Mourinho's 19th century of goals

Posted by Simon Curtis

When Sam Allardyce ordered his plucky but downtrodden West Ham side to sit deep, stay deep and not move their bodies beyond an imaginary line between the edge of the Stamford Bridge 18-yard box and the halfway line until they heard the shrill whistle of the referee, he probably expected a bon mot or two from his counterpart in the home dugout about his ultra-defensive tactics.

Chelsea had been thoroughly frustrated from start to finish and Allardyce's simple tactics had carried off a much-needed point for the bedraggled relegation-strugglers. Jose Mourinho surprised not just his managerial colleague when he decided to describe the West Ham display the way he did -- "This was not Premier League football. This was not the best league in the world. This was 19th century football..." -- he surprised everyone else, too.

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Do not adjust your eyes, do not rewind your mind's records, do not dive for the repeat button: he really said that West Ham's football was from another era, long gone, long forgotten.

The only obvious problem with this, of course, and the reason for the knowing glances and the bulging eyes, is that Mourinho has parked his own bus so many times (notably at Old Trafford for Porto and Inter, against Barcelona for Inter and even as recently as the 21st century's 2013-14 Premier League season, when his Chelsea side advanced sheepishly onto that Old Trafford turf -- once more -- without a recognized striker. This, given the desultory standard of Manchester United's attacking play this season, was not so much deciding to park the bus, as slide it gently into the garage, close the doors, lock up and place the keys carefully in the middle of the ship canal). Caution, in other words, with a capital "C."

When Mourinho's Chelsea side did exactly the same thing at the Emirates a few weeks later, Mourinho was beside himself when quizzed about this apparent timidity. "It is the home side who are poor if they cannot score a goal in their home matches," he opined with something approaching a straight face.

The irony of all this is that it is Mourinho's sound bites that are now a touch 19th century and in need of modernization. He is slipping behind others, whose tactics are fresh and open, whose news conferences contain no barbs aimed at the opposition and their ways and means. His slightly grumpy, slightly surly exterior appears a little passe alongside the bright, young things taking the Premier League by storm.

Although hardly a bright, young thing, one such opponent is, of course, Manuel Pellegrini, whose fully functioning and all-out attacking City side Mourinho must now find a way past. The title race is entering its first meaningful phase as a clear three-horse race and Chelsea, as the sensible perpetrators of Mourinho's brand of no-frills effective football, may be seen by some onlookers as the least desired champions, alongside the frills and spills of our weekly doses of Arsene's Acrobats and Manuel's Magicians.

The truth is different, of course. Chelsea, powerfully stocked with talented and reliable professionals, are every bit in this race and, marshalled by the wily Portuguese, are very capable of carrying out whatever plan he has concocted for this match. For while Pellegrini has grown on the English public as a quiet and respectable/respectful man, who enjoys letting his team do the extravagant talking for him, Mourinho is most at home basking in the arc lights of the nation's press pack. He thrives on the intrigue of tension and feeds off the inane irritation that the casting of careless sound bites inevitably causes. He is, in this respect, untouchably old school. He is from the Sir Alex Ferguson school of "us versus them" of "we small band of men against the rest of the world." This has been the modus operandi of the man since the year dot.

What some will find curious, however, is that Mourinho, schooled in the ways of delicious attacking from his time as a budding young footballer watching the ex-City coach Malcolm Allison weaving one last bit of career magic in Mourinho's hometown of Setubal back in the mid-'80s, did not follow Allison's football ethic of "you score three, we'll score four."

The irony, this being a tale of Manchester City and not just of Chelsea, is that the current City boss espouses this approach without question. His City side has become the new focal point of the game's aestheticians, for those who seek the sheer, unadulterated pleasure of watching a team designed to attack until they drop. The only centuries bothering City are the one sitting plump and proud in the "goals scored" column this season.

Against the ultra-pragmatic Mourinho, schooled by Allison but also by a lifetime of practical football solutions to everyday problems, City probably face their most dangerous foe yet. The clash of style and mentality, whether it resembles that of the 19th, 20th or 21st centuries, will no doubt be an invigorating and eye-catching one.

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