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by Les Murray

Mourinho a genius without a soul
A word or two about Jose Mourinho, by way of pre-empting the tumult of discussion and polemics about him that will no doubt surround the Champions League final.

I am not a fan although I respect utterly his almost unrivalled capacity, even in historic terms, to achieve results, wherever he goes against whatever opponent.

Mourinho is the high priest of the football bottom line: a win is a win and a draw is better than a loss. He thrives in the self-fulfilling Machiavellian fantasy that in football the result is everything and he invests every drop of his considerable coaching talent into it.

He is oblivious to the game’s rich history and how its unique capacity to excite and entertain, its romance, has captivated the world’s billions for a century and a half. He is, as one English columnist implied, tantamount to a vandal painting a moustache on the Mona Lisa and calling it some kind of victory.

But he cares not, for he does not appear to know. He doesn’t know what makes football unique, unaware that if you and I didn’t think football was special we, along with the billions, may as well have been following other sports where inert, lifeless numbers characterise achievements without s scant glance at how they were achieved.

We may well have become fans of pole vaulting, or shot putting, or sprinting or swimming, where heights, distances and speeds measured in metres or by clocks define victories or defeats.

“For Mourinho the numbers are in the goals and the numbers of them, for or against, are all that matter. ”

If you put this to him he’d probably say that he’s only a coach, mandated to deliver results and trophies by whatever means he can and the higher plane of judging the manner of achieving them is a matter for others.

He’d be right. Getting results is essentially what all coaches are asked to do. I know of not one coach who was ever engaged under a contract that had a clause in it referring to a need to play entertaining football.

And let’s not be fooled by the odd utterance by coaches who pay public homage to the need to entertain above the need to get results. They are usually lying. All of them live or die, ultimately, by their results and they know it.

Where some coaches differ from Mourinho is in their belief that stylish, attacking, ‘sexy’ football will bring the best results. But it is results in which they believe and for which they yearn, no less than Mourinho.

But Mourinho doesn’t have their measure because he, unlike them, lacks the courage to allow players to use the ball, to let them create and do the business that players have been brought on this earth to do. He, in cowering fear of taking risks, prefers to have hands-on control and exercise a command culture in which the players are pawns.

His conquest of Barcelona to take Inter to the final to me was not especially heroic. Barca were outwitted tactically in Milan by a team happy to concede 68 per cent of possession but hit mortally on the break. This was to Mourinho’s credit.

But at the Nou Camp it was nothing more complex or clever than Mourinho parking a bus depot in front of his goal and sweating for the clock to run down, especially once Thiago Motta was sent off.

Indeed the send-off only worked against Barcelona. While prior to it Inter may have had the ambition to launch the odd attack and grab an away goal, after it that ambition was disposed of and the great wall set up with even Samuel Eto’o pulled back to join in the defending.

Inter’s so-called heroism in this semi final is not defined by what they did but against whom they did it. The self-styled pragmatists, and Mourinho’s admirers, will no doubt claim that Inter again proved that expedient method will triumph over style, forgetting that Barcelona, with style as its method, won every title available to it last season and met some pretty cut-throat ‘pragmatic’ opposition on the way.

Mourinho is a brilliant coach but as a purveyor of football he is a man without a soul. He will march into Madrid for the final like a General Patton ahead of the Seventh Army, preoccupying the media as only he can, totally at the expense of the players or the football the game ought to promise.

And once his team wins, he will again sprint onto the field in triumph and adolescent self-indulgence, like he did at the Nou Camp where quite rightly the sprinklers were needed to cool him down and bring him back to sanity.

Soothe Irish pain, sack Domenech
Most of the outrage over the way France qualified for the World Cup was understandably aimed at Thierry Henry.

Yet I was more appalled by the sight of that man with the porcupine eyebrows, Raymond Domenech, fingers in his mouth, whistling like a lame-brained adolescent in encouragement to the referee to blow for full time.

I mean, what a loser.

I’m not sure where the saying ‘the luck of the Irish’ came from. Suffice to say that its suggestion died an agonising death at the Stade de France on November 18.

In its stead stepped Domenech, a failure by capability, a winner by luck. Never has a man with so little to offer as a technical strategist achieved so much. Rarely has such an abject failure managed survival for such a long time.

Before the game in Paris, one Frenchman told me he hoped France would lose just so Domenech would be sacked. That is the depth to which this man, who once tried to distract attention from his blunders by proposing to his girlfriend at a press conference, has taken French pride.

This is the man at the helm of a country given to gallantry and valour. Joan of Arc would not, in the least, be amused by such cowardice: a general wanting desperately to call time, waving the white flag, on a contest he never deserved to win.

I am sad for Ireland and the injustice that has been done to it. Thierry Henry must now live with his conscience and look in the mirror each morning. St Joan wouldn’t be too proud of him either.

This is the man who pontificated after the 2006 Champions League final when he invoked ethics and morality about the manner of Arsenal’s loss to Barcelona. Now he is the cheat as it turns out and it is he who will take the field in the tricolor next June, presumably with a straight face.

