LONDON — According to various back-page “exclusives” over the past week, Chelsea is buying Walter Samuel (Roma — £15 million), David Beckham and Ronaldo (Real Madrid — combined fee of £100,000 million), Ronaldinho (Barcelona — £60 million), Steven Gerrard (Liverpool — £30 million) and any other player who scores a goal, completes a pass or makes a decent tackle this weekend.
Its current first-team squad comprises around 30 players and only Winston Bogarde, Emmanuel Petit and Marcel Desailly, whose contracts end this summer, are likely to leave Stamford Bridge.
Most of the others are on such vast salaries and win bonuses that few clubs could afford them, even if the fee was reasonable. Who would match Hernan Crespo’s £85,000 a week plus £10,000 a goal deal?
There are now two transfer markets, one for Chelsea and one for the rest of football. There are, according to the rich list, only 24 people in the world with more money that Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, who has single-handed changed what was a depressed market where fees were plummeting.
The man in charge of the most valuable squad assembled in the history of football next season seems to be an open secret — Jose Mourinho who had led FC Porto to back-to-back European finals, the 2003 UEFA Cup and the 2004 Champions League.
Claudio Ranieri has effectively been serving his notice all season, though the Italian deserved better than for Chelsea’s power brokers to actively try to recruit his successor in the most insensitive of ways.
The criticism of Ranieri, some of it valid, is that Chelsea is not exciting, too often grinding out single-goal victories — it has recorded a club-record 20 clean sheets in 36 Premiership matches this season.
So the assumption would be that Chelsea wants a coach who preaches free-flowing attacking football rather than one, like Ranieri, whose priority is not to lose a game as opposed to setting out to win.
Mourinho does not fit this particular bill. The 41-year-old Portuguese has done a magnificent job in leading FC Porto to domestic and European domination but exciting it is not. Well, rarely. Mourinho’s motto appears to be results first, entertainment second.
FC Porto has scored 60 goals in 33 league games compared to Chelsea’s 65 in 36, roughly the same goals-per-game ratio. A crucial difference is that Chelsea doesn’t have the luxury of playing sides against whom it should rattle up four or five goals with relative ease.
Mourinho’s strength is motivation and organization, making ordinary players good and good players very good.
In the Champions League semifinal FC Porto strangled the life out of Deportivo La Coruna, denying it space, shutting down opponents and forcing it into errors. It was probably a coaching master class but it was also like watching grass growing, sentiments echoed by beaten opponents.
“You have to congratulate Porto because they took their chance and that is what football is all about,” said Depor defender Noureddine Naybet. “They are a very solid team who work really hard in both defense and attack. They pressured us all over the park and made it difficult for us in both games.”
Depor’s Argentine midfielder Lionel Scaloni said: “We recognize that the best team won. They beat us more because of their attitude than their football, but that was enough.”
“They controlled us very well,” said Spanish international Juan Carlos Valeron. “We didn’t know how to cope with the intensity of the game and they did. They were clearly familiar with our style of play and gave us little option to win the game.”
Another challenge for Mourinho would be working with international superstars which he does not have at FC Porto.
It is one thing to handle outstanding Portuguese players, another when you have to tell established internationals from England, Holland, France, Argentina or the Republic of Ireland that they are on the bench.
Which is not to say he is not up to the challenge, because Mourinho has come a long way since working as Sir Bobby Robson’s translator at Sporting Lisbon a decade ago. He is a charismatic person who speaks excellent English, is a strong personality and does not lack confidence.
When Mourinho went head-to-head with Sir Alex Ferguson, the master of the mind games, in the Champions League the Manchester United manager found he had more than met his match.
Mourinho knows he is not first choice for the Chelsea job. Sven-Goran Eriksson opted to stay with England (on a bigger salary), while Bayern Munich’s Ottmar Hitzfeld has his eyes on coaching the Germany national team after the 2006 World Cup.
FC Porto will not let its coach go without a fight and has already threatened to report Chelsea to FIFA if any illegal approach can be proved, and the off-field action could be more exciting than much of the football on it.
UEFA no doubt breathed a sigh of relief when Monaco beat Chelsea in the Champions League semifinal, thus eliminating the scenario in the final of Mourinho’s current team playing his probable next side in Gelsenkirchen on May 26.
The conspiracy theorists would have had a field day with the “Mourinho vs. Mourinho” angle dominating the buildup to the final.
However, the suspicion is we have not heard the last of Mourinho and Chelsea in the coming weeks.
IT IS DIFFICULT to believe that three years ago Leeds United stood on the brink of a place in the Champions League final.
Although Leeds failed to beat Valencia at Mestalla Stadium in May 2001, no one could possibly have predicted the remarkable and astonishingly swift fall from grace which has followed.
Leeds is now a million miles from the Champions League, standing on the precipice of relegation — its vastly inferior goal difference makes it all but a mathematical certainty — with a squad torn apart by a board who gambled and spectacularly failed with the club’s future.
The consortium which assumed control is led by insolvency expert Gerald Krasner, who claimed upon his arrival he was in “for the long haul” and that the fans “should judge us by our actions.”
Seven weeks later Krasner and his fellow board members are considering selling out to haulage magnate Steve Parkin who has already had one offer rejected.
Alan Smith, Paul Robinson and Leeds’ other prize assets will join the growing exodus of stars leaving the club this summer, as a once great team attempts to reduce a debt that has grown out of control.
Leeds is in a 20-year season-ticket debenture which, it was believed, would raise £8 million, but has been taken up by less than 100 supporters. Nothing, it seems, is successful these days at Elland Road.
Under chairman Peter Ridsdale, Leeds speculated to accumulate and bought players it believed would take it to the next step, but instead of rubbing shoulders with Europe’s elite United is facing life in the first division, having escaped administration and possibly even liquidation by the skin of its teeth.
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