It's a new ballgame as Mourinho steals the spotlight

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 March, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 March, 2005, 12:00am

God asks: are you interested in becoming a star? Do you want to be outrageously successful and self-confident in a very high-profile position? Would you like to have a compliant and obliging boss who is the ultimate sugar daddy?

Would you also like to toil for this boss in one of the world's truly great cities and head up one of that city's most visible and iconic institutions? It's an institution that has seen some lean times over the past 50 years. You could well be the toast of the town if you turned it around. And how about being blessed with stylish grace and swarthy good looks as well?

God wants to know, are you interested? Me, I certainly am. I would love to be Jose Mourinho right about now.

As the manager of Chelsea, the top team in the English Premier League, Jose is the cat in the catbirds' seat. The supremely confident Portuguese native is wrapping up his first season in England, and barring a major slip, will guide Chelsea to their first title in 50 years.

Last season he took an unheralded FC Porto side to the championship in the top European club competition, in the world for that matter, by winning the Champions League. He was lured away from FC Porto by the deepest pockets in professional sports, Chelsea's Russian owner Roman Abramovich. If you're a Chelsea fan, it's a match made in heaven.

But if you're not, apparently it's the barbarians at the gates. Nobody has come under more ridicule in English football this year than the dapper manager from Portugal. Even perpetual combatants like Manchester United's Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsenal's Arsene Wenger have finally found something to agree on: their dislike of Mourinho's manner.

Well, tough break. While Jose may yet fall flat on his face, he seems completely unburdened by that notion. He doesn't care if he is managing a game at Benfica or haughty Old Trafford; Jose won't change what he is. And what he is, is a brash and outspoken operator who seems to know a little something about running a soccer team.

Last Sunday his cockiness caught up to him somewhat when he took obvious joy in an own-goal by Liverpool's Steven Gerrard.

He gestured towards the Liverpool fans and put his finger to his lips in a mocking call to silence. For his apparent indiscretions, he was kicked out of the game and escorted to the dressing room by a phalanx of police officers.

Afterwards Mourinho was repentant, but only slightly. 'I know I cannot do that gesture in England,' he said. 'If I do it, the police come and put me in the dressing room and because I don't want to go to the dressing room again, I cannot do it.' He added that he was not about to change his style and let all know that he has no doubts his team will win the Premiership this year. 'Maybe it is the first time that somebody behaves like me or is not afraid to say what he feels and thinks,' Mourinho said.

Well, it may not be the first time that a manager has been so openly confident, but it may be the first time that a rookie manager in England has been so confident. For the past five or six years the only two managerial voices that got any play in England were Wenger and Ferguson. It was an act that, frankly, was getting stale. The game needed a fresh voice like Mourinho, who both Wenger and Ferguson obviously find threatening because they have publicly warned him that Chelsea's spot on top is far from envious or secure.

'Do they want to change positions with us?' Mourinho replied a few weeks back. 'We are top of the league by nine points.' That lead was down to six points before last night's action, with Chelsea also holding a game in hand over their closest pursuers Manchester United. But Ferguson and Wenger better get used to the antics of Mourinho.

He is the new breed of diva-manager and the days of the show stoppers being strictly on the pitch and not on the sidelines may be over. The image of a crazed Mourinho in his long coat looking more like Batman than a footy manager as he dashed up the sidelines of Old Trafford when FC Porto scored a late goal to eliminate United from last year's Champions League is no doubt indelibly etched in Ferguson's consciousness. It should be: it was replayed all over the world for days on end.

And you think Mourinho is the only diva-manager? Please, have a listen to Wenger and his antics. The Frenchman is an opera unto himself. What it really comes down to is that most of Mourinho's critics in England feel he has far too much bluster for one who has not proven himself.

But let's see, he has a London team with perhaps the most fashionable and influential constituency in the country on the verge of their first title in 50 years.

He has a championship at the highest level in Europe, and while he may yet eat his words, his resume looks pretty good already. It appears the only thing Mourinho has not proven yet in England is his compliance. Thank God for that.