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A Game Apart

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A Game Apart


London Evening Standard



Paddy Power

Oakwood Estates

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Forget the Wayne Rooney, Barcelona, the World Cup, the FA Cup replays... Jose is all that matters tonight. And he's taking on the world.

TWO of the best sides in Europe meet at the San Siro tonight. But Jose Mourinho has made sure only one man matters. And he won't be on the field of play.

Ah, the Special One. Not content with his third ban of the season in Serie A (this one a three week suspension for showing a hand-cuffed salute after a referee's decision last weekend), Mourinho has seen fit to accuse Chelsea's Italian boss Carlo Ancelotti of being a member of Italy's footballing mafia.

The Italians are up in arms about Mourinho's behaviour as he apparently angles for a move to Real Madrid next season. And there he was at Internazionale's training ground at Pinatina yesterday making sure we knew who the focal point of tonight's clash really is.

Responding to Ancelotti's claim that the whole of Italy will be backing Chelsea tonight because of him, Jose said: "If Ancelotti says that it's because he knows or because somebody told him. Or because he belongs to the clan."

There was more of course. There always is with Mourinho, the man thrown out in his days as a player because his dad - a Portuguese international goalkeeper - put him in the first team. The players revolted. Then he was promoted again, from Bobby Robson's interpreter to top European manager. Further revolt.

The Champions League with Porto followed, then two Premier League titles with Chelsea. Still revolting though. And now, widespread revulsion in Italy: "I'm offering them a challenge. I'm waiting for a referee to come here and say I insulted them.

"To my face. I'm interested to see if they would be brave enough."

Never forgetting that he is the man who made Chelsea great of course, even though Roman Abramovich eventually turfed him out: "You ask me what system Chelsea will play. The same systems Chelsea have played since I joined the club in 2004. Nothing has changed.

"Then I look at my old players - men like John Terry, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba. John and Frank perform week after week, year after year.

"They look as if they are never tired of playing well. Did I make a little contribution towards that? They say yes and I think they are right.

"I thank them because they never forget my contribution. They are good players because, yes, they are good anyway and because they have worked very hard.

"When I speak with people at Chelsea they always say that the culture of working very hard every day has not changed.

"The players have kept their strong mentality. The years may be passing but they are like Port wine - the older the better."

"The most beautiful thing in football for a coach is the passion and respect of his players - and the passion and respect of his supporters.

"That happens with me all the time - in Porto, Chelsea and Inter. That makes me proud."

"But I know what will happen in the San Siro in this match. I know Didier will break his legs for his team. And it's the education I gave to the players."

So yes, forget European Cup holders Barcelona, held by Stuttgart last night. Forget Manchester United's Wayne Rooney, scorer of two more headed goals against West Ham as he heads for the Golden Boot. Forget England's training camp in Rustenburg. In fact, forget the whole looming World Cup. And you can certainly ignore the FA Fifth Round replays - Aston Villa v Cyrstal Palace, Stoke v Man City, Spurs v Bolton, West Brom v Reading - which aren't even on the television tonight.

There is only one subject of fascination in the footballing globe. Tonight on ITV. Jose. The Special One. Taking on the world.

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Friday, 12 February 2010

The moment Ashley's World Cup was thrown into doubt... and according to The Sun he's in trouble off the park too

THIS was the moment the World Cup dream may have been shattered for Ashley Cole, ironically against Landon Donovan, the man he would have marked in England's opening game against the USA at Rustenburg on June 12.
Everton's on-loan Yank Donovan is blameless - he played the ball and Cole damaged his ankle in the 57th minute as Chelsea slid to a shock 2-1 defeat at Goodison on Tuesday night.
I broke the story that he was out for three weeks yesterday after scans, today comes news that the 29-year-old former Arsenal left-back is off for surgery on the injury.
His World Cup is now in serious doubt. Spurs boss Harry Redknapp was the first to react, saying: "Ashley is probably the best left back in the world. He's got three months, let's hope he makes it for the World Cup."
With Wayne Bridge two games into his comeback from injury, City boss Roberto Mancini came out strongly this morning insisting he was the best in the position for England. He said: "Wayne is a big man. It's important for him to play in the World Cup, the first eleven for the national team.".
But of course that would put him alongside axed captain John Terry, disciplined by Capello for having an affair with the mother of Bridge's child, Vanessa Perroncel. When this all broke there was talk of Bridge wanting to give up international football. Not any more judging by Mancini's enthusiasm this morning.
And that's got the whole world talking. Everyone knows footballers have copious affairs - Ashley Cole himself is on the front of The Sun today over sending naked pictures of himself to some model or other - but what happens in the dressing room when this sort of situation crops up?
Will the England players be model professionals and ignore the obvious tensions for the sake of the nation? Will there be petty squabbling and nasty tackles at training?
Some of the Manchester City players wore Team Bridge t-shirts when the story broke a fortnight ago, while Chelsea players, who saw Bridge move to City a year ago, would line up for Team Terry.
And of course the big man himself, after a stinker in the Everton defeat where he allowed Louis Saha to score twice, is in Dubai for Valentine's Day with his wife and three-year-old twins for Valentine's Day. The club has given him permission to miss the weekend FA Cup clash against Cardiff to patch up his marriage.
Boss Carlo Ancelotti said today: "I'm very disappointed. Ashley is a very important player for me. I hope he will be quick to rest and he will come back before the end of the season. It is a realistic possibility. He will go surgery today.
"I think that in three months he will be ready for play, also for England. I think he can play in the World Cup."
And Terry? Ancelotti said: "He will be back for the next game against Wolves. I think he will come back strong and make a recovery." Terry and Bridge? "It's not my problem this."
Question is, will Capello avoid the issue and play Gareth Barry as his emergency left-back against Egypt on March 3? Or will he go for the regular understudy and call Bridge into the starting eleven?
Cole has been Capello's first choice at left-back, playing 16 times while Manchester City's Wayne Bridge has played nine, Joleon Lescott five and Aston Villa midfielder Barry three.
Me? I'd pick Bridge. Let him have it out with his former mate if necessary. Word is he hasn't been taking calls from Terry during the uncomfortable situation which has arisen in the last fortnight.
Bang their heads together, Fabio. This is England's year. An easy Group C, the Yanks, Slovenia and Algeria. Back to Rustenburg near the training ground for the first knock-out game if we win the group. And then it's the quarter-finals.
Even Sven Goran Eriksson got us that far on a regular basis. This is England's year. South Africa won't be too hot. And after three weeks of preparation at the best training facility in the country at the highest altitude available, nobody will be more ready.
As long as the off-field disputes are firmly thrust behind them.

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