Archive for the ‘Premier League’ Category
Wenger v Mourinho: Why it’s a split decision in a fight the ‘Special One’ can’t lose – and that really hurts the ‘Mad Professor’
Ever since Sir Alex Ferguson rattled Kevin Keegan’s cage so violently that the then Newcastle United boss suffered an infamous meltdown live on Sky Sports, mind games have been Box Office.
When Arsene Wenger squared up to Jose Mourinho the verbals were less dramatic. But the venom was just as strong, as the elegant Frenchman momentarily turned into the Mad Professor.
The retaliation by the self-appointed Special One resulted in a comical exchange that was farcical in the extreme. A petulant push by Wenger. A mischievous flick of the tie by Mourinho.
Say what you like about bringing the game into disrepute and setting an example for the kids. The truth is football fans and the media loved an exchange that will be talked about long after most of us forget the intimate details of what happened on the pitch.
Not that the match was forgettable. Far from it. This was an almighty scrap that could have resulted in 5 or 6 red cards and ended in a knockout by the team In the Blue corner.
Arsene’s Reds lack the bottle and the killer instinct to down their West End superiors and that is what really hurts Wenger.
He is yet to beat Mourinho on the pitch and he’s losing the battle off it too. Just like Ferguson owned Keegan and Rafa Benitez when the Liverpool boss lost the plot with his famous rant about “the facts” in 2009, Mourinho owns Wenger when it comes to mind games.
Chelsea are a cut above Arsenal and always have been when Mourinho has been manager at the Bridge.
But ask yourself which manager would you prefer to be in charge of your team and it’s not such an easy decision.
Over the weekend I was at the Henley Literary Festival where high profile sports journalists Paddy Barclay, Matt Dickinson and Guillem Balague were promoting their respective books about Herbert Chapman, Bobby Moore and Lionel Messi.
When the subject turned to the rivalry between Wenger and Mourinho the audience were asked by Barclay to make their choice. The show of hands confirmed the theory of Times Chief Sports Correspondent Dickenson that this is split decision.
And that is where the real argument begins.
Would you prefer your team to play the beautiful game with the purist ideals of the man who has delivered a style of football that is so pleasing on the eye?
Or is football all about winning whatever the method? And there is no doubting the fact that Mourinho is a serial winner.
At Stamford Bridge the priceless combination of Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas magnified the gulf between Arsenal and Chelsea. But the cynical tactic of breaking up the Gunners rhythm by systematically fouling them high up the pitch gave the Blues the platform to control the match and inflict their killer blows in a decisive 2-0 win.
It is no secret that Mourinho wanted to succeed Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United. The fact that he was overlooked by the one manager he truly respects when his good friend turned kingmaker may provide the verdict of English football’s biggest club Manchester United.
Many Old Trafford fans secretly adore the showmanship and winning mentality of Mourinho. But there is something about his methods that is alien to the Theatre of Dreams. Wenger on the other hand – despite the unsavoury abuse dished out by certain elements of United’s following – has the respect of every true Old Trafford purist.
When asked to choose between the two on Friday night I went for Wenger. Ask me tomorrow and I may give you a different answer.
Thankfully in my view my team has trumped both managers with Dutch master Louis Van Gaal. Ignore the jealous criticism from his fellow countryman Johan Cruyff who says United’s boss has abandoned the Dutch philosophy of total football. Cruyff will soon be eating his words. But that is a theme I’ll be expanding on in a future blog.
Lampard proving critics wrong for 18 years – ever since West Ham fan lambasted Redknapp for picking him ahead of Scott Canham
Chelsea may be the runaway leaders with six matches gone in the Premier League. But Blues boss Jose Mourinho must surely know that his club have made a huge misjudgement releasing Frank Lampard. Only time will tell how damaging his switch from London to Manchester via New York will be for the Stamford Bridge club. In the meantime, the evidence is starting to look overwhelming.
In the past week Lampard has twice come off the bench for Manchester City to score important Premier League goals. In midweek in the League Cup he started and scored a double. That’s 4 goals in less than 3 games.
