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Aug 5, 2007

You can't be right all the time

Those of you who placed a large wager on Jose Mourinho starting this season as Chelsea manager were doubtless otherwise engaged as the 'special one' took up his place on the Wembley bench for this Community Shield game against Manchester United.

Maybe you were sunning yourself on a sun-kissed beach, or possibly taking your new convertible car out for a spin as there can be little doubt that you deserved to gloat with your cash windfall.

It will come as little surprise that each and every member of Her Majesty's press pack were assembled under 'the arch' as not one of us present on a sweltering day in North London can absolve ourselves of blame for leading the world astray. Suffice to say, none of us placed even 50p that Jose would still be here on this day.

I lost count of the amount of times I reported from Stamford Bridge last season in a tone that may have left you wondering whether Mourinho was about to pass away, not just lose his job. And Soccernet's Insider was not alone in writing obituaries to a coach whose position at Stamford Bridge apparently became untenable many months ago, with back page headlines on a daily basis suggesting Chelsea were actively looking for his replacement.

Guus Hiddink, Jurgen Klinsmann and Mark Hughes were among those said to be in the frame to fill his boots, with Mourinho himself almost accepting he would not be Blues manager beyond May. Indeed, his press conferences around February and March of this year were conducted with a knowing understanding from all present that the manager who gives us so much to write about every week would soon be a former employee of Chelsea Football Club.

Each and every one of us hacks have been proved wrong in our assessments of Mourinho's future, yet the truth is owner Roman Abramovich was intent on sacking his manager for much of last season and only a change of heart from the Russian billionaire has allowed him to stay for now.

Quite how long the cease-fire in hostilities between Abramovich and Mourinho will hold is open to debate because the latter is still reluctant to have too much contact with either youth development chief Frank Arnesen or newly appointed Director of Football, Avram Grant.

As those two are close allies of Abramovich, the Portuguese maverick knows his each and every move is now being watched, with Grant's position directly behind Mourinho on the bench at Wembley a reminder that big brother was in attendance. It was telling that despite several opportunities, he rarely engaged in meaningful conversation with his Israeli 'colleague'.

Apparently Abramovich wants to see a Chelsea team playing with much more fantasy this season, so if Chelsea stumble in the next few months and fail to inspire his demanding Russian mind, rumours of Mourinho's demise will start all over again. Still, for now, we can be thankful that the coach whose press conferences are so much more interesting than the football he promotes is still in a job he still relishes.

Mourinho's team selection for this clash altered the world to the problems he is already suffering this season with skipper John Terry nursing an injury that will keep him out of action for a month and star striker Didier Drogba was also unfit to start, though he was able to hand a start to £13.5m summer capture Florent Malouda. We were also given further evidence that he intends to revert back to the 4-3-3 formation that served him so well in his first two years at Chelsea.

As you might expect with the Premiership's top-two going head to head, this pre-season game was played with a real competitive edge and United took a deserved 34th minute lead as Ryan Giggs finished off a flowing move with a well placed shot into the top corner.

Other than the odd set-play, Chelsea were second best for much of the opening 45 minutes, so it was something of a surprise to see them snatch an equaliser 60 seconds from the break and Mourinho will have been pleased to see Malouda scoring on what may be described as his first competitive start for the club.

There was still time for Wayne Rooney to remind anyone who had forgotten that he still has the capacity to self destruct at any moment and his innocuous tussle with Chelsea keeper Cech saw him pick up a booking from referee Mark Halsey. Clearly feeling hard done by, Rooney pursued the official around for a good two minutes and then had a less than pleasant exchange with the linesman he saw as being complicit in the miscarriage of justice. This talented boy seems reluctant to grow up.

United identified Glen Johnson as the weak link in the Chelsea line-up and attacking the right-back at will and it so nearly reaped rewards at the start of the second half as Patrice Evra burst in behind the lightweight defender to created presentable chances for Rooney or Giggs, but with the on-pitch temperature being recorded at well over 100 degrees, the pace began to die as legs began to tire.

The appearances of Chelsea new-boys Claudio Pizarro and Steve Sidwell, along with United's summer buy Nani, provided interesting side-shows for the 80,731 fans in attendance, but it predictably needed a penalty shoot-out to separate the sides, which turned into an embarrassing affair from Chelsea's perspective.

Pizarro, Frank Lampard and the ever woeful Shaun Wright-Phillips saw their spot kicks saved by Edwin van der Sar and United were left to wonder what might have been had they held on for penalties in the FA Cup final a few weeks ago.

Mourinho's current paranoia was confirmed as his press conference was restricted to 'questions about the match', clearly blocking an awkward debate about Grant's contribution. Indeed, he wouldn't even talk about how long Terry or Drogba will be on the sidelines as we got an unusually bland briefing from our Portuguese friend.

'This is the first time I ever started a match without a striker, so I have to be happy with the performance,' said an agitated Mourinho. 'Pizarro wasn't fit to play for 90 minutes, so I asked Joe Cole, Wright-Phillips and Malouda to do a job for me. I felt we controlled the game comfortably, but the detail that matters is their keeper saved more penalties.'

United boss Sir Alex Ferguson made a rare appearance in front of the London media, with much of his thoughts centring on the imminent debut of Carlos Tevez in a United shirt. 'He will play for us on Wednesday night and it would be nice to think he will be available to play against Reading next Saturday,' said Ferguson.

'Carlos trained with us on Friday for the first time and I was very impressed. He looked in good shape. The boy has the ability to be one of the best strikers in the world and I can see him clicking with Wayne Rooney very quickly.'

So the phoney war is nearly over and the real action is set to get underway next weekend, but as all of us in the media peel egg off our faces over Mourinho's continued presence at Chelsea, I'm sure you won't be relying on us to tell you what is happening in this great game over the course of the next ten months.

• MAN OF THE MATCH: Edwin van der Sar - For some reason, the match sponsors game this award to Ashley Cole, but United's big Dutch keeper deserves the plaudits for his three fine saves in the shoot-out.

• AVRAM GRANT WATCH: The new Chelsea Director of Football must have been a lonely man on the Blues bench as no one spoke to him all day. He looked relieved to speak with compatriot Tal Ben Haim on the pitch before the spot kicks were taken.

• INSIDER MOAN: Chelsea's new bright yellow away shirt has clearly been bought up by their fans with gusto, but it is an ugly piece of fashion that gave the impression that a few thousand extra police had infiltrated their support at Wembley.

• YOU HAD TO LAUGH: Ronaldo raced over the half-way line with real intent mid-way through the first half and then proceeded to trip over the ball. He then did a very good impression of trying to pretend his mistake was all planned.

• FOOD WATCH: The beef stew and rice offering were very tasty, so it was something of a shame that the portion would not have been enough to satisfy a one-year old child. Wembley's press facilities are second to none, but penny pinching on the beef must stop.

• VERDICT: Chelsea's injury crisis is beginning to reach epidemic levels and they cannot afford to crawl out of the blocks at the start of this season. As for United, they look set fair to start their title defence in style.


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