he has already won all but one of the competitions he has contested as a manager. In the last four years he has won the UEFA Cup and Champions League – on a small budget, as well four league titles, two domestic cups, the Portuguese Supercup and Community Shield. A better record than any other manager during that time. He has committed himself to Chelsea until 2010 and Chelsea have said they want to keep him beyond that. Whether that happens remains to be seen, but what is without doubt is that not only is Mourinho the greatest manager in Chelsea’s history but arguably the finest manager in Europe at the current time.

Chelsea are truly lucky to have such a great manager in charge of their club. Long may it continue.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Coming soon on this site...

Thought I'd chat briefly about what's coming up on this site in the near future. It's just to keep people informed and to give you an idea of the sort of issues and areas I'll be writing about over the coming months.

I'll be continuing with my features on Chelsea FC, including features on how money does or doesn't motivate players, a discussion on the merits of both Frank Lampard and Michael Ballack and their compatability. There'll be Chelsea Retro, a few articles I wrote last season that never got on this site. Also there'll two new series. Firstly Chelsea Managers, profiling the great Chelsea managers beginning with Jose Mourinho, and also including Ruud Gullit and Gianluca Vialli. Then there'll be Chelsea Player Profiles where I'll be profiling the best Chelsea players of recent years, starting with Joe Cole. Finally I'll be looking back at how Chelsea have performed in October and writing a preview of what lies ahead for them in November.

However, I'll also be taking a more in-depth look at another of my main interests, British politics. This will include a comparison between Tony Blair and David Cameron, their leadership styles, similarities, differences and their respective impacts on their parties. I'll also be examining how potentially successful David Cameron can be and whether he and his new-look Conservative party have the substance and qualities necessary for Government. I'll be talking about the issue of the next Labour leader and discussing not just who it will be, but who it should be. On top of this I'll be arguing how and why I think the Conservatives should take a long-term view should be they lose the next General Election.

Finally I'll be sharing a bit more about my expriences at the New Wine, Soul Survivor and Momentum Christian conferences last summer, and talking about how God spoke to me and how He changed both my life and the lives of others. I'll also be taking an in-depth look at prayer. I also intend to write a short response to Richard Dawkins new book 'The God Delusion' from a Christian perspective.

So as you can see, there's a lot to come over the next few months -and that's just what I already know! Keep checking up on the site to keep right up to date!