The infamous strike he landed in last Sunday’s 1-1 draw at the Etihad Stadium to deny Chelsea will be talked about for years to come. Yet it is ridiculous to suggest that Lampard has tarnished his reputation as a Chelsea legend. When he was released by Chelsea in May, thirteen years after signing from West Ham for £13 million pounds, he left as the club’s record goalscorer and arguably their greatest ever player.
The truth is that Lampard did not believe he was finished at the top level and he clearly wanted to remain at Stamford Bridge.
As City boss Manuel Pellegrini mischievously suggested in the pre-match mind games before last Sunday’s showdown with the Premier League’s pacesetters, Chelsea did not want to renew his contract because they did not think he was good enough anymore.
Teased Pellegrini: “I don’t think it is a difficult situation for him. I think Frank didn’t continue in Chelsea because Chelsea didn’t want him, not because he wanted to come here to Manchester City. He couldn’t continue with the team he played for his whole life for. He has all the rights to continue playing football. He arrived here and we are very happy with him.’
What followed was the script you could not write that somehow seemed destined to become a reality. Lampard’s instinctive finish cost Chelsea two points. A strike that could prove pivotal come the end of the season. The way he went into autopilot and did his job like the true professional he is was pure theatre.
There was a fleeting look of horror on his face as his team mates jubilantly surrounded him to celebrate. The outcome was less traumatic, but it reminded me of the day I stood on the Stretford End in May 1974 and saw Denis Law backheel an instinctive winner for City against Manchester United.
Poor Denis thought he had relegated his beloved United. As fate turned out results elsewhere meant United would have gone down anyway. Not since then have a I seen a reaction like Lampard’s haunted look the moment he realised what he had done.
While Lampard must not be compared with ‘The King’, who many of us believe is the greatest Scottish player of all time and arguably the best to wear the famous red shirt of Manchester United, there is no doubt that Lampard is and has been a superb footballer.
Like many Manchester United fans, I will always blame Sven Goran Eriksson for prematurely ending Paul Scholes’ England career by picking Lampard ahead of him. A choice that beggars belief because Scholes was the best English midfield player of his generation by a long way. But that should not overshadow Lampard’s achievements and his ability to overcome criticism.
Critics have been writing him off even before his career had taken off.
I was at a Fans Forum in 1996 when an eighteen year old Lampard squirmed in embarrassment as a West Ham United supporter insisted he was “not good enough” for the Hammers. On that occasion the loudmouthed fan challenged Lampard’s manager and uncle, Harry Redknapp, for choosing him ahead of Scott Canham and Matt Holland.
Redknapp’s response captured in this exclusive YouTube video filmed by VisionSport TV could not have been more adamant: “I did not want to say this in front of him. But he will go right to the very top. Right to the very top.”.
Added Redknapp: “There ain’t no doubt about that in my opinion. Because he’s got everything that’s needed to become a top class midfield player. His attitude is first class. He’s got strength. He can play. He can pass it. And he can score goals.”
Eighteen years on, the egg is on Chelsea’s face because nothing has changed. All the qualities quoted above by Redknapp still apply.
Week 5 | Premier League| Liverpool to drop out of Top 4 | Di Maria to give United edge at Leicester | Chelsea to hold Man City
Why experts thought David Moyes was the right manager for Manchester United – but Ryan Giggs is favourite to take his job
When David Moyes was appointed manager of Manchester United in May last year it was always a question of how long would he be given to find a winning formula.
The verdict that Moyes was the right man for the job was unanimous when I interviewed a panel of experts including England manager Roy Hodgson on the day the identity of the manager to succeed Sir Alex Ferguson at the Theatre of Dreams was confirmed.
But less than 12 months later the bookmakers have stopped taking bets on David Moyes being sacked, after a nightmare first season in charge, and installed Ryan Giggs as the 5-1 favourite to replace him.
Here is what the experts, desperate to see a British manager succeed in the biggest job in club football, said about Moyes on the day he was appointed:
ROY HODGSON: “I think if someone has got to step into these enormous shoes that Sir Alex has left behind and to work in the shadow of such a great man David is right the man to do it.”
