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The Mourinho Phases - Deceit Before The Fond Farewell


Eton Blue at the Chelsea Megastore

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I often wonder what it must be like for a top level coach when he is given the opposition’s team sheet for a crucial game and he knows that a certain Jose Mourinho is its instigator. Does it arrive in the covert form of a tiny slip of paper slid silently under the dressing door, or does the tension rise a notch or two for the recipient if he’s waiting to hear a gentle knock on it, followed by some staccato-voiced acknowledgement of arrival, such as ’Mou Service!’ ringing out across the room and freaking out its occupants? Indeed, never mind the quality of the lager in that advert with Eric Cantona mimicking Bretagne farmers, this is exactly how I imagine it to be on Tuesday night after Paris had succumbed to an umpteenth mid-match amendment to an original Epistle from the Roman’s very own delivery-man ‘Supreme‘.

Of course, he says switching several analogies mid-stream, it was Jose who first chose to gee-up and make fashionable little horse symbolism in Media circles and therefore, as the French like horsemeat too [plated in every sense of the word] and also having regard to the Grand National nature of Champions Leaguer nights like these, I wouldn’t have put it past our Happy One to have ditched the traditional plain sheet of paper method altogether, instead wheeling-on out a great wooden horse, right up to the enemy camp’s door, with the names of the starting eleven emblazoned on its side like a saddle, the substitutes stirrup-listed beneath. When seeing this equine beast, Blanc [as was the discarded team sheet, presumably] would doubtless have treated it in true Trojan-esque fashion, ignoring the vacuity within and instead accepting the rarest of gargantuan offerings in the spirit that it was intended.

And, in all honesty, this really is the nub of the matter. Coaches know full well that a Mourinho team sheet is always going to be, in legalistic terminology, ‘mere business puff‘, no more than ‘an invitation to treat’ and a starting point for the further tactical negotiations destined to follow. Except, mon Brave, if you’re facing one of Arsene Wenger’s regimental and universally-celebrated ‘Eleven-Gunner Saluts‘, stuck out there on a battleground where the price [tactic] is right from the get-go and always non-negotiable, irrespective of the number of game-winning substitutions that start tumbling onto the pitch, all dubbin-upped and dropping from a Dobbin’s midriff while he munches hay in the dugout next door.

Truth be told and surreal though I’ve made it all look in this, my post match euphoria phase, such flexibility does make the big difference between success and failure in football management in this day and age. On Tuesday night at Stamford Bridge the real world was given the clearest of insights into what it takes to win at this level - not just one phase, when a team is sent out to do a job, even after an early, enforced adjustment, through injury to Hazard, resulting in a straight swap for Shurrle; not just a second phase, hooking Frank and bringing on Demba Ba to become the most advanced striker, thereby leaving David Luiz to effectively ‘hold’ on his own and play a terrific game under immense pressure as a direct result; not just a third phase, by introducing Torres for Oscar with time running out and to make something happen, the risk of decimation to our midfield being adjudged Jose-justifiable, albeit that it was [so typically] planned for.

But lastly, and by no means least, an incredible fourth phase during which races were run by the boss in order to ensure ’i’s were dotted and ’t’s were crossed. And all the while, as spotted by Pat Nevin in his superb ChelseaTV analysis, Samuel Eto’o stood patiently beside the ecstatic scrum, waiting for his own instructions. If ever a moment summed up the Mourinho Effect it was this - a player who once said ’Never will I sign for a team trained by Mourinho’ showing astonishing subservience on a world stage and, if I’m not mistaken, getting a quick apology from Jose because, in the heat of battle, he almost forget to update his most loyal of henchman.

Then again, I guess that’s what it must feel like to be managed by Mou, in that you kinda get to know when miracles are about to happen, even if it may take as many as four phases, but especially when you’ve spent a series of morning training sessions actually rehearsing all the possible outcomes! Whereas we have Jose and are safe in the knowledge that, somewhere along the Imaginot Line, a self-fulfilling prophecy awaits, spare a thought for the French, who drew a Blanc and, if customers of the best Parisian bistros have their way, it could soon, colloquially-speaking on both sides of the Channel, be steak tartare for him and toute de suite!

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