Sore Mourinho, Messi's future, Moyes' delusions, more
Twelve years -- roughly from the time his Porto side took on Lazio in the semifinals of the UEFA Cup -- of following Jose Mourinho, and I'm none the wiser. Twelve years of talking to players, opponents, employers, agents and referees, and I still can't answer the following question: When he comes out with his more absurd, outrageous statements, does he really believe what he's saying? Or is it a master plan to deflect attention from his players, gain an advantage for his team and plant a seed of doubt in public opinion, and, more importantly, whatever referee he's assigned to next? If you buy into the former theory and take what he says at face value, then as an honest (if emotional) postmatch assessment, it's pretty bleak. Mourinho had a pop at referee Mike Dean, who took charge of Chelsea's 2-1 home defeat to Sunderland on Saturday. With obvious sarcasm, Mourinho said, "I think his performance was unbelievable" and "[Dean] came here with one objective, the objective of making a fantastic performance, and he did that." OK, so you think Dean's refereeing decisions cost you the game. Maybe so. You can parse out the major decisions and reach that conclusion. Adam Johnson wasn't even booked for the boot to Cesar Azpilicueta's midsection when it could have been a red. Sebastian Larsson's bodycheck on Ramires in the box could well have been a penalty. How about Marcos Alonso's handball? That for me is a lot more debatable, given that Fabio Borini heads the ball toward him from point-blank range. Azpilicueta on Jozy Altidore for the match-winning penalty? Altidore plants his foot on him, but the Chelsea defender is also sliding rashly in the box as an opponent is turning, which is never a good idea. Could have gone either way. But, equally, if you're going to play the "second-guess" game, you'd also want to throw in Ramires' elbow to Larsson's face, which could easily have been a straight red. - Worrall: Title hopes in ruins - Delaney: Jose loses more than his temper - FC TV: Mourinho's blame game Dean did make a number of errors and, on balance, most of them hurt Chelsea. At the same time, if Vito Mannone hadn't pulled off a string of saves, if Branislav Ivanovic's header caromed off the crossbar at a slightly different angle, if Alonso hadn't been left entirely unmarked at the edge of the box, if Mark Schwarzer hadn't spilled the ensuing shot (or its corollary, if Petr Cech didn't have the flu), if Demba Ba hadn't slipped in front of goal after being set up by Willian and if Azpilicueta hadn't slipped to begin with on the play that led to the penalty ... well, we wouldn't be talking about Dean or his postmatch comments. Once you enter the jungle of "ifs" in football, you can get lost in there. It’s one thing to sarcastically mock a referee's performance. It's quite another to suggest that there's some kind of untoward conspiracy at work. And Mourinho compounded matters when he extended it out to Mike Riley, the man who appoints referees to Premier League games. "Congratulations to Mike Riley, because he's the referees' boss and what they are doing during the whole season is fantastic, especially in the last couple of months," he said. "Especially in matches involving teams in the title race, it's absolutely fantastic." We've been here before with Mourinho. The conspiracy angle. Now, I'm not one of those people who rules out conspiracies a priori and sadly, we've had examples in the past. But is there evidence that Dean is anti-Chelsea or, as some allege because he's from the Wirral (just across the water from Liverpool), pro-Liverpool? Before Saturday, Dean had taken charge of three Chelsea games this season, all of them on the road and all of them tough: Tottenham, Arsenal and Manchester City. Chelsea beat City and drew at Spurs and Arsenal. Counting his first stint at the club, Mourinho's record with Dean prior to Sunderland was 10 wins, two draws and one defeat, which is actually better than Mourinho's overall record. What about Dean and Liverpool? What seems obvious is that probably because of where he's from, he doesn't officiate Liverpool (or Everton, for that matter) very often. He hasn't taken charge of a game involving either club since January 2006, and in his entire career, he's only officiated Liverpool once (a defeat, for what it's worth) and Everton twice (a defeat and a draw). For those who missed it, Mourinho's implication seems to be that if the PGMOL, the body headed by Riley that appoints referees, has reservations about letting Dean take charge of Liverpool (and evidently they do), then it should have the same reservations about giving him games whose outcome can directly impact Liverpool's title chase. Like Chelsea versus Sunderland. Fair enough. It's a question worth asking. But there's a way to do it and a time and a place to do it. And this wasn't it. This simply makes Mourinho seem like some kind of sore loser who can't control himself after games. And if this is some kind of master plan aimed at shielding his players, flexing his muscle with future appointments or settling the team ahead of a Champions League semifinal, I'm not sure it's going to work. In Madrid, the schtick wore thin to the