But that was Henry, a player, tapping the ball with his hand and doing what was expected of him as an expedient professional in a world where results are wanted and the means of it are accepted, whatever they are.

The predictable hysteria and the knee-jerk reaction calling for the introduction of video refereeing are, as usual, misplaced.

Even if a way was found whereby stoppages for video examination didn’t corrupt the flowing continuum of the beautiful game, which I doubt, what would be their effect in the broad sense?

In this case, granted, it would have upturned a refereeing oversight, nullified the goal and Ireland may have got a deserved victory in the shootout if not before. Justice would have been done.

And maybe Henry, having learnt the lesson, would not try it again.

But football is not just about the pointy end of it, a showdown World Cup qualifier. According to one statistic there are as many as 50,000 football games being played somewhere in the world in every minute of every day. That’s over 18 million games a year. That is what makes football the truly global game, a virtue about which its supporters enjoy bragging, me among them.

Are they all going to be scrutinised by video, as they surely should if cheating is to be eradicated?

What video would do, at best, is put right a handful of wrongs committed at the game’s highest and richest levels, where the loss of bagfuls of money and the chance to win golden trophies is the casualty of an act of player chicanery or a refereeing error.

Meantime at the lower tiers of the global football pyramid the cheating would go on unabated.

That said, the game’s governors have a responsibility to act in the face of the damage the Henry incident has done to the image of football. It’s simply not good enough for FIFA to say that the game cannot be replayed and be done with it.

FIFA, as I write this, should already be busy creating the ways in which it is ensured this doesn’t happen again. That globally admired and respected footballers, like Henry, do not choose, in however quick time and however instinctively, to stoop to such deeds.

Thierry Henry could have handled this a lot better, as he surely now realises. He could have approached the referee immediately after the goal and fessed up, swaying him to disallow it. That would have been the noble deed the world sought from him and expected of him.

Such a deed, I am certain, would have percolated down, all the way, to football’s grassroots.

And Thierry Henry, far from being the villain he is now being perceived, would now be a hero.

He is of course not football’s first cheat nor its last. John Giles, the former Irish great working on the game’s telecast, said any Irish player would have done the same at the other end ‘and we would have taken it’.

That’s no excuse. Elite football and the misdeeds of its players is now so visible, so ripe for examination thanks to video technology that something has to be done about player ethics, conforming to the game’s laws and about what is put before the eyes of children.

But back to Domenech, the man Eric Cantona describes as the worst coach France has had since Louis XVI, but who will now face his critics by saying he took France into the World Cup.

He did not. Thierry Henry’s hand-ball did. Domenech should be fired.

And that gesture, signaling that France is unhappy with the manner of its team’s qualification, might soften the blow and tend to Irish pains just a little.

Premier League under siege
Football’s governors are a bit rattled about the English Premier League’s accelerating dominance of the game. It will persist and it won’t go away.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter and UEFA chief Michel Platini, probably the sport’s two most powerful and relevant men, have both been expressing concerns recently about the way the EPL is bloodsucking the sport’s riches, in terms of player talent, trophies and compounding money. The one way traffic, which shows no sign of abating in the near term, worries them.

This should not surprise. Football, a mere sport, is meant to be an equitable thing, a global source of play for all in which the children of the world can equally rejoice.

That’s a romantic ideal of course, not the reality and has not been for a long time.

The sport’s immense global popularity, and therefore the commercial opportunities it presents, means the rich and the wannabe richer are attracted to it like blue-arsed flies hovering around a pile of cow dung.

And what do they do, these opportunists? They home in on the most lucrative piece of turf in global football, the English Premier League nowadays, and throw investment money at it, making it richer still and upping its capacity to conquer further.

There is in essence nothing wrong with objecting to this. Indeed it’s expected and proper that Blatter and Platini, the suggested guardians of the game, should object. We should all object, to be frank.

Defenders of the EPL, the many millions who enjoy it so, will ask what’s the big deal? How different is this to the days when the Italians and the Spaniards were doing the same, that is dominating club excellence with their money, attracting the world’s best players?

They are right. There is no difference and those who sense a touch of Anglophobia in these attacks have a strong point. Why was it okay for Real Madrid or AC Milan to buy their successes in their day and not okay for Manchester United or Chelsea to do it now?

But of course, that doesn’t make it wrong for Blatter and Platini to now be concerned either. The fact is FIFA and UEFA should have shown equal concern back when Berlusconi was bankrolling Milan to all its trophies, or even much earlier when Santiago Bernabeu, assisted by General Franco, set about Real’s agenda for world dominance in the 1950s.

Globalisation, and the enormous influence the club elite have on global football, was not in place in the days of the Madrid of Di Stefano and Puskas or even the Milan of Gullit and Van Basten. The attention of the world is now focused much more on the elite of the game and how the behaviour of that elite might influence the sport and its future.

The EPL is not only the most popular and watched league in the world. It is the most popular and watched league in the history of the world. As such its potential power on the shaping of football is immense, whether it be on the way the game is played or on the way football clubs and leagues are run.

