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Jan 13, 2007

Jose exit is almost certain

Chelsea 4 - 0 Wigan Athletic

You would not have put it beyond Chelsea chief executive Peter Kenyon to call in a favour from his old pal David Beckham earlier this week.

Storm clouds were hovering stubbornly over Stamford Bridge after back page headlines in last Sunday's newspapers provided more than a little evidence of a Chelsea crisis beginning to rage, yet the enormity of Beckham's contract and the fascination with his every move has provided Kenyon and his cohorts with the time they needed to launch a charm offensive to quell their own mutiny.

The notion that the manager who had guided Chelsea to back-to-back Premiership titles in the past couple of season was on the verge of walking away from the club would normally represent a story that dominated the headlines all week. However, not even Mourinho's revelations that he has been denied any funds to add to his squad in the January transfer window has usurped Becks decision to move into another galaxy.

Chelsea fans have clearly spotted the impending crisis and just for a change, they decided to use this game against Wigan as a call to arms. All too often in recent years, Soccernet's Insider has focused on the lack of atmosphere generated by the hoards of kids shipped in to fill seats in this stadium each and every week.

Yet as the school kids who showed up for last Saturday's FA Cup tie against Macclesfield was replaced with a healthy bunch of genuine Chelsea supporters who may even have supported this club prior to 2004, the volume levels were raised a couple of notches and Mourinho was the focus of their backing.

His name was being celebrated long before the teams took to the field and when the cry of 'stand up for the special one' inspired the sell-out crowd to rise en masse, it was clear that this was to be a day when Chelsea fans would launch their own private campaign to try and persuade Mourinho to stay at Stamford Bridge.

Honourable though their ambitions may have been, you suspect the infighting at the highest levels of the Chelsea management team has gone beyond repair and all that's left for Mourinho at this club is to provide a fitting epitaph to take with him on the next leg of what has already been a remarkably successful management career.

Tossing a Champions League medal in Kenyon's direction come May would certainly give Mourinho the last laugh, while those who remain convinced his final season in the Premiership will end in failure could yet prove to be mistaken. A six-point gap between the reigning champions and Manchester United is hardly insurmountable and this team are more than capable of proving as much in the next few months.

Still without the services of captain John Terry and keeper Petr Cech, Mourinho could not have wished for a more suitable opponent to have on his agenda than plummeting Wigan.

In freefall after a run of results that has left them starring at a grizzly relegation fight for the rest of the campaign, they were never likely to offer Chelsea with anything more than a useful fitness workout and Paul Jewell's side hardly needed to give the opponents the sort of helping hand offered by keeper Chris Kirkland after just 13 minutes.

Frank Lampard's curling free-kick from 40 yards out was little more than a teaser for the likes of Didier Drogba or Salomon Kalou to attack, but the flight of the ball took it out of their reach, deceiving Kirkland to the point that he merely allowed it to bounce past him into the net. With their noses in front, Chelsea were never likely to be threatened and even with Michael Essien continuing his role as an emergency centre-back, Wigan were pathetically impotent throughout.

Bedecked in a black coat and looking as grumpy as ever, Mourinho spent most of his afternoon sitting back on his seat and muttering his complaints to assistant Steve Clarke. He occasionally rose from the bench to bark the odd instruction and if a body language expert was present, Jose would not have been portrayed as a contented figure, but he doesn't look happy at even his most glorious moment so there is nothing to be read into his deadpan expression.

A breakout of happiness was spotted on the Mourinho face as he shared a joke with his assistant at the start of a second half, but it was hard to be smiling after witnessing an opening period so lacking in quality and excitement.

There is a theory that Kenyon believes his dream of world domination will not be achieved with Chelsea playing the functional and highly effective style employed by their current manager and this game would not have excited a football fan who was desperate for some action after a lengthy spell behind bars.

It was dour and while Wigan contributed with their negative tactics of defend at all costs, the champions did little to live up to their billing.

With the second half proving to be equally woeful, it was no surprise to hear the Mourinho chants start up again, but his response was to point at the pitch, urging his fans to support the team rather this him personally. They were certainly in need of a lift as they again looked lifeless and uninspired at the start of the second half and it needed a second fatal Wigan mistake to hand them the second crucial goal as Kristofer Haestad's misplaced back pass was latched onto by Robben and he rounded the keeper to score with ease.

It was game over and you could have been forgiven for thinking Chelsea had not even moved out of first gear, but such is the fear they strike into opponents that most come to Stamford Bridge expecting to be beaten rather than dreaming of a famous victory.

Merely showing up with the aim of keeping the score down, they were always certain to extend their sorry record to seven successive defeats and that alarming statistic was confirmed as the hapless Kirkland diverted Robben's 70th minute cross into his own goal. Drogba's header made it four in added time.

Comfortable it may have been, but two mistakes from Wigan players and an own goal did not add up to an exciting afternoon, so we were left, once again to thank Mourinho for saving the day with another fascinating press briefing.

My future is not important.
Jose Mourinho
'I have been in football for a long time now and there are some things that cannot be said categorically,' began a cryptic Mourinho, when asked to clarify his long term plans.

'My future is not important and I said that to the players before this game. Chelsea is what matters and no one should be thinking about themselves. Whether a player is on the bench, in the team or trying to get fit, everyone at the club has a role to play and if we all try to do our best, we can still have a good season.

'Don't forget, we are still in with a chance of winning four competitions and that's a better situation than we found ourselves in this time last year. The thing is, when a club becomes used to winning, they say it is a crisis when you draw some games.

'I love this club. I will never pretend that I have loved it all my life as I'm not so stupid. I have learned to love Chelsea for the last two years and it will always be part of my story, whatever the future holds.'

There was more as he again confirmed he had been blocked from signing any players in January, while also insisting the style of this victory against Wigan was unimportant.

'It's difficult to do a good job when you have no central defenders available, but this is the situation we are in,' he added. 'I like this challenge and you will not find me crying because I don't have Joe Cole, Petr Cech or John Terry. I don't have too much to work with at the moment, but it's not a problem.

'We are back to winning games now and this is all important. When you have confidence and have some wins to remember, then we can look for the style again. I could see some of the confidence returning at the end of the game and that must be a good sign for the rest of the season.'

After watching this boring team mechanically go about their work, it's easy to understand why the media have focused their attention on David Beckham this week. On this evidence, watching LA Galaxy must be more entertaining.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Arjen Robben

In a game crying out for a touch of inspiration, Robben did his best to provide just that and he played a key role in two goals as a result.

PASSING THE BUCK: Chelsea chairman Bruce Buck made a surprise appearance in the press room after the game, but he merely laughed off the Mourinho speculation when quizzed by reporters.

CECH UPDATE: Mourinho revealed injured keeper Petr Cech is now ready to return to first team action.

FOOD WATCH: The Chelsea catering teams came up trumps with a stunning chicken curry.

MOURINHO VERDICT: He is leaving Chelsea and has gone as far as to admit as much in the last few days. His colourful press briefings will be sadly missed, but his dull team may not be so lamented.

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