ALAN CURBISHLEY: “I’m sure he’s gong to be a great success and I’m so pleased he has been given a chance.”
TONY GALE” “For me David Moyes is a good manager and will be for Manchester United.”
PATRICK BARCLAY” “If you look at the players he has bought in the transfer market his record is right up their with Sir Alex Ferguson.”
ALVIN MARTIN: ” There is never a guarantee in football. You can be the best manager in the world but if you take over at the wrong time there is always a risk when a new manager is appointed. But I would feel pretty sure that David Moyes is more than well equipped to deal with it.”
Like the experts I interviewed last May, I expected Moyes to grow into the job he was chosen to do by the greatest British manager of all time Sir Alex Ferguson. But the decline under the former Everton boss has been so spectacular that it is now no surprise that the consequences of failure appear to have proved fatal to aspirations of the proud Glaswegian being given extra time in the Old Trafford hot seat.
When former player David May said what so many fans and experts were thinking after another embarrassing 2-0 defeat against Everton at Goodison on Easter Sunday and admitted on MUTV that the new manager appears to be ‘out of his depth’, he was immediately suspended from his role as a pundit on the club’s television channel. But the backlash among fans on social media outraged by May being punished for giving his honest opinion has only fanned the flames of discontent.
The harsh reality, as I predicted in this column a month ago, is that Moyes’ future was destined to be decided when the owners ask themselves how much they are prepared to gamble on Fergie’s successor getting it right.
The smart money is now on Moyes departing sooner rather than later with Giggs being installed as temporary manager while the board consider their options.
Giggs would be a hugely popular choice to take charge – albeit in a caretaker role – 24 years after being handed his first professional contract as player on his 17th birthday. There is no one who embodies everything the club stands for better than the Welsh wizard who exclusively told visionsport TV what he thought about Manchester United in his first television interview back in 1993.
David Moyes & Manchester United | What the experts predicted [VIDEO]:
With alarm bells ringing for the Premier League, it is not just Manchester United affected by champions’ slump under Moyes
RIVALS CHELSEA, Manchester City and Liverpool may be enjoying the first season of the Premier League without Sir Alex Ferguson dictating the agenda at Old Trafford, but the honest truth is that David Moyes’ failure to keep the red flag flying high is not simply hurting Manchester United – it is damaging the world’s richest league.
This season’s unprecedented decline of Manchester United has already affected the Premier League’s global brand to such an extent that chief executive Richard Scudamore has warned fans around the world will switch off if Moyes fails to stop the rot. Make no mistake this is no exaggeration and it is the financial implications that will ultimately focus the attention of United’s owners the Glazers when they decide what direction to take in the summer.
While fans of other clubs may be enjoying the champions’ meek surrender of the Premier League title, the alarm bells are ringing loud and clear for the League’s administrators who fear the financial consequences if United’s slump continues. And that puts the spotlight on the Glazers, who – whatever the fate of Moyes – must soon decide whether to invest many millions on a huge rebuilding programme. The alternative will be to check out and sell the club to someone with deeper pockets or risk damaging the value of their asset.
The cost of United’s worst ever season in the Premier League is already being counted. Speaking in South Africa on a promotional tour, Scudamore conceded that the global popularity of the Premier League will wane if United continue to toil. “It’s a double-edged sword. When your most popular club isn’t doing as well, that costs you interest and audience in some places,” declared Scudamore. “There’s lots of fans around the world who wish Manchester United were winning it again, but you have to balance that off against, generally, we’re in the business of putting on a competition and competition means people can compete.”
The English champions are currently seventh in the table, 18 points adrift of leaders Chelsea and facing the prospect of no European involvement next season, unless Moyes can rally his troops to knock out the holders Bayern Munich in the quarter finals of the Champions League and then go on to win the competition.
On current form there is more chance of Ferguson coming out of retirement to take over as England manager at this summer’s World Cup. Nothing short of such a miraculous turnaround by a United team embarrassed by biggest rivals Liverpool and Manchester City in the past fortnight, will persuade the doubters that Moyes was right to be appointed the Chosen One.
