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Mourinho's mind games keep City's spending in spotlight

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AP

Messi

The Special One is behaving like the mischievous one again.

His side may be top of the Premier League, his team may have no evident weaknesses yet Jose Mourinho has reason to grumble.

Lately, it has been referees who have taken the brunt of his criticism, to the extent where Mourinho yesterday said: "Every decision is going against us and results have been affected by this."

There is a purpose behind those words. Seven weeks ago, when Chelsea were eight points clear of Manchester City, Mourinho's press conferences were unexpectedly low-key. Life was good.

Since then, City have brought the gap down to two. The title race is on again. And so is the pressure.

So Mourinho is doing what Mourinho does best, removing the pressure and attention away from his players and applying it onto himself. He knows he can handle it. Knows it because he has been handling intense scrutiny from the moment he walked into Stamford Bridge in 2004 and told a sceptical Press: "I believe I am a Special One".

He has been special. Having won league titles in Portugal, Italy, Spain and England, as well as two Champions League triumphs with Porto and Inter Milan, Mourinho has established himself as the greatest manager in the world.

sharp

As capable on the training pitch as he is in the man-management stakes, his intelligence and personality endears him to players who want to him win as much as they do themselves.

Rarely do you get that excellence as both a coach and man-manager. Alex Ferguson certainly mastered the latter category but often delegated coaching sessions to his assistants. Mourinho, by contrast, isn't afraid to get out on the park and get his hands dirty.

Like Ferguson he not only knows the game inside out but completely understands people. He knows his comments about referees will be read by the Chelsea players. He knows they will interpret his message clearly.

"It isn't our fault that results haven't been so hot recently," they'll say to one another. "It's down to bad luck and refs. Sure, isn't that what the boss said?"

Will referees, in turn, be pressurised into giving Chelsea 50/50 decisions on the back of what Mourinho has recently said?

I'm not so sure.

What I am convinced about, though, is that Mourinho's switching of the agenda away from an examination of Chelsea's recent results onto the performances of the referees officiating in those games, will have an impact.

The Press won't be focusing on a run of two defeats and two draws from their last nine league games but instead will be questioning whether Mourinho is being fair or not in his assessment.

You can call that cynical. I call it clever.

The mind games with Manuel Pellegrini have really started too. No sooner had he suggested Chelsea's defeat to Tottenham was the fault of referee, Phil Dowd , than he was poking fun at City's capture of Wilfried Bony from Swansea.

"Well done, good player," he said. "If they have no problem with financial fair play then well done."

What he really means is that City are second in the league on the back of the generosity of their owner, Sheikh Mansour, whereas Chelsea are top because of his fine management.

It's not quite that simple, though. In Chelsea's case, last summer saw Roman Abramovich open his wallet. He spent nearly £100 million on Cesc Fabregas, Diego Costa, Felipe Luis and Loic Remy, recouping £37.5 million through the sales of Demba Ba, Romelu Lukaku and Fernando Torres.

You can hardly call them paupers. Yet by focusing on City's wealth, he's making his point, setting the agenda to suit his purposes and attempting to rile Pellegrini and get under the Chilean's skin.

Deep down, what Mourinho must really fear now is that City, for whom money is no problem, will go out and buy Lionel Messi.

He knows he won't come cheap. Quite apart from the fact that Messi's buy-out clause is worth £210 million, is the fact that any new contract would be worth £270 million over six years.

Is a £480 million gamble worth it?

It is when you are such a prolific goalscorer than you break Barcelona's goalscoring record before your 25th birthday? It is when you break Gerd Muller's 39-year-record for the most goals scored in a single season.

Yet while there is no doubt that Messi (pictured) would be a major success in the Premier League, there is room for doubt as to whether he would find the physicality of English football as straightforward as the slower tempo of La Liga.

We're not saying he would fail in England. But what we are saying is that the Spanish game suits him better.

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