Chelsea’s arrival in Istanbul for their Champions League reunion with Didier Drogba was overshadowed on Monday night by an extraordinary row over a series of unguarded but highly disparaging remarks by Jose Mourinho about the club’s strikers.
Mourinho was recorded by the French television company Canal Plus in what he thought was a private conversation with the owner of the Swiss watch manufacturer Hublot. “I have a team but no striker,” said Mourinho. “The problem at Chelsea is that we are lacking a goalscorer. I have one [Samuel Eto’o] but he is 32, possibly 35, who knows?”
The remark about Eto’o is understood to be a reference to the supposed doubt about the true age of some African players.
Chelsea have not disputed the authenticity of Mourinho’s comments but are adamant that they were supposed to be light-hearted and not meant for broadcast or publication.
The conversation took place last week at a sponsorship event for Hublot, with Mourinho unaware that Canal Plus, there to conduct an interview, were actually filming the exchange. The conversation was then posted online on Monday, with Mourinho’s comments soon being translated from French and then published around the world. The footage was subsequently removed from the Canal Plus website.
Mourinho is now furious that what he thought was a private conversation has reached the public domain and it will surely also have left him needing to reassure his group of strikers.
Although Mourinho has repeatedly referenced the lack of goals this season from his forwards, he has also always publicly praised their effort and work-rate. At £50 million, Fernando Torres is the most expensive player in British football history, as well as being a World Cup winner and European Champion with Spain. Eto’o has won the Champions League at Barcelona and Inter Milan, while Demba Ba was a £7 million recruit from Newcastle United. Mourinho also had the option of Romelu Lukaku, a £16 million signing from Anderlecht, until he was loaned out to Everton for the season.
It is no secret that Mourinho is determined to sign a new striker this year after Chelsea had two bids rejected last summer for Manchester United's Wayne Rooney. With Rooney having signed a new contract last week at United, Chelsea are pursuing other options. Mourinho had specifically wanted a striker who is adept at holding the ball and playing with his back to goal, believing that his existing options were more adept at running into space.
Eto’o was recruited to help fill this void but he is out of contract in the summer. Atletico Madrid’s Diego Costa figures prominently on Chelsea’s shortlist of targets but Mourinho also appears open to bidding for Radamel Falcao.
Monaco bought Falcao from Atletico Madrid for £50 million last summer, although the Colombia forward is a doubt for the World Cup following a knee ligament injury. Of Falcao, Mourinho said: “He doesn’t have a team. Who wants to play in front of 3,000 supporters? If I was one day to go to Monaco it would be the end, perhaps to prepare for retirement.”
Chelsea say that Mourinho also regarded his remarks about Monaco and Falcao to be part of a private conversation.
Mourinho did admit that it would be impossible to prise Edinson Cavani or Zlatan Ibrahimovic from Paris St-Germain but is adamant that any bid for Eden Hazard would fail. “Eden is our boy,” Mourinho said. “We want him to stay for 10 years. We want to build the team around him. He’s a player with the style of football that we want to have in our team.
“Zlatan to Chelsea? It’s impossible. He’s happy at Paris. I know because he is my friend and we are in touch. PSG, with all its wealth, would never open the door. That’s mission impossible.”
Mourinho also admitted that he had once met the owners of Paris St-Germain but that there had been no direct offer and he saw his long-term future with Chelsea.
“I am very, very, very happy, I am at a club that represents for me more than a club,” he said. “It is a project that I love. I could work in France in the future, why not? I did not say no, or yes [to PSG], there was not a true, direct offer.
“We met, I had the honour of visiting the Emir at his house in Qatar three or four years ago, before he bought the club. We have a respectful relationship, but after Real Madrid, I said to everyone what I wanted to do which was to return to England. I want to stay, I have four years on my contract.”
Mourinho is optimistic about the mission that awaits in Turkey, even with the limitations of his strikers against a Galatasaray team who will contain Drogba. Chelsea’s full squad travelled to Istanbul on Monday but their Brazilian trio, Oscar, David Luiz and Ramires, will be assessed in training on Tuesday before a final decision is made about their availability.
Oscar was substituted at half-time of Saturday’s 1-0 win against Everton with what Mourinho will only describe as a “muscular” problem. Luiz and Ramires have been nursing respective groin and knee problems.
Didier Drogba has thought about the possibility. It would be odd if he had not. You do not sustain yourself as great goalscorer over a decade and a half in the game's top echelons without visualising the next impeccable finish, picturing all its details.