Chelsea must beware Special agenda
MILAN Fashion Week starts today, but the strutting, cutting a dash and striking a pose began in some style yesterday.
Life's a catwalk for that grand designer of footballing dreams, Jose Mourinho, who warmed up for this evening's Champions League tie against Chelsea, his old club, with a collection of bold statements.
Mourinho's meetings with the media are part love-in, part fireworks party. Yesterday, holding court at Appiano Gentile, north of Milan, Inter's coach kept lobbing little verbal firecrackers, revealing how he has phoned Ashley Cole to give the Chelsea left-back support through troubled times, how close he came to managing England and how he felt Carlo Ancelotti was a member of 'the clan'.
He meant the Italian football establishment, but the local media did not know which page to hold -- front, back or political.
Watching from the back of the room were Mourinho's devoted backroom staff, familiar faces from his Bridge days. They listened enrapt by their master's voice, admiring the plumes of smoke trailing from his every utterance.
For all the seemingly indiscriminate nature of the whizzing repartee-filled rockets, this was a well-planned show, cleverly crafted to elicit gasps and whoops, to transmit messages.
Just as the great Bob Paisley used to hand out "toffees'' to opposing players on the eve of challenging European matches, softening foreign stars up with praise, so Mourinho dipped into a large box of sweets for his old Chelsea cohorts. He eulogised "Didier", "John'', "Frank'' and "Ashley'', as if recalling cherished college friends, but laced his tributes with the scarcely concealed subtext that such players had developed under him.
This was a rhapsody in Blue with an agenda. Mourinho has a heart, but also a mind that seeks any advantage.
Throw Mourinho a morsel and he quickly cooks up a banquet. At the mention of Drogba once observing he would happily break both his legs off in the loyal service of Mourinho, the former Chelsea manager responded with sustained eloquence.
"The most beautiful thing in football for a coach is the passion and respect of his players and the supporters. That happens with me all the time -- in Porto, Chelsea and Inter. That makes me proud.
"What Didier keeps saying about myself makes me proud, but I know what will happen (tonight). I know he will break his legs for his team and his team is Chelsea.
"On the other bench is a friend (Mourinho), someone who also admires him, someone with a different objective to his. Didier will give everything.
"That's something that also makes me very proud, as it's the education I gave to the players. I tell players to give their best all the time, for their clubs and their national team. Didier does that and I will be glad to see him.''
When Mourinho was asked whether he had accelerated the ascent of Terry and Lampard into major forces he acquired the look of Colonel Tom Parker reflecting on Elvis Presley's early years.
"You're correct that John and Frank perform week after week, year after year,'' Mourinho replied. "They look as if they are never tired of playing well. Did I give them a little contribution? They say yes and I think so. I thank them because they never forget my contribution.
"When I speak with somebody at the club (Chelsea) they always say that the culture of working very hard every day did not change. The players have kept their strong mentality. The years are going and they are like Port wine. The older the better.''
So, there you have it. He still communicates with people inside the 'Bridge, Terry and Lampard march to a beat that Mourinho, the Mozart of the technical area, composed, and when it comes to the best tipples in Europe to toast Chelsea, nothing beats the finest drop of Graham's, Taylor's or Cockburn's from the banks of his beloved Douro.
Short of wearing a T-shirt declaring 'I Love Chelsea,' clasping a copy of Chopper Harris's autobiography and launching into a rousing rendition of "10 men went to mow'', Mourinho could not have declared his admiration for his old club more.
Concerned about Ashley Cole's domestic and injury problems, Mourinho contacted his former left-back.
"I called him a couple of days ago because I care about him. I wished him a very, very quick recovery (from ankle surgery).''
"I watched Ashley play until the moment he had his injury and he played superbly. If he has problems then for sure they are not on the pitch.
"I think Ancelotti must give him advice, his family must give him advice and he must think for himself, but if he really wants my advice I think he should stay in England.''
Just as Mourinho is familiar with Chelsea players, so he argued that Ancelotti "knows everything'' about Inter.
Reminded that Ancelotti had made a comment construed as meaning that all Italy were behind him and Chelsea, Mourinho replied waspishly: "If Ancelotti says that it's because he knows, because somebody told him or because he belongs to the clan.''
Mourinho portrayed himself as the outsider, the rebel with a cause, and that was overturning the established order. He also tried to mobilise the English public, launching into a defence of Terry, recently sacked as England captain, and careering at breathless pace into how he almost succeeded Steve McClaren, which would have been the sublime following the ridiculous.
"You're right that John was a fantastic captain for me, but I'm not the England manager. I decided at the last minute not to be. For a foreign coach to have the possibility to lead England, I was the proudest man in the world.
"I thought and thought. I was fighting myself. On one side I wanted it, on another side I knew it was not the job for me. Not for my mentality, my passion for football and for training every day.
"But England chose a very good, experienced manager (Fabio Capello) who's doing a great job. And because I love England, I hope he keeps on doing very well, keeps having the dream and why not the reality of making something very important for your country?''
His last rocket lit, Mourinho left in a blaze of handshakes and back-slaps for the small English media contingent present at Appiano Gentile.
Nobody plays to the gallery better than Mourinho, a man who won't go out of fashion for English tastes. (© Daily Telegraph, London)