Jose Mourinho lit the fuse for tomorrow's Premier League showdown between Chelsea and Manchester City by casting fresh doubt on Manuel Pellegrini's managerial credentials.
Mourinho stood squarely by his 2011 swipe at Pellegrini's decision to take charge of Malaga following the City manager's sacking by Real Madrid and even suggested the Chilean's failure at the Bernabeu had left him little option but to accept a second-rate job.
The Chelsea manager claimed his own record meant he had his pick of clubs when his three-year stint at Real came to an end and scoffed at suggestions that Pellegrini had helped lay the foundations for his success there.
Despite insisting he meant "no offence" to either Pellegrini or Malaga, Mourinho could not hide his disdain for his title rival ahead of tomorrow's game at Stamford Bridge.
Bad blood was first stirred up between them two and a half years ago when Mourinho poured scorn on Pellegrini's record points total at Real, which had not been enough to finish above Barcelona in La Liga.
"Second place is just the first loser," the Portuguese said ahead of a match with Pellegrini's Malaga. "If Madrid were to fire me, I wouldn't go to Malaga. I'd go to a top-level team in Italy or England."
Asked yesterday why he had said he would not take such a job, he replied: "Because I wouldn't. Because I'm in a situation where I can choose. Some people can't choose."
Despite insisting he had "no problems" with Pellegrini, Mourinho could not even bring himself to give his predecessor at Real credit for the players – such as Cristiano Ronaldo – he inherited from the Chilean.
"Him?" the Portuguese asked when that was suggested, in an apparent effort to highlight the fact Real managers had far less say over transfers until he took charge.
Such sniping in the Mourinho-Pellegrini relationship is far from one-way traffic. The Chilean once hit out at coaches who are interested only in results in what was widely perceived as an attack on his rival.
Pellegrini refused to be drawn into a new war of words yesterday but he insisted he left Mourinho a good team at Real and rejected any suggestion he was not inundated with offers following his departure.
"I had a lot of chances to manage different clubs after Real Madrid and I have taken the decision of my life to go to Malaga. I am very happy. Nobody knows where every manager wants to manage or where he wants to be."
Pellegrini, who might have beaten Mourinho to the Chelsea job had talks with the club earlier this year progressed, admitted the pair were anything but close. "I don't know him. He worked in Spain, I worked in another club. We played Real Madrid against Malaga. Nothing more, I don't have any complaint about him."
The Chilean suggested he and Mourinho had "a different way of thinking about life", as well as about football.
Both managers denied that tomorrow's game could prove decisive in the title race, with the sides separated by just a point in the table, Chelsea second and City fourth. The fact neither of them is top suggests Mourinho and Pellegrini have not yet managed to get the best out of the most expensively-assembled squads in England.
Mourinho, who has never lost a Premier League match at Stamford Bridge, said of City: "Everybody knows they lost a couple of games that, normally, they wouldn't. That's football. We lost against Everton, and United lost to West Brom, Spurs to West Ham, Arsenal to Villa.
"Everybody is losing matches, some of them unexpectedly."
The Manchester City midfielder suffered racist chants in Wednesday's Champions League game away to CSKA Moscow but Mourinho, while offering sympathy, believes it would be wrong to penalise "billions" of football fans around the world in order to punish "a few thousand" bigots.
Speaking ahead of City's visit to Chelsea tomorrow, he said: "I respect his opinion, but I disagree, because the history of football was made equally by many races, and the black players have made a fantastic contribution to what football is.
"Go to the World Cup and it's the biggest expression of national team competitions – races and people from different parts of the globe, people from every continent. And the black players are very, very important for that.
"Who is more important? The billions of people in love with the game around the world, or a few thousand that go to football stadia and have a disgraceful behaviour in relation to the black players? If I was a black player, I would say the other billions are much more important. Let's fight the thousands but give to the billions what they want: the best football. Football without black players is not the best football."
He suggested that it was up to individual families, including parents, rather than football as a whole to combat racism, adding: "Of course I have sympathy (for Toure). But I think the players must realise that football is a beautiful game.
"They must realise that a huge percentage of the people who go through football stadiums are pure and respect the differences of everybody, and football is more important than the small groups who express themselves in a negative way."
Mourinho's more immediate concern is Toure's footballing qualities, of which he said: "He's a fantastic player. He gives them (Manchester City) everything: leadership, defensive work, attacking work, goals, set-plays, physically, experience. We are going to play our game, and let's see if that's enough."
As is sometimes the case before a big game, Mourinho was otherwise in generally subdued mood. He praised City as having "two very good teams, one playing, and another one on the bench and in the stands", but declined to discuss reported criticism of him by Cardiff's manager Malky Mackay; Alex Ferguson's book, which he intends to read "in context"; or Pellegrini.
Chelsea, who have Ashley Cole available again, approach the game in confident mood. Since being held 1-1 at Tottenham they have recorded four successive wins, scoring 14 goals, with the strikers at last among them. Samuel Eto'o broke his duck in last weekend's home game with Cardiff and Fernando Torres, although he has still not scored in the league this season, added two in the Champions League victory away to Schalke.
However, Chelsea have not beaten City in their last five meetings, under three different managers. Last season's three defeats included two at Wembley – in the FA Cup semi-final and the Community Shield – and the game at Stamford Bridge was a goalless draw. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
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