point that it backfired. In England, he has a lot more political capital to spend given his past success. But this doesn't seem like a clever way to use it. Barcelona fight back after nightmare spell \ After three straight defeats -- Atletico Madrid in the Champions League, Granada in La Liga and Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey -- Sunday could have been lights out for Barcelona, the day the season pretty much ended. The ingredients were there. Unavailable regulars in Victor Valdes, Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba, Sergio Busquets and Neymar. A manager in Tata Martino, who looked as if he was running out of answers. A superstar in Lionel Messi, who appeared disinterested, hadn't scored in open play for nearly a month and was entering contract negotiations. Nearly 40,000 no-shows at the Camp Nou, suggesting a chunk of superstars had thrown in the towel. A tough, talented opponent in Athletic Bilbao who takes the lead early in the second half after a first half that saw Barca fluff numerous chances. With less than 20 minutes to go -- and in the space of a few minutes -- Barca saved their season as first Pedro and then Messi found their mark. It wasn't a sparkling performance, but it was a deserved 2-1 victory, the kind that suggests there is spark and fight left in this group. And so it should be. For all the negativity, Barca are four points behind Atletico Madrid, but on the last day of the season, Diego Simeone's men travel to the Camp Nou. Win the head-to-head clash, have Atleti slip up in one of their other three games, and Barca have a real shot of being champions. - Ledwith: Barca survive tough Bilbao test - FC TV: Messi shows heart They owe it to themselves and to the supporters to keep believing. We know what's coming, and it won't be pretty. Humiliation if Real Madrid or Atletico win the Champions League, possibly. Elections, probably. Messi's contract talks, definitely. It's going to be a bumpy summer, but that doesn't mean Barca should give up their title without a fight. Messi leaving Barca? Get real Speaking of Messi's contract, we've entered silly season. The numbers bandied about by several Catalan outlets, such as the Daily Sport, place Messi's demands not just north of Cristiano Ronaldo's improved deal -- understandable since these two use each other as a benchmark -- but way, way beyond the reported $48 million the Real Madrid star is getting. They threw out the figure of 100 million euros, which works out to some $135 million a year. Maybe it's not a coincidence then that a number of outlets have reported that Barca are ready to sell Messi ... for the right price. Again, this is what happens when you have contracts of this nature. You get rumors and whispers and leaks, and it's all part of the game. The interesting thing is that Messi's current deal runs through 2018, which means he couldn't force a move elsewhere if he wanted to. Therefore, the implication is that any interested party would need to pay his release clause, which stands at 250 million euros ($345 million). Is Messi worth 2 ½ times what Real Madrid paid for Gareth Bale? (In fact, was Bale even worth what he was paid?) Good questions to debate. But a more telling one is this: Who can afford $345 million for Messi, plus the likely five-year commitment at, say, $60 million-plus? In theory, the usual free-spending suspects -- Paris St. Germain, Manchester City, Monaco, Chelsea -- could because they have wealthy owners who seem happy to pour their personal fortune into their clubs. In practice, if UEFA flex their Financial Fair Play muscle in a couple of weeks, it's hard to see how PSG or City could even think about making it work. And if those clubs are punished, it will likely be enough to dissuade Chelsea (who look pretty close to FFP compliance now, though a potential Messi outlay would likely change that) or Monaco (who won't undergo the FFP test until next season) from even thinking they can make that work. Fact is, Barcelona would be foolish to come to terms with Messi until after we see how FFP shakes out. If UEFA crack down, Barca may well find they hold all the leverage in any negotiation. Sterling the best in his age group Raheem Sterling scored two and set up another in sending Liverpool to a 3-2 win at Norwich on Sunday. The victory leaves the Reds with a five-point lead over Chelsea and a nine-point gap over City (who have played two fewer games). - Brewin: LFC stay on title track - Kelly: Calm it down as Prem glory nears - FC TV: Now's the time for Liverpool Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers said after the match that Sterling was "arguably the best young player in Europe right now." With all the attention given to Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge and Steven Gerrard, the first instinct was to suggest that Rodgers got a bit carried away. Yet I suppose it comes down to your definition of "young." Sterling is 19 years old. Is there anybody that age or younger who has been better over the past few months? You be the judge. I tried to make a quick mental list of Sterling's contemporaries. I may have missed somebody -- I'm sure you'll let me know in the comments -- but the best I could come up with