Hence the compulsion, and indeed the responsibility, of men in the seat, like Blatter and Platini, to show concern and to want to act.

It may be that the EPL is a supreme source of entertainment, certainly at its top end. When Manchester United and Liverpool do battle, as they did recently at Old Trafford, it can be gripping theatre. And, yes, the football on show can be a positive influence on the game’s lower tiers.

But when you think that an English showpiece derby involves only a handful of Englishmen, it stinks. When you think that glory and greatness is promised to an English club via the billions of a man from the Gulf drunk on oil money, it stinks even more.

When these things happen, football’s cultural diversity, its soul as an international game, is under threat. And, importantly, the role and power of the fans, essentially and historically the owners of the game, is being erased. Is it any wonder that Blatter and Platini are whingeing?

Richard Scudamore, the Premier League’s CEO, recently came out suggesting that that the push for FIFA s 6+5 rule, by which an English team’s foreigner quota is capped, is a case of xenophobia.

It’s a strange argument given that the idea is driven by Blatter and Platini, a Swiss and a Frenchman. How can they be xenophobic about England?

I believe that both Blatter and Platini, in this case, are correct and they both have the interests of football, as a global game, at heart.

The EPL is a wonderful thing. But its global effect on football, long term, is a serious worry. The game’s governors have a right and a responsibility to keep it in check.

‘Game 39’ was Rupert’s baby
The stillborn, hare-brained idea to export a 39th match-round of the English Premier League to various corners of the globe was not the brainchild of the EPL’s governors or even the English FA.

Actually it was much closer to home.

It came from that warm and fuzzy Australian, Rupert Murdoch.

According to my sources, and they are impeccable, it was all Murdoch “from A to Z”. It was Murdoch, whose investments in bankrolling the EPL’s revenues through his Sky Sport network has brought him immense riches, who initiated the idea and followed through by recruiting the men to execute it.

The initiative was brought to the EPL by Sir Rod Eddington, another Australian, a non-executive director of Murdoch’s News Corporation, former chief of British Airways and now head of the Victorian Major Events Corporation, who pushed Melbourne as one of the ideal venues for the fixtures.

Richard Scudamore, the EPL Chief Executive, was receptive to the idea and backed it. Before long the bold plan was hatched.

As football’s stakeholders, starting with the prominent EPL clubs, rallied to oppose the scheme, London’s Daily Mail reported that Scudamore had been lined up by Murdoch for a high-ranking job at News Corp when he finally leaves his post at the EPL.

But in a rare thing for Rupert Murdoch, his scheme fell flat.

In the wake of heavy reservations expressed by the English football community, including the media (except for Murdoch’s The Sun newspaper), the Asian Football Confederation President, Mohamed bin Hammam, was the first to condemn the idea, ruling that it will not happen in the AFC region.

Opposition was voiced by UEFA boss Michel Platini and FIFA soon came into the mix saying it needed a good look at it before it was to be a goer. And FIFA does have the authority and power to kill such things stone dead, if it wants.

Then came the statement from Football Federation Australia chairman Frank Lowy, expressing its opposition.

Murdoch’s audacious plan was dead in the water. As it should be, given the myriad of reasons why it was dead before it was born.

What the League’s kahunas had in mind was to globalise the EPL, because, in the words of one of them, “if we don’t do it someone else will”.

Well actually, no they won’t because FIFA won’t allow it. The global governor of football is FIFA and the game’s globalisation is FIFA’s remit and responsibility and its alone.

And by and large FIFA does that very well, primarily through international competitions and never by allowing domestic leagues to become suddenly portable.

The English objected for many reasons, including the cynical money-grab that defined the scheme. Even the English are sick to death of the greed and avarice that characterises their own league, however glamorous and popular.

The clubs, or at least their managers, didn’t like it because the scheme would add an additional game to quite the most arduous league in the world, something they need like a hole in the head.

And the English fans, who already feel disenfranchised by the surge of foreign ownership of clubs, not to mention a culture of naked commerce in which club loyalty counts for nothing, won’t have a bar of it either.

Away from England the idea has met with even stiffer resistance and for powerful reasons, best crystallised by the reactions of bin Hammam and Lowy.

Bin Hammam, who is not new to objecting to the colonisation of Asian football markets by European clubs, locked the gate by contending that such a scheme, far from benefiting the integrity of Asian football, would only degrade it.

Lowy, to his great credit, took a similar stand, stating that the growth of the A-League is the FFA’s highest priority and he sees no benefit in the EPL’s idea in that end.

Lowy should be commended for this.

There is no doubt that one or more EPL games on Australian soil would have been a massive money spinner and the FFA would have taken a decent piece of that action, as it did from the Sydney FC v LA Galaxy game.

But Lowy made the call that the bigger picture and the longer term interest should rule in this case.

The fact that Rupert Murdoch gave birth to this notion is not all that surprising. He is a bold businessman, always full of new ideas with which to expand his empire. But he is not a football man.

What is astonishing is that the football men within the EPL’s top brass were so naïve and so stupid as to go along with it.