Meantime, Moyes faces the first public show of discontent by fans at Old Trafford on Saturday with a group of fans planning to fly a plane over the stadium during United’s match with Aston Villa trailing a banner: ‘Wrong One – Moyes Out’. Such is the groundswell of anger and disappointment circulating the Theatre of Dreams that even Sir Alex Ferguson will not be exempt from criticism if United take too long to re-discover a winning formula.
And it is not just about winning, as Sam Allardyce is discovering at West Ham, where fans booed the Hammers after they beat Hull City because they are tired of the boring style of play being served up at Upton Park. The Academy of Football was built on playing the beautiful game the right way – and the same rules apply at Manchester United. where fans will not tolerate mediocre football whatever the results.
Moyes is without doubt a talented football manager. He proved that at Everton and impressed the greatest British football manager of all time when he was anointed by Sir Alex as his successor. The immediate problem he now faces is time. How much time will he be given to re-build and find a winning formula? But there is another factor that may ultimately prove even more decisive – and that is money. When it comes to the crunch how much are the owners prepared to gamble on Moyes getting it right.
Do they stick with blind faith in Moyes and back him to the hilt? Do they start again with another candidate, or do they cut their losses now and sell out to the highest bidder? How well United fare in the upcoming Champions League showdown with Bayern will inevitably have a big influence on how the club’s owners view both the question of time and money for their current manager.
As a fan old enough to remember the chaos that followed when Sir Matt Busby retired, I know that if United get it wrong we could be waiting another 26 years to get back to the top of the English game. And that is a doomsday scenario that would change the football world as we know it. You only have to look at how long it has been since Liverpool last won a League title to see that reputation counts for nothing when you want to be the best.
Personally I have backed Moyes from the start and would still love to see him deliver. But there has to be some positive sign that he has the strength of character to learn quickly from his mistakes. So far United’s resolve to stick with their man has been tested well beyond anyone’s expectations and yet the support he has received is impossible to imagine at any other top club in the Premier League.
Is it really Mission impossible?
With the Champions League quarter-final against Bayern looming many are predicting humiliation at the hands of the European champions. But wouldn’t you just love it if Moyes can mastermind Mission Impossible and defy the odds. All logic suggests it won’t happen and if it ends badly, as even the bookmakers suggest, the media and the accountants will turn up the heat on United’s manager. And yet . . . being the eternal optimist I can’t help thinking that football has a habit of turning up a surprise result when you least expect it!
Wenger reaping rewards for putting faith in Aaron Ramsey when Welsh youngster looked destined for Manchester United
You can say what you like about the durability of an Arsenal side searching for their first silverware in nine seasons. But the Gunners boast one of the standout players of the season so far in Aaron Ramsey . . . and the most successful Premier League manager in Arsene Wenger.
Ramsey, whose career was threatened by an horrific double leg break in February 2010 inflicted by a tackle from Stoke City’s Ryan Shawcross, is making the kind of impact that will soon see him being compared to fellow Welshman Gareth Bale if his progress continues.
And you have to credit Wenger for putting his faith in the prodigiously talented youngster, who once looked destined for Old Trafford.
Much has been said and written about the professor stealing a march on his rivals when he pulled off the standout signing of the summer with the spectacular £42.5 million capture of German superstar Mesut Özil.
But just as crucial for the Gunners was the business Wenger did five years ago when he persuaded the Cardiff City youngster to opt for a move to North London rather than the North West.
The Bluebirds’ youngest ever player at just 16 years and 124 days when he made his debut in 2007, Ramsey soon became one of the most sought after youngsters in Europe, attracting interest from Everton and Manchester United.
While United reportedly offered £5 million for him to be loaned back to Cardiff, it was the Gunners who secured Ramsey’s signature when Wenger matched that bid and promised to put him straight into his first team squad.
That crossroads in his career will give an extra edge to the showdown between defending champions Manchester United and this season’s pacesetters Arsenal on November 10. But whatever the outcome, there is no doubt that Ramsey is a player with the world at his feet.
