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50-50: Liverpool vs. Real Madrid

Champions League 10 hours ago
Read
Sep 20, 2007

Rae's Say: Farewell to the Special One

Goodbye Jose. We'll miss you. Since proclaiming himself a 'special one' upon arriving at Stamford Bridge from Porto in the late spring of 2004, Jose Mourinho has indeed lived up to his own puffed up billing.

Not since the late Brian Clough had British football encountered such a lively interesting character at the helm of one of the leading clubs. Of course, Fergie, Wenger and Dalglish had kept us entertained, but Mourinho took things to an entirely different level.

As commentators and reporters, it was grist to our mill. News conferences were no longer going to be exercises in building up the opposition while giving nothing away to the media.

It didn't take long for us to realise however, that the marriage between Roman Abramovich and Jose Mourinho was on a shaky nail. Logic pointed to a parting of the ways during the summer, as Stamford Bridge simply wasn't big enough for the both of them.

Abramovich wanted Champions League success above all else. The goal really was continental (if not world) domination. But Mourinho, who had guided Porto to an unlikely European Cup victory in 2004, failed to repeat the trick with Chelsea. Two semi-final appearances might be seen as acceptable in many a boardroom, but not one in which Abramovich is calling the shots.

Plus there was the question of who was the real face of Chelsea? There was likely to be only one winner.

Mourinho talked about needing'real support' from Chelsea. William Gallas was sold to Arsenal while defensive cover remained thin, a fact that came home to roost for Chelsea during the wobbles of winter.

Every so often, Abramovich's chief executive Peter Kenyon would tell us how valued Mourinho was. But it never sounded convincing.

The only surprise is that the manager's resignation has come so early in the new season.

Mourinho can now sit back and smell the roses for a while. Something tells me we haven't seen the last of him in English football.


For the last couple of years, many of us have speculated that the future might belong to Arsenal. Reaching the UEFA Champions League final in 2006 was almost an aberration of timing: the youngsters certainly needed a season or two to refine their games under the wise tutelage of Arsene Wenger.

While it's still early in the current campaign, can any side in European football match Arsenal for aptitude and entertainment at the moment? I was frankly mesmerized by them on Wednesday night in the Champions League meeting with a very capable Sevilla side. That the UEFA Cup holders were soundly beaten 3-0 was no statement about the Andalucians' inadequacies. This was a match of a very high level.

It's almost as though Arsenal have been freed up by the transfer of Thierry Henry to Barcelona. I, and a few others, felt that without the fantastic Frenchman, the Gunners might, temporarily at least, take a few steps in a backward direction. Instead, we're being treated to football with a smile, a deep-seated commitment to pure attacking at a pace most teams can only dream about.

Perhaps, it's too early to make judgements. After all, the resources of Wenger's squad have yet to be properly tested. But every season we're introduced to a new name or two and rarely do they fail. Bacary Sagna is this summer's shining example, following in the footsteps of Emmanuel Eboue, Kolo Toure and the brilliantly gifted Cesc Fabregas.

I'm writing this column while listening to Wenger's post-match press comments and he's hit the nail on the head with his remark that there's a new maturity about the current Arsenal team.

One of my ESPN producers asked me the other day for my prediction as to who's going to be crowned European club champions this season. My answer? Well, I think you might be able to guess!


Many people deride the group stage as dull. Yes, I know we can generally predict with a surprising amount of accuracy, the teams that ultimately move on to the last sixteen. However, there was very little in the way of bland fare on the menu this week.

I'll grant you, the two matches involving Portuguese and English sides were fair to middling. However, look at the excitement we got in one or two unexpected places.

Did anyone really believe Fenerbahce would take down Inter? This was a worthy win for a team now chock full of Brazilians ready to make their mark on the European game.

Rangers and PSV Eindhoven proved many of the doubters wrong in their up-tempo openers, and full credit to plucky Rosenborg, who'll now forever be inextricably tied to the departure of the afore-mentioned Jose Mourinho.


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