ETHICS often seem to be optional in Jose Mourinho's world so it was ironic last night that the Chelsea manager should be fighting a desperate rearguard action to reclaim the moral high ground in the row over supposedly private comments made about Samuel Eto'o and his lack of striking options at Stamford Bridge.
Mourinho hit out the "disgraceful" ethics of a journalist at French TV station Canal+, who recorded and made public apparently light-hearted comments to a Swiss businessman at a recent sponsor's event via their website. He also said the media "should all be embarrassed" for picking up the story. "The problem with Chelsea," he had said in French to the boss of Swiss watch-makers Hublot, "is that I lack a striker. Eto'o is 32 years old, maybe 35, who knows?"
He would go on to give a cast-iron hint that Radamel Falcao of Monaco would be targeted in the summer. "I need a striker," he said. "Falcao needs a club. A player like him cannot play in front of 3,000 people."
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The whole affair is the stock for a perfect tabloid soup, the inference being that Mourinho in private is guilty of precisely the same kind of indiscretion and casual racism as some of his critics. It was not exactly a ringing endorsement of Fernando Torres or on-loan Romelu Lukaku.
In addition to taking issue with the breach of media etiquette, the Portuguese sought last night to douse the affair in bucketfuls of praise for his Cameroonian striker, with whom he has had a hugely successful alliance over the years. Together, Mourinho and Eto'o won an unprecedented treble of Champions League, Serie A and Coppa Italia titles with Inter Milan in 2010, and if anything the manager's main fault is having too much trust in the player he acquired from Anzhi Makhachkala.
To add a further twist of irony, the backdrop to all this is a last -16 Champions League comparison with an actual 35-year-old striker, Didier Drogba, now at Galatasaray, whose goalscoring exploits remain a source of envy. "I'm not defending what I'm saying," Mourinho said. "From my perspective, the comment is not obviously a good one, not something I would do in an official way in an interview. First of all, because I don't make fun. Secondly, because, if there are managers in the world that really defend their players, I am obviously one of them. And third, because Samuel Eto'o is Samuel Eto'o.
"He is a four-time Champions League winner . . . and it was with him that I had the best ever season of my career. He has no reason to be upset because also he told a few years ago that 'Mourinho is the only manager in the world I would never play for'. There is no story."
A positive result at the Turk Telekom Arena in Istanbul would do much to defuse any tensions, but the truth is Chelsea are top of the Barclays Premier League and trucking along quite nicely. "As for Drogba