Sunday, September 23, 2007

'Turncoat' Terry

Absolutely amazing turn of events at Chelsea. It's a classic lesson in management missteps and micro-management.

Jose Mourinho's relationship with John Terry has broken down completely over the Chelsea and England captain's central role in his departure from Stamford Bridge last week.

The Champions League-winning coach was replaced on Thursday by Avram Grant, a former Israel national team coach with no experience of club management outside his own country. According to many Chelsea sources, Grant will defer on football matters to owner Roman Abramovich, who has already started to take a hands-on role with the first team.

Mourinho holds Terry responsible for charges levelled by Chelsea's board of directors that he had lost the support of his playing staff after Tuesday's Champions League draw with Rosenborg - a match that was followed by club owner Roman Abramovich lecturing a senior professional on his on-field tactics behind Mourinho's back.
Half an hour before the Group B fixture, claims a dressing-room source, Terry told one of Mourinho's assistant coaches that he had 'things on my mind'. Only the intervention of a team-mate put him in the right state of mind to take part in the pre-match warm-up, for which Terry arrived late.

Midway through the first half Rosenborg scored, after Miika Koppinen beat Terry at a set piece. When Mourinho then directly criticised the centre back's defending at half time, Terry refused to accept responsibility for the goal or even to respond to his manager.

Earlier on Tuesday, Terry had been informed that Mourinho had gone to the club's medical department to ask whether there was any physical reason for the player's sub-standard performances in matches this season. Mourinho hoped to find an explanation for a significant decline in Terry's play following an operation to remove a disc from the defender's spine in December.

Chelsea chief executive Peter Kenyon was made aware of the dispute and, according to the dressing-room source, presented the information to an emergency board meeting on Wednesday as evidence that the manager had lost the trust of key players. The club subsequently asked Mourinho for his resignation, which he refused to tender, but ultimately settled on dismissal by 'mutual consent'. Later on Wednesday, Mourinho sent Terry a text message sarcastically thanking him for talking to the club's hierarchy.

On Friday, several first-team regulars apparently took their captain to task during a 50-minute team meeting called by Terry in the aftermath of Mourinho's dismissal. Ashley Cole, Didier Drogba and Florent Malouda are believed to have accused him of not doing enough to keep Mourinho at the club.

Terry is England's best-paid footballer after agreeing a five-year, £131,000-a-week contract this summer. In initial negotiations he had requested a 'limitless parity' clause to ensure he was the club's biggest earner for the duration of a proposed nine-year term. According to a Chelsea insider Terry also wanted - and was refused - a contractual option for him to manage the club at the end of his playing career.

As far-fetched as that request might be, Abramovich's actions in the aftermath of the Rosenborg draw were equally bizarre. In front of the entire Chelsea team, but while Mourinho was occupied with press conference duties, the Russian billionaire decided to hand out an impromptu tactics lesson to Michael Essien.

Employing striker Andriy Shevchenko as translator, he instructed midfielder Essien, player of the year last season, to hit passes wide rather than through central areas where the Norwegians had compressed play. Abramovich is expected to take an increasingly hands-on role in the team following the appointment of Grant to replace Mourinho and, according to several sources, will effectively select the side. In a press conference on Friday, Grant insisted he would not tolerate interference but declined to respond when asked who was the most important individual at Chelsea. 'Look, the owner gives the financial support,' Grant said. 'I'm not going to make remarks.'

The 52-year-old is already the subject of significant discontent among a first-team squad predominantly still loyal to Mourinho. Grant, though, is confident he will bring not only more silverware to Chelsea but a more attractive brand of football and said on Friday that he had no problems with the playing staff. 'There's a very good relationship with the players,' he said. 'I like their attitude, how they want to win all the time, even if the last result wasn't like that, but the relationship is good.'

Grant's first match comes at Old Trafford this afternoon, but he did not work yesterday for religious reasons. He must also wait for his Israeli coaching qualifications to be cleared by Uefa before he can be formally approved as a top-flight manager. Chelsea insist the process will be trouble-free.

Though Grant claimed that he had no 'plan to be the manager' until the appointment came about, he had begun requesting clearance from Uefa a fortnight ago.

According to Kenyon, the 'first-team coach' will be involved in all key areas of transfers and team building. He said: 'We are not embarking on the arbitrary buying of players and telling the coach to play them. Avram will be absolutely involved, responsible for picking the team and responsible for the results.'

Kenyon denied that Terry - who declined to comment last night - played any part in Mourinho's departure: 'There is absolutely nothing in stories that the dressing room has been lost. In particular there is no truth in any rumours that a bust-up with one or several of our players led to him leaving the club.'

'Tears, hugs and two icy handshakes'

Jose Mourinho's reign at Chelsea ended emotionally, with warm dressing-room embraces for 23 of his players - and a cold handshake for Andriy Shevchenko and skipper John Terry. His departure, though, was a long time coming. Duncan Castles reports

Tuesday, 10pm, home dressing room, Stamford Bridge. Andriy Shevchenko is taking Michael Essien to task on his performance in the night's embarrassing 1-1 draw with Rosenborg. The former European footballer of the year tells Africa's finest midfielder that he tried to make too many passes through the centre of the Norwegians' formation where '70 percent of their players were'. Essien learns he should have been passing to the wings 'where they only had 30 percent of their men'.

Not the most insightful of tactical advice, but then these are not the thoughts of a Ukraine international, they are those of a Russian billionaire. Standing beside Shevchenko, tactics board in hand, Roman Abramovich is the man telling Essien how to play football. Shevchenko is merely there to translate. In another room, attending to the press, Mourinho is utterly unaware of his employer's actions.
Tuesday, 7:11pm, the home dressing room. Chelsea's squad of 18 are called out for their pre-match warm up. All the players step out for the carefully prepared drill - except one. John Terry remains sitting where he is. One of Jose Mourinho's assistants urges Terry out. Chelsea's captain refuses, swears, and, according to an eye witness, says he is upset and has 'things on my mind'. Terry is said to be furious after finding out that Mourinho had been asking in Chelsea's treatment room whether there was a medical reason for his perceived loss of form over recent weeks. The stand-off continues until a team-mate cajoles his friend out on to the pitch.

The game starts, Chelsea quickly lose a goal at a free kick as Miika Koppinen stretches ahead of Terry to turn in a near-post cross. Chelsea go in at half time 1-0 down and Jose Mourinho takes his captain to task, blaming the defender for the deficit. Terry says nothing but all his team-mates can see the anger on his face.

The pair had once been the closest of footballing allies, but within 24 hours Mourinho is no longer Terry's manager as Chelsea agree to a £10.5million pay-off to rid themselves of a man they describe as 'the most successful manager the club has known'.

'The relationship broke down not because of one detail or because of something that happened at a certain moment. It broke down over a period of time.' - Jose Mourinho, 21 September 2007.

To understand how the winner of two Premier League titles, two League Cups and one FA Cup, a man who averaged an unprecedented 2.33 points from his 120 Premiership games in just over three seasons, steadily became persona non grata at the club he made great, it is necessary to return to the summer of 2005.

'In Jose's first season everything was fine,' said a Chelsea employee who suffered the Abramovich guillotine long before the Portuguese. 'He came in, he won the title by miles, almost made the Champions League final, everyone was happy. But then it all began to go wrong. Peter Kenyon started thinking it was his genius as a chief executive that was important. Abramovich's mates were telling him his money had done it and any half-decent coach would win the league with those resources. They forgot that the most important man at any club is the manager.'

That summer, Chelsea poached Tottenham Hotspur's sporting director Frank Arnesen at a cost of £5m. Ostensibly recruited to revolutionise the club's sub-standard youth ranks, the Dane was actually brought in on the recommendation of Piet de Visser, a well-known Dutch talent scout who had advised Abramovich on football matters from his first months as Chelsea owner.

Arnesen and De Visser, friends and allies from their time together at Dutch club PSV Eindhoven, steadily worked to influence Abramovich's thinking on the first team, and, most importantly, player recruitment. Along with the agents Soren Lerby, Vlado Lemeic and Pini Zahavi they sought to steer Abramovich towards the purchase of certain footballers. Their objective, according to one source, was 'to get to Abramovich's money. To do that they needed power at the club, needed a manager who would do what they wanted. Mourinho was not that manager.'

Thus emerged a power struggle in which Arnesen and others seemed to undermine Mourinho by questioning him at every opportunity. When Mourinho went to war with Uefa over the actions of referees they told Abramovich his coach was embarrassing the club. When Mourinho's team dourly won key matches by a goal to nil, they told the owner a better coach would win by more goals and bring him far more flamboyant football. When a Mourinho signing failed to perform on the pitch, they told Abramovich that better players could be found elsewhere.

Within a year, and despite Mourinho's success in claiming a second successive Premiership, the manager had lost control of transfers. In the 2006 summer window, Mourinho asked the board to buy Samuel Eto'o; they spent a UK record £30m on Shevchenko. Chelsea sold William Gallas to Arsenal against Mourinho's wishes, and forced the £7m Khalid Boulahrouz upon him, while Arnesen compounded the error of allowing Chelsea's most effective defender to leave the club by pulling the plug on the £5m purchase of Micah Richards. Inside a season Richards was a full England international, while Boulahrouz was stinking out the reserves until Chelsea paid Sevilla to take him off their hands.

At least Mourinho could easily leave the Dutch defender out of the first team. A personal friend of Abramovich's, Shevchenko played regardless of his performances, and those were usually awful. In his first 26 appearances for Chelsea, the Ukrainian striker scored five goals. His coaches and team-mates often felt as though Chelsea were playing with 10 men and Mourinho was faced with a problem - should he leave out the owner's pal or lose the faith of the rest of the team?

As January approached, Mourinho asked to be allowed to sign a new striker. The board refused. Mourinho asked for a centre-back to cover for Terry, then sidelined with a serious back problem. The board offered him a choice between Alex, a Brazilian bought via De Visser and 'parked' at PSV for two seasons, and Tal Ben Haim, a Zahavi client. Mourinho wanted neither.

Worse still, Chelsea's manager was instructed to sack one of his assistants and add the Israeli Avram Grant to his coaching staff. When he refused, the club descended into open warfare.

Mourinho dropped Shevchenko from his first team, leaking the story to a national newspaper in an open challenge to Abramovich to sack him. On an emotional afternoon at Stamford Bridge the manager first rallied his team around him, then sent them out to overrun Wigan 4-0. Long before kick-off the Chelsea supporters were chanting 'Stand up for the Special One' through standing ovation after standing ovation.

An infuriated Abramovich ceased attending games and instructed his advisors to find a replacement coach. Mourinho let it be known that he would leave, but only on payment of the outstanding value of his contract - about £28m comprising £5.2m per annum for three-and-a-half years and up to £10m in bonuses. In the meantime he kept winning matches, pushing his injury-hit squad to within a few games of a remarkable quadruple.

Ultimately Chelsea won the League Cup and the FA Cup, forcing Abramovich to reconcile with his manager. A consciously 'mellow' Mourinho promised to avoid conflict with opposing managers and football authorities, accepted restrictions on his transfer budget, and reshaped his team in a more flamboyant 4-4-2 formation. Fatefully, he also acceded to the appointment of Grant as Chelsea's director of football.

Though some in Mourinho's camp had Grant pinned as a 'Mossad Spy' from the off, the manager attempted to work with him, holding long meetings with him during the club's staggeringly positive pre-season US tour and letting it be known that he welcomed his arrival as a buffer against Arnesen and route to Abramovich. The early-season optimism, however, swiftly evaporated.

Grant began calling individual players aside to ask them questions.

'You look sad, why?' 'How do you feel in this position?' 'Is this the best place for you to play?' 'Are we using your abilities well?' Because many of them complained about this to Mourinho, the manager decided to cut back radically on team meetings, the only one this season having been arranged for the Jewish New Year when Grant had returned to Israel.

While Grant looked on at training, Shevchenko treated it with disdain. A morose, lonely figure around the camp, he seemed to show more interest in improving his golf swing than his shooting. As the first team prepared for their final pre-season friendly against Danish side Brondby, Shevchenko declared himself unfit with a back problem. A 2-0 victory ensured the £121,000-a-week striker was not missed, but Mourinho was bemused to discover that Shevchenko's bad back had not prevented him from enjoying a round of golf at Sunningdale that day.

The board, though, were not interested and the club's descent continued. Other players began to realise what was happening, that the summer's peace was a false one, that their manager had no support from the top. 'The mentality became weaker and weaker,' said one insider. 'You could feel the team's strength sapping away.'

Mourinho knew his time at Chelsea was coming to an end. At Uefa's forum for elite coaches in Geneva a fortnight ago he allowed Premier League rivals an insight into his thinking. 'Mourinho said he loved Chelsea and he loved English football, but thought he would not stay for long,' said one coach. 'One of us asked him why. He wouldn't answer, but it was obvious something was seriously wrong.'

His next Champions League match brought the end. On Wednesday afternoon the board asked Mourinho to resign, citing his handling of Shevchenko, his attitude to authority and, crucially, his relationship with Terry as reasons why he should go. Mourinho refused to walk, and fought only to maximise his pay-off as Chelsea apparently threatened to call club employees to testify against him at any employment tribunal.

A £10.5m pay-off was agreed and the following morning Mourinho made a final trip to the training centre at Cobham to pick up his possessions and say goodbye to his squad. There was a message in each farewell. For most there was a Latin embrace and warm words of thanks. For Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard the emotions were so strong that both men were reduced to tears, Lampard retreating to the shower room in an attempt to hide his. For Shevchenko and Terry there was nothing but a handshake that, in the words of one observer, could have 'frozen a mug of tea'. No one was in any doubt about who he considered the true captains of his team.

Out with the old, in with the new. Furious at Mourinho's dismissal, senior players describe Grant's appointment as 'a disgrace'. Some at Cobham call him 'an idiot' and describe his coaching techniques as '25 years behind the times'. Abramovich pushes the Israeli around 'without a hint of respect'.

Former academy coach Brendan Rogers has been drafted in to help out with the first team, a promotion that may not be unconnected to the one-on-one training sessions he gave Abramovich's son. Only in Steve Clarke is there the level of football knowledge to deal with a squad full of international superstars. As the sole survivor of Mourinho's cadre of four assistant managers, the Scotsman has an unenviable task.

But then neither he nor Grant will be picking the team. As Michael Essien discovered on Tuesday night, the new manager of Chelsea is also the owner.


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