FACT FILE: AARON RAMSEY
:- Born 26 December 1990, he joined the Youth Academy at Cardiff City when he was eight years old.
:- He made his debut for the Bluebirds on the final day of the 2006/2007 season, when he came on as a substitute in a the final minute of a 1-0 defeat by Hull City. He was still 241 days short of his 17th birthday.
:- Signed for Arsenal in the summer of 2008 for £5 million.
:- Made his competitive debut for Arsenal in a Champions League qualifier against FC Twente on 13 August 2008
:- Given his first run out in the Premier League a month later against Blackburn Rovers.
:- His first goal for the Gunners came in a 5-2 Champions League win at Fenerbahce on 22 October 2008, making him the fifth youngest scorer in Champions League history.
TITLE RACE: ROONEY v RAMSEY
While Aaron Ramsey has been the player whose outstanding early form has been arguably the biggest surprise of the season so far, even more spectacular has been the way Wayne Rooney has shrugged off doubts about his future at Old Trafford.
Rooney has a great record against the Gunners, a side he has enjoyed superb form against, ever since he burst onto the scene with that famous strike as a 16-year-old for Everton to become the youngest goalscorer in the Premier League. Not surprising that Wenger and Jose Mourinho both wanted to sign him in the summer. What top manager wouldn’t want to sign him?
Ramsey, meanwhile, also has form against United. In 2010/2011, he scored the winner at the Emirates. It came at the end of the season that celebrated his return from his career threatening injury, after signing a long-term contract with Arsenal.
There will be many other potential matchwinners on show next Sunday, with Robin van Persie and Olivier Giroud both hitting the target on a regular basis. But Rooney v Ramsey at Old Trafford will be a fascinating showdown between two players at the top of their game.
HOW WAYNE IS STAKING HIS CLAIM TO BE UNITED’S NEXT LONG-TERM SKIPPER
Manchester United’s new manager David Moyes deserves enormous credit for standing by his former Everton protegee and helping the England striker rediscover his best form. Wayne Rooney looks lean, mean and determined to prove the critics wrong who have been too quick to write him off.
In fact it will be no surprise to see Moyes hand Rooney the captain’s armband, further underlining the new boss’s pre-season insistence that there is no way Wazza will be leaving United any time soon.
With the countdown under way to next summer’s World Cup in Brazil, Rooney has looked in menacing form and is hopefully destined to make an injury-free impact on a major international tournament for the first time. Meantime, he has been United’s most consistent performer and the main reason why the defending champions are still in touch with race for the Premier League title.
Rooney has shown his leadership qualities by lifting his team mates during a difficult start to the season and with Patrice Evra and other senior players nearing the end of their United careers, the case for making him skipper is stronger than ever.
Given the captain’s armband on several occasions by Sir Alex Ferguson,Rooney has already had the honour of being captain for Moyes in the Capital One Cup win over Liverpool.
Meantime, his leadership skills will be needed against form team Arsenal, even if he is not the player who leads United out against the table-toppers.
Sorry to disappoint prophets of doom circling Theatre of Dreams: Empire will get stronger under ‘Chosen One’ David Moyes
Ever since Sir Alex Ferguson caught the world of football by surprise with his retirement, the clamour to predict the decline of the empire he has built over the past 26 years at Manchester United has been deafening.
The appointment of David Moyes as Fergie’s successor as manager at Old Trafford has been greeted by so many so called experts announcing a shift of power in the English game that there has been public perception that this is inevitable.
The Champions of England were relegated to third favourites to retain their title behind Chelsea, buoyed by the return of Jose Mourinho, and Manchester City, who have brought in Manuel Pellegrini to replace ‘failure’ Roberto Mancini.
The media have revelled in the uncertainty they have gleefully magnified about the future of Wayne Rooney, who remains a Manchester United player and is almost certainly going to remain so for the next year at least – unless there is an almighty last minute merry-go-round before the transfer deadline just 12 days away.
But the reality is this: David Moyes is an outstanding football manager who has the ability and the opportunity not just to keep the red flag flying high above United’s Premier League rivals, but to build on the foundations laid down by his mentor.
