Sir Alex and Jose Mourinho draw out their knives

‘ The circumstances are difficult for us with the new football rules that we have to face. It is not possible to have a penalty against Manchester United. It is not possible to have a penalty in favour of Chelsea. We should have had a penalty, involving Stephen Carr, it was a clear penalty. I have the right to speak. I think nobody can punish me because I speak the truth and I am not saying the referees are not honest. But yesterday was a penalty and today was a penalty – and if somebody wants to punish me for that it means the end of democracy and we go back to old times.’ – Jose Mourinho, April 2007 after 0-0 draw at Newcastle
Sometimes managers become more entertaining than the game. Especially when you consider that the two clubs fighting it out are Manchester United and Chelsea with a chance of winning the treble. With Jose Mourinho, the master who works the referees over, again in the thick of things.
Mourinho’s rants works on many different levels. The ‘outsider’ who has to fight a system rigged in his opponents favour. His opponent in this case is Manchester United. In his words there is a suggestion that the English game has become undemocratic and it picks favourites. The status quo needs to be maintained by adopting new rules by stealth if necessary. It is not just Man Utd that opposes Chelsea, it is the FA and the Premier League also that is now in cahoots.
Mourinho is canny enough to realize that his argument would lose power if he spoke only in abstractions, so he personalizes it by going after Cristiano Ronaldo. In Ronaldo, he finds a polarizing target, a player who is gifted but is also well known for embellishing fouls. What Mourinho is trying in effect is to turn Ronaldo into Man Utd’s poster boy, there is some tacit encouragement by Sir Alex to keep diving and lying about it. This deleterious effect on his game will prevent Ronaldo from realizing his true genius. Mourinho is cleverly planting the seed that Ronaldo may not achieve greatness if he stays on in Man Utd.
Of course, the opposite tack is used by Sir Alex as he lashes back and says Mourinho is impugning the English game. Always a good way to get the knackers of the natives in a twist. After all it is Europe that is Machiavellian. Sir Alex also casts aspersions of his own by observing that the atmosphere in Stamford Bridge is probably poisoned “I bet the birds at Stamford Bridge wake up coughing.” A pointed reference to Mourinho’s recent difficulties with his boss Roman Abramovich. Mourinho might have had some fellow sympathizers in Rafa Benitez and Arsene Wenger, fellow outsiders and no strangers to controversy themselves but he committed the cardinal sin of going after them too. So there is the unusual spectacle of Benitez and Sir Alex teaming up and administering a joint whipping to the man who everybody loves to hate.
All in all, it makes for good theater. A point that needs to be noted is the way Man Utd is playing. It is destiny that guides them. A loss to Roma followed by a unreal thumping in the return. A goal down against AC Milan in the CL semifinal and then scoring two goals in quick succession. The winner in stoppage time. The come from behind win against Everton this weekend. Mourinho might be right that there is a conspiracy except that this conspiracy might have some other worldly explanation.

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