HEART OF FOOTBALL

Large cracks in Mourinho's empire

Jose Mourinho.  -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Jose Mourinho.  -- PHOTO: REUTERSPHOTO: REUTERS

European exit could prompt Abramovich to question value of bringing Jose back

How safe is the "Mouthy One" at Stamford Bridge?

The day after Chelsea were knocked out of the Champions League, the owner's response appeared to be to consolidate the deal that Jose Mourinho has been crying out for since he returned to London a year ago.

Get me a goal scorer. Get me Diego Costa. My tactics are so superior I can snuff out any opponent. But I can't win all the games, all the trophies, unless you buy me Costa.

Well, it would appear that Roman Abramovich has met that price.

And it really was all about price. Mourinho's agent is Jorge Mendes. Costa's agent is Jorge Mendes. The reported fee, £35 million (S$74 million), includes the buy-out clause that Mendes and Atletico Madrid put into Costa's contract before the rough, ready and predatory striker hit the form that makes him one of the most coveted men of this season.

Brazil wanted Costa on account of his Brazilian blood and birth.

Spain wanted him on account of his residency there, and his progress in Spain.

Atletico are going to the Champions League final this month, in part because of Costa's goals. He only scored a penalty - but what a penalty kick it was at the Bridge on Wednesday.

But the £35 million, which includes an undisclosed percentage for the agent, is only half the story. Costa wants a five-year contract, and by all accounts he will treble his current £50,000 a week salary for moving from the Spanish to the English capital.

Financial Fair Play will come into the arithmetic somewhere down the line, because unless Uefa is already paying lip service to its new policy, the sum spent on players must come out of the sum earned on football-related income.

Up until now Chelsea, like Manchester City, like Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, have grown into football giants through monstrously generous benefactors, banks, or business partnerships.

Atletico have done it by sheer hard work, by spotting talent to work on and by selling to the big boys. Usually, it is a striker the red-and-whites of Madrid have to nourish and then take what profit they can from in the market.

Sergio Aguero? Atletico to Man City.

Radamel Falcao? Atletico to AS Monaco who now have the same as Chelsea - a Russian benefactor.

Fernando Torres? Atletico to Liverpool originally, and then to Chelsea.

Mourinho hasn't been able to revive Torres, any more than the previous Blues managers.

There seems every prospect, judging by Torres' apologetic gesture when his deflected shot went in against Atletico on Wednesday that he could return to his boyhood club when, finally, Chelsea get him off the payroll this summer.

But, as silent as Abramovich is, things must gall him about the way his first season has gone since he took Mourinho back.

Wasn't there supposed to be a rift between the owner and the coach first time around based on the belief that Abramovich wanted to be more entertained by the team that he has sunk so many hundreds of millions into?

Trophies, yes. But style too if you please.

A rouble for Mr Abramovich's thoughts last weekend when Mourinho glorified his smash-and-grab raid at Anfield. Double park the defensive bus, break twice, score twice and steal all the points.

"We can say we have twice beaten the champions of the Premier League," Mourinho broadcast in reference to the fact that Chelsea had beaten Man City home and away, and beaten Liverpool home and away.

To believe him on that, you have still to accept Mourinho's insistence that Chelsea are in a transitional season with absolutely no chance of winning the title.

Those of us who find it difficult to believe anything Mourinho says might suspect he is deliberately deceiving us. But recent defeats by Aston Villa, Crystal Palace, and Sunderland rather make his point.

Who knows which Chelsea will turn up at the Bridge today against Norwich City, another club desperately trying to stay in the English Premier League?

Who can tell whether Mourinho's paymaster resents his side (on paper costing £186 million, not counting players left on the bench) going out of Europe against an Atletico that took less than £30 million to assemble?

Mourinho got what he wanted, a goal lead and the opportunity to rely, again, on that parked bus. Atletico had already hit a post. And Atletico, visibly driven on by their arm-waving, cajoling touch-line coach Diego Simeone (looking at times like a younger version of Mourinho), just wouldn't give up.

Chelsea were out-paced, out-willed and eventually out-played on their home ground.

Congratulations, Mourinho said, this time without apparent sarcasm.

Then he awoke to hear that Eden Hazard, Chelsea's best attacking player by far this season, had answered a question in the mixed zone, saying that Chelsea "don't play football", Chelsea were "set up to counter attack."

It sounded perfectly true to most of us. But to Mourinho, Hazard was the cause of Chelsea's downfall.

"When the comments come from a player like Eden," Mourinho said on Friday, "it's normal because he's not the kind of player to sacrifice himself for the team. He's not mentally ready to look to his left back and leave his life for him.

"If you see Atletico's first goal, you completely understand where the mistake was and why we conceded that goal. I'm not happy, I've tried to improve him all season."

There is truth, and falsehood in the manager's explanation. Hazard did leave his full-back, Ashley Cole, exposed to the counter attack for that goal and on other occasions. But there are echoes in Hazard of Arjen Robben during Mourinho's previous spell at Chelsea from 2004 to 2007.

They are free spirits who come off the wing to strike or to make goals, creatures of whim and excitement in an otherwise automated team.

Maybe Mourinho will now solve his problem with Hazard the way he solved the issue with Juan Mata, by selling him. Or with Oscar, by leaving him out.

Paris St-Germain might lure Hazard, leaving Mourinho with mainly obedient soldiers who sacrifice for his team.

stsports@sph.com.sg

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