is Timo Werner, Adnan Januzaj, Luke Shaw, Domenico Berardi, Max Meyer, Aymeric Laporte and Alen Halilovic. All exciting players, all Sterling's age (or younger). But, for my money at least, the Liverpool star has been on a par or better than all of them over the past few months. Montella rising through managerial ranks Vincenzo Montella said after Fiorentina's 1-0 home loss to Roma that as things stand right now (unless he gets sacked), he'll be the club's manager next year, as well. That can only be good news for fans of La Viola. Results are obviously the main metric with which to judge managers, and in that sense, he looks set to once again finish fourth in Serie A. But you need to look beyond that. You have to look at the way his teams play and with that in mind, Montella has been one of the few truly innovative and creative managers in Europe. You also have to look at the mitigating circumstances which, in his case, means having his main strike tandem -- Giuseppe Rossi and Mario Gomez -- together on the pitch for just 191 minutes this season (during which time they scored four goals). We're talking about a guy who is easily among the best young coaches in Europe. And who is bound to make a splash in years to come. More melancholy for David Moyes Memo to David Moyes: Sometimes when facing postmatch cameras, it's better to just say "we all need to do a better job." Unless you have some major point you want to make -- such as railing against a referee, see above, or offering words of support to your players provided that they're credible -- postgame conferences after a defeat are lose-lose propositions. That's why so many of his colleagues hide behind "coachspeak" -- empty phrases such as "needing to do better," which are quickly forgotten. - Report: Moyes set to be sacked - Jolly: Moyes' depressing return - Payne: Welbeck sounds alarm for feeble United - FC TV: Moyes' season at Old Trafford Instead, following Sunday's 2-0 setback at Everton, Moyes said, "We passed brilliantly and kept control of the game" and, "We played very well in the first half." Also, "I couldn't fault how we played." If he believes the stuff he's saying, it's very worrying. If he doesn't but thinks that such statements are somehow in his interest (or that of United), well, he's simply wrong. United did not play well. Having 61 percent possession against a team that sets up to play on the counter is not "controlling the game." Not when you concede 17 shots (and only manage nine, of which just two on target). For those of us in the dwindling minority who still believe he can (note: "can," not "will") be successful at Old Trafford, it's yet another disappointment. \ Good day for Blanc, Cavani as PSG claim cup If all goes according to plan, Paris St. Germain will wrap up the Ligue 1 title next weekend away to Sochaux. In the meantime, PSG won the French League Cup, defeating Lyon 2-1. \ - Johnson: Cavani inspires PSG to cup glory The win was important for Laurent Blanc after back-to-back defeats (Chelsea in the Champions League and Lyon in the league). It gives him a bit more ammo when it comes to convincing Nasser Al-Khelaifi that he's the right man to lead the team next season, as well. And it was also key for the much-maligned (of late) Edinson Cavani, who scored both goals and romped around up front in the absence of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Cavani's annoyance at running up and down the wing all season long is well-documented. His performance up front in the Champions League versus Chelsea did little to help his case, but Saturday was a reminder that when played in his natural position, few are more effective. In a normal world with normal budgets and common sense, PSG would make a cold, hard choice between Cavani and Ibrahimovic. Alas, PSG's world is far from normal... Arsenal win confirms Ramsey's value When Aaron Ramsey made his last start for Arsenal in the Premier League before Sunday, it was Boxing Day and the Gunners were top of the table. The club's decline did not coincide with his injury -- they rattled off six straight wins after he went down -- but what's clear is that a fit Ramsey, playing at the level he was at early in the season, can paper over plenty cracks. - Mangan: Ramsey hints at what could have been The Welsh midfielder opened the scoring against Hull and ran the show with a precision and drive that Arsenal have too often lacked of late. With him healthy and productive, you feel pretty good about their chances of finishing fourth -- and winning their first trophy since 2005. Berbatov and Monaco deliver Dimitar Berbatov divides opinion. Some love his effortless skills, some decry that very same perceived lack of effort. But when he scores goals like this, you can see just why the romantics among us fell in love with his skill set so readily. Monaco’s 1-0 victory over Nice keeps their faint league hopes alive and secures a place in the Champions League next season. Yes, it's true that owner Dmitry Rybolovlev spent an insane amount to get them where they are. But this is also a club in its first year back in the top flight. You can be handed all the advantages on Earth, but you still need to deliver. And Claudio Ranieri's crew have done just that.