writes for each week




FORGET about Tourette’s Syndrome, a condition so bravely and successfully battled by the USA and Manchester United keeper, Tim Howard: an affliction which at its worst compels its sufferers to burst forth with abusive language. Let us rather consider what might well be called Mourinho’s Syndrome. What seems an equally irresistible compulsion to burst out with gratuitous pronouncements.

He surely excelled himself with his strictures on last Saturday’s nine goal London derby at White Hart Lane, branding it “a disgrace.” Declaring that were such a score to be reached even in a three a side training game, he would send the players concerned straight to the dressing rooms. Well, he did have a point; but what point was there in airing it so arrogantly? What, in a word, did it have to do with him? And why, after Chelsea’s excellent 4-1 win in their own local derby at Fulham, was he not content to rest on his laurels. Shall we be forced to nickname him Jose The Mouth Mourinho?

I’d not go quite so far as to call the Spurs-Arsenal match a disgrace, but it was certainly something of a fiasco. Yes, of course 5-4 extravaganzas are hugely entertaining, but it is the old, old story that rotten defending makes for entertaining football. Not be it noted for good football. Spurs under the new management of Martin Jol, with all his talk of traditional Tottenham attacking emphasis, seem to have gone from Santini’s dour negativity to reckless abandon. Not that the Gunners themselves were much better, though Arsene Wenger put the best gloss on his team’s defensive inadequacies that he could.

Four days earlier, two excellent young centre backs had impressed in Arsenal’s devastating conquest of Everton in the League Cup. Arsenal Reserves, one should say. Wouldn’t the resilient Swiss Senderos, finally recovered from injury, or his equally solid companion, be a better bet than the hapless Pascal Cygan? And what sense can be made from Wenger’s claim that his team lacked height in defence, the one quality the towering Cygan can claim in spades?

Many, many years ago, when I asked the late Matt Busby about his famous young, Busby Babes, policy at Manchester United, he replied pithily, “If you don’t put them in, you can’t know what you’ve got.” Well, after that ebullient victory over Everton. Wenger surely now knows what he has got, in terms of young players who seem perfectly capable of succeeding at the highest level.  Though in passing, what does Everton’s wretched display tell you about the overall qualify of the Premiership, given that they have been riding along in third place?

As things stand, the current Arsenal team – which admittedly has so badly been missing Sol Campbell in central defence – seriously needs rejuvenating, and players are surely there to do just that. to follow the example of the 17-year-old taken from Barcelona, Cesc Fabregas, whom Wenger has emphatically had the courage to bring through. Wayne Rooney, scorer of two goals for Manchester United against Newcastle last Sunday, given his opportunity alike by Everton and England, has been another salient example.

WHAT a fuss about the whys and wherefores of Jacques Santini’s compulsively abrupt departure from Tottenham! Did anyone seriously think, after he had walked out on the club the very day before the local derby at home to Charlton, that “family matters” were behind his decision?

At the post Charlton Press Conference the Spurs director of football, Frank Arnesen, insisted that there had been no problem between himself and Santini, which didn’t convince anybody in the room. So when Santini, safely back in France, blew off steam by announcing that indeed he had clashed with Arnesen, it was hardly a surprise. shades of all those politicians who resign, insisting that they want to spend more time with their families. It was therefore strange to hear the embittered reaction of the Tottenham Chairman, Daniel Levy, who accused Santini of lying, and professed to be taken aback by his declaration. Are we really to think that Levy was too naïve to know what was going on?

Appointing both Santini and Arnesen was never going to work, though when Levy persuaded Santini to resign from the French managership – just before taking the squad to Portugal for Euro 2004 – he could hardly have known what a dog’s breakfast Santini was going to make of that tournament. Such as bringing Marel Desailly disastrously out of mothballs against Croatia, when he predictably gave away a vital goal. Santini’s obstinacy in refusing to use the £2.5 million ex West Ham midfielder, Michael Carrick, because he hadn’t wanted to sign him, was deplorable. As soon as Carrick came on against Charlton things at last began to move in the Tottenham midfield. But the less said about that pitiful defence – not excepting even Ledley King – the better.

REMARKABLE how many excellent Italian players come through to Serie A from obscurity. Last Sunday there were two lively examples of the trend.

In Florence, Christian Rigano came on as a late substitute striker for Fiorentina in the Tuscan derby against Livorno, and promptly dived to head a goal from Miccoli’s cross. Not bad for a player who had been out of action for two months. No bad for a player born on the remote island of Lipari, marooned for so many years in minor football. The huge Rigano, who stands 1 metre 90, weights 93 kilos, and is now all of 30, had five years with the local amateur, Lipari, club, though he did miss one season through injury. He didn’t join a professional club till Taranto in 2000. They were then in C2, but his 14 goals saw them promoted to C1, in which he got another 27 in 33 games. So to Florentina Viola, alias the reconstituted Fiorentina, languishing then in C2; Rigano’s 30 goals in 32 games promptly got them out of that. In Sardinia, meanwhile, the 27-year-old Antonio Langella, another striker, was putting Inter’s famous attackers to shame with his performance for Cagliari. In dazzling form, he got Cagliari’s second goal in a game they led to the final stages, when Inter scrambled to a 3-3 draw with a couple of goals from the incisive young Nigerian, Martins.

Langella, best man on the field that day, is another who has come up the hard way. Born in Naples, he had five years in the amateur championship with Castelsaardo (no, I’d never heard of them, either) finally getting to C2, then C1, in three seasons with Sassari Torres, and at last, in March 2002, to Cagliari where he now plays alongside Gianfranco Zola – who scored Cagliari’s first against Inter from a penalty. For year after year at all these levels Langella as a goal scorer never got out of single figures. But the times are changing.

WHAT a difference the coruscating Arjen Robben has made to Chelsea! What a joy to see a true, traditional winger doing all the things traditional wingers once did. Taking on opponents (Beckham please note) beating them for pace and guile, confidently cutting in to score, combining sweetly with his colleagues. And all this at the age of 20.

With Manchester United so unpredictable, Arsenal losing their way, it really does look as if Chelsea must be made the Premiership favourites, and they should certainly beat ailing Paris Saint Germain at Stamford Bridge next week in the European Cup. It’s so much easier to score goals, after all, with a Robben in your side.

BORIS Johnson has been banished from the Tory front bench for allegedly lying to Michael Howard over his affair with “Petsy” Wyatt. But surely he should have gone immediately after that abysmal article in the magazine he edits.

The Spectator, so crassly and inaccurately attacking Liverpudlians. True the piece in all its ineptitude and offensiveness appears to have been written by the ineffable Simon Heffer, but if Heffer got his facts so badly and inexcusably wrong about what happened at Hillsborough, when Liverpool’s doomed fans were not remotely at fault, the buck stops with an editor, and, in the last analysis, Johnson was as culpable as the appalling Heffer. Who should also surely have done public penance.

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