Thursday, September 20, 2007

Champions League Overshadowed

Today’s post was supposed to be a brief recap of the action in Matchday One of the Champions League. And it certainly wasn’t a bad two days. We saw Arsenal absolutely dominate a very good Seville team, (the gooners might now very well be favorites for the cup, as well as other trophies) Thierry Henry score his first for Barca, Manchester United squeak by Sporting in a snoozer, and we watched Real Madrid do what it has done for the past eight months: turn on the jets in the second half and outlast the competition.

All of this has been overshadowed, however, by the most shocking result so far: Chelsea drawing with lowly Rosenborg at home in front of a half-empty stadium that had seemingly become bored by their home team. Or, to be more specific, the Champions League was overshadowed by what seems to be the direct result of that match. Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho has resigned.

Although there have been rumors circulating about Mourinho leaving Chelsea for quite some time now, the particular timing of the resignation could not be more shocking. Yes, it’s true that Chelsea have not been getting the results they wanted in the Premiership, and the draw in Europe was a bad omen, as was the sparse attendance. But with key players injured and Manchester United hosting on Sunday, this was the worst time for Mourinho to walk away (or be pushed away; details of what exactly happened will surely become clearer in a few days). Avram Grant has taken over the club for now; he has a “good guy, good coach” reputation but we don’t know much about him.

So this could be, at the very least, a short-term problem for Chelsea. They are already a little behind in the standings and missing key players Drogba and Fat Frank. Dropping three points at Old Trafford on Sunday could drive them out of the top four for the first time in recent memory.

That situation will bear watching, as will considerations about Mourinho’s time in London as a whole. I, for one, have mixed feelings abut the man the press insists on referring to either as “The Special One” or, perhaps even more stupidly, as “The Portuguese,” as if the newsmen from The Sun had never met someone from Portugal before. On one hand, I sort of liked Mourinho personally (not that I knew him, but from afar); he was smart, funny, and spoke his mind. He also obviously won, which is kind of the point of football in the first place.

But Mourinho was also increasingly making me despair. His version of football was getting grimmer and grimmer, as his team ground out one 1-0 win after another. It got to the point for me personally that I couldn’t stand watching Chelsea; I really can’t tell you the last time I watched an entire Chelsea match. Reportedly, Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich first wanted to buy a football team after watching the now-legendary Real Madrid-Manchester United Champions League match in 2003 in which David Beckham came off the bench to score two goals, a game so good that Beckham ran into the locker to get an extra jersey so he could swap shirts with more than one player. Obviously, Abramovich loves attacking football, and he wasn’t getting it with Chelsea. Mourinho, for his part, was clearly getting players he didn’t want (like Andy Shevchenko and Michael Ballack) and felt he was getting undercut by front-office men brought in by Abramovich.

So the Mourinho era is over at Stamford Bridge. For all the boring games, I will miss Jose. As he once said, however, he will simply take some time off, watch professional wrestling with his son (Jose is a huge fan of the WWE, bizarrely) and then get another million-dollar contract to coach another team. Chelsea, on the other hand, must now see if they can continue the winning tradition they only so recently started.

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