As the sorcerer’s apprentice, Moyes can take pride and confidence from the knowledge that he has more right to be called ‘The Special One’ than self-publicist Jose Mourinho because the Glaswegian is ‘The Chosen One’.
Watching and listening to Moyes in action is almost surreal because he is so closely modelled on the man he has replaced in the hotseat.
Once he gets a few more wins under his belt to build on the success of winning the Community Shield against Wigan and crushing Swansea on the opening day at the Liberty Stadium, the doubters will start to believe that this is the beginning and not the end of another glorious chapter in the history of Manchester United.
The next fortnight will tell us a great deal about the destiny of this season’s Premier League because by then we will know who the top clubs have recruited or lost and we will have seen Manchester United play hosts to Chelsea as well as travel to Merseyside to take on rivals Liverpool
Moyes’ opening five matches in the defence of United’s Premier League title also includes a trip to the Etihad to tackle neighbours City. A tougher start it would be hard to imagine. But rather than being a negative this can be a huge boost for the new boss because a show of strength now will silence the doubters and give him the support he needs to build on Fergie’s success.
There is no comparison with what happened 40 years ago when Sir Matt Busy handed the reigns to a young and inexperienced Wilf McGuinness. In those days United had an ageing team in desperate need of rebuilding, despite the presence of Best, Law and Charlton – all in the twlight of their careers.
The modern day United is a club that dwarfs the past because there is a structure in place that has been built on solid foundations, with excellence in every department not least the playing side where talisman Robin van Persie is a majestic footballer at the height of his career and improving with age.
There is an exciting blend of youth and experience with those added ingredients of confidence, self-belief, talent and above all else an unquenchable never-say-die will to win.
There are those who will doubt Moyes’ ability to deliver until he has put trophies in the cabinet. And there are many who will enjoy stoking up the pressure the longer that takes.
But I know that Moyes will succeed because Sir Alex was never going to let anyone fills his shoes who was not going to be the right man for the job. And in surrounding himself with the likes of Ryan Giggs and Phil Neville, as well as his established backroom team from Everton, there is a great sense of stability and continuity. Not to mention that Moyes will always have the support and advice of his predecessor whenever he needs it.
My prediction is that Moyes will not need the time that Ferguson was given in his early days at the club and the conveyor belt of trophies is going to keep rolling into Old Trafford. In fact I expect the new kid on the block is destined to make Manchester United bigger and stronger because he is starting from an unprecedented position of strength for a new manager.
All truly great football managers come from Glasgow and it will not be long before Moyes is seen in a different light by the fans and the media who were calling for what they believed would be a more glamorous big name appointment.
Premier League needs Jose Mourinho but it will be harder second time round at Chelsea for the Special One
Jose Mourinho spoke from the heart on his return to Stamford Bridge when he declared: “I am sad that when I go back to Old Trafford Sir Alex will not be there any more.” Whether or not, that sentiment is tinged by any disappointment that he was not offered the chance to succeed Ferguson, the truth of the matter is that Chelsea’s new manager was summing up just why the Premier League needs him so badly.
Under the glare of the media spotlight it would be foolish to expect Mourinho to reveal any trace of remorse that it was David Moyes and not he who landed the top job at Old Trafford. And it was hard to defect any lack of sincerity when he insisted the Chelsea post is the one he really wanted because “it is my job.”
What can not be disputed is that Mourinho is priceless to the Premier League, even if he is unable to pick up where he left off last time around by locking horns with his old friend and foe Sir Alex Ferguson. The Glaswegian’s retirement merely underlines why the Portuguese maverick is so valuable to a League that has relied so heavily on the stature and gravitas of the departed Manchester United manager for so long.
Love him or hate him (and he has not been universally popular in Milan or Madrid), Mourinho is box office. Fergie has left a giant void that is near impossible to fill. But the returning Blues boss will do his best in his own special way and the media love him because his celebrity status embraces an even bigger audience than pure football enthusiasts. More than 250 of the world’s media witnessed his return this lunchtime at a press conference broadcast live on Sky TV and TalkSport – proof in itself that the self-appointed “Special One” who now calls himself “the Happy One” is a ratings winner.
Whether or not he can emulate the success of his first stint in charge, there is no question that the managerial merry-go-round – that has left Arsene Wenger as the last man standing with more than three years experience in a Premiership hot seat – desperately needs Mourinho on board.
What may come as a surprise to some is that this time around we are witnessing a much calmer, more measured, mature Mourinho. There is still a glint in the eye and a swagger that tells you this guy means business and life will never be dull while he is back at the Bridge. The English game definitely needs him. But the big question is ‘can he be successful second time around?’
In all honesty, it is hard to imagine Mourinho not winning silverware again. The difference this time is that expectations are higher than ever and the demands for instant results make it all the harder the longer it takes to deliver. Roman Abramovich has not been one to hang around whenever his managers fail to give him the trophies he insists upon and it would be interesting to see how the Russian copes if it takes time to re-gain the Premier League for example.
“In football, you never know, but I want to believe it’s possible,” Mourinho told the media hanging on his every word when asked if he could oversee a new era of glory.
This time there were no outrageous predictions or boasts, perhaps in anticipation that this time it will be much harder to exceed expectations. What was fascinating, however, was to witness the new Mourinho in action, dispelling myths and showing respect.
Avoiding barbed questions from journalists looking for a swipe at his former club Real Madrid, it was clear from the start of his second spell as Chelsea manager that this is a very different Mourinho. At 50 years old he is still young in management circles. But the brash upstart who achieved so much when he first breezed into the Capital nine years ago is now a much modified model. Not so easily sucked into delivering headline grabbing statements which will be frustrating for some.
Proving many of the so-called experts wrong, he resisted the opportunity to start the mind games early and take a swipe at any of his new rivals. On the contrary, he praised new United boss Moyes and spoke highly of Manuel Pellegrini, the man destined to replace Roberto Mancini at Manchester City. Equally, he refused to pass judgment on his predecessor Rafa Benitez in a calm and measured performance that was respectful rather than provocative.
It was Mourinho the diplomat when he insisted reports that he fell out with Abramovich during his first spell at Stamford Bridge were wide of the mark. And it was encouraging news for all Chelsea fans when he declared that he shares a common goal with the Russian “to succeed and have what this club wants which is stability.” Now that really would be something special for Blues fans.
There are few transformations in sport that can match the way Craig Bellamy has turned from a foul-mouthed rebel to a charmingly passionate footballer who has dedicated the twilight of his career to making history with his hometown club Cardiff City.
It is ironic that Bellamy has matured into an inspirational character and proved that people can change, just like the club he supports has reinvented itself and swapped its colours in the process of claiming a glorious promotion to the Premier League.
When Bellamy completed his return to Cardiff last summer he said taking his boyhood heroes to the top flight would be his greatest achievement. The way Bellamy has played such a pivotal role in making that dream become a reality crowns a fairytale promotion for the Bluebirds, who last played in the top league in 1962.
Promotion for Malky Mackay’s Cardiff comes 53 years to the day since they last won a place in the elite of English football. It completes a remarkable transformation for a club that controversially rebranded from blue shirts to red before the start of this promotion winning campaign.
Malaysian owner Vincent Tan has even suggested he may change the club’s name to Cardiff Dragons in his quest to maximise marketing and revenue potential back in Asia, where red is deemed a lucky colour and dragons are regarded as more impressive than bluebirds.
There is something quite poetic about the way Cardiff’s success in changing their identity and their fortunes is mirrored by the impressive way Bellamy has changed his own character and his image.
Back in 2005 we saw the worst of Bellamy when he sent abusive text messages to Alan Shearer after Newcastle’s FA Cup semi-final defeat by Manchester United. Bellamy was on loan from the Magpies at Celtic at the time and was universally shunned for insulting the Geordie legend.
For years the Welsh international divided opinion throughout a colourful and controversial career that took him from Newcastle and Celtic to Manchester City and Liverpool. His regular bouts of surly arrogance often overshadowed his undoubted talent and he did himself no favours when he infamously confronted Liverpool team-mate John Arne Riise with a golf club.
But there is another side to Bellamy, who has dedicated much of his time in recent years to his charity work with the Craig Bellamy Foundation, which educates disadvantaged youngsters through a football academy in Sierra Leone. Cardiff fans have seen the best of the Welshman who first caused genuine disbelief in 2010 when he started his campaign to get his hometown club promoted and initially went there on loan from Manchester City.
Three years later Cardiff City’s promotion remarkably means that 10 percent of the Premier League is now Welsh. Rivals Swansea having also celebrated this season by winning the Capital One Cup at Wembley.
Meanwhile, Bellamy’s reformation has coincided with a change in lifestyle influenced by Dr Steve Peters, author of mind-management book The Chimp Paradox, who helped the 33 year-old come to terms with the death of his friend and mentor Gary Speed.
Forget politics Paolo Di Canio will be judged by results on pitch – and odds favour clubs loyal to managers
BY JOHN GUBBA
The spotlight on the Premier League is so intense that it was no surprise that Paolo di Canio (above) stepped into a media frenzy when he controversially replaced Martin O’Neill at Sunderland. David Milliband guaranteed that when he cited the Italian’s self-confessed admiration of the former Fascist leader Benito Mussolini for his resignation from the board.
The big mistake Di Canio made was being slow to unequivocally declare that he is not a racist. Now that we have all moved on and the battle for survival on the football pitch enters its final countdown, the big question is ‘Has Sunderland’s outrageous gamble on a manager unproven at the highest level been a huge error or a stroke of genius?”
The odds are that Di Canio will fail. My guess is that Ellis Short was banking on the new manager syndrome producing a rapid reaction and a couple of wins to reverse his club’s fall like a stone down the League. But the Black Cats were silenced at Stamford Bridge after taking a surprise lead, and next up is Sunday’s biggest north-east derby in years when Di Canio takes on Alan Pardew’s Newcastle United at St James’s Park.
This is the pivotal battle that could make or break Di Canio’s quest for survival. While a surprise win would give Sunderland hope, defeat would leave them on the same points as third bottom Wigan having played two games more, with only five matches remaining.
Queens Park Rangers and bottom placed Reading are as good as relegated already and what they have in common with Sunderland is that all three clubs have sacked their managers this season. Of the other teams in the mix, Wigan, Aston Villa, Stoke City, Norwich, Newcastle and West Ham United have all remained loyal to their managers and that is why I believe they will all finish above Sunderland.
Only Southampton in 11th place have prospered since ditching Nigel Adkins in favour of Mauricio Pochettino. Personally I believe Adkins deserved more loyalty after two successive promotions, and it is testimony to the good job he has done that the Saints have marched clear of relegation.
In my book, any team that panics and sacks their manager during the course of a season deserves to be relegated above a club that stands by their man. The mere fact that sacking the manager does not guarantee survival, and the later that happens the longer the odds of success, is good for the game. That is why I hope that Di Canio fails in his mission to save Sunderland. Any political view he may or may not have is irrelevant.
But Benitez and Chelsea challenge theory sacking boss makes it harder to succeed
Meanwhile, there is one club that continually defies logic. Chelsea have made a habit of winning trophies after sacking managers. The longer this continues the more damage billionaire owner Roman Abramovich is inflicting on the beautiful game. But you have to admire Rafa Benitez for the way he has persevered despite being the most unpopular manager in the history of the club. The Spaniard has worked wonders since deciding he had nothing to lose by standing up against the fans and the owner.
With two trophies still on his radar after guiding Chelsea to the semi-finals of both the FA Cup and the Europa League, the additional prize of a top four finish to qualify for the Champions League could yet produce an unlikely treble that would put Benitez in danger of becoming popular with Chelsea fans.
While his opposite number Roberto Mancini will feel under pressure to deliver silverware when Chelsea take on Manchester City on Sunday for a place in the FA Cup Final, there is a feeling that Benitez has nothing to lose because he is out of a job whatever happens in the final month of the season. If that gives Rafa the edge, it will be another hammer blow for job security in football management.