Why does Jose Mourinho keep reminding me of Cassius Clay; as he then was? It must be the perpetual boasting though in the future Mohammed Ali’s case, it somehow seemed an integral and forgivable part of a flamboyant personality.
Covering the first of his fights with Sonny Liston in Miami Beach, spending hours at the dingy now demolished 5th street gym where he trained, seeing him frequently in later years in the White City gym, I even once heard him, there, jokingly parody himself.
It is less easy to accept the constant blasts on his own trumpet which we hear so frequently from Mourinho. He doesn’t quite say as Clay did, “I’m the greatest,” but the claim seems implicit.
“I’m a fantastic manager,” he told us recently” if I’m winning or not winning.” Is there beneath such bombast a lurking insecurity? Perish the thought.
I suppose it was all too predictable that he should speak out so strongly last week in which to most people must have seemed the indefensible behaviour of his Brazilian turned Spanish centre forward, Diego Costa. Though to be fair, Costa’s antics against Arsenal at Stamford Bridge, elicited a grudging admiration on the part of Harry Redknapp. And even Martin Keown, a dominant centre back in his day, was not wholly condemnatory.
As for Mourinho, with sublime perversity he declared of Costa. “He was my man of the match. He played like he has to play. That is why you have full stadiums, that is why you have television around the world, because of that passion.”
Eh? Mourinho suited, if that be the phrase, the action to the world, taking Costa off before the end, so that he could milk the crowd’s applause. Or could he have been protecting him from the condign punishment which will inevitably follow now that he has been charged with misbehaviour by the Football Association?
For to the neutral eye, Costa had been guilty time and again of deliberately provocative behaviour; even Keown says of him, “He smashed into the defender who is marking him as soon as possible, looking for a reaction or an almost inevitable retaliation a few minutes later. Then he goes straight down in a heap, or immediately over to the referee, waving imaginary cards and trying to get people into trouble.”
There was in fact at least one occasion in that game when Costa fell without anybody touching him and waved an imaginary card from the ground. In vain as it happened. And his plan became triumphantly successful when Arsenal’s centre back his fellow Brazilian Gabriel stupidly and palpably kicked out at him, to be sent off.
In fact as one reporter pointed out Costa’s all round contribution to the game in terms of pure football was quite negligible. There was it seems history behind his kick from Gabriel since they had clashed in a Spanish league match when he was playing for Atletico Madrid and Gabriel for Villarreal.
But if scratching, arms flailing and diving are to be condoned, then Costa is indeed some kind of paragon.
Though he won’t often, one assumes, meet a referee as imperceptive as Mike Dean.
In passing, one reporter alluded after this tarnished game to Arsenal’s famed unbeaten season of 2003 to 2004, a run of 49 games in all, ended only in that torrid affair at Old Trafford, so inadequately by the current top banana of the referees Mike Riley. Except that it long seems to be forgotten that the triumphant run could and indeed should have been truncated early that season.
I reported the match against Portsmouth at Highbury when Harry Redknapp’s combative Pompey team were deservedly a goal ahead and seemingly moving to victory when the Arsenal winger, French international Robert Pires, blatantly threw himself down untouched in the penalty area, procured a spot kick for his team which was duly converted, giving the Gunners a wholly iniquitous draw. I remember how furiously and justifiably Harry protested after the match.
Pires was a likeable but oddly idiosyncratic fellow. When writing the official Arsenal Stadium History, I was deputed to interview him at the London Colney training centre, but told it would have to be, despite his years in London, in French. This was no problem to me and the interview went well but when in a subsequent interview there I told Thierry Henry about it, he laughed aloud.
How gratifying that in the depressing plethora of foreign players, the Premier League this season have thrown up two exciting attacking talents who are making claims on a place in England’s team or at least the squad.
Both came to their current clubs from their local team. Spurs’ 6 foot 1, 19-year-old, attacking midfielder, Dele Alli was actually born in anonymous??? Milton Keynes and comes to Spurs from MK Dons.
Bournemouth’s 23-year-old Callum Wilson who was born in Coventry and emerged from Coventry City. How encouraging the prospect they could galvanise England’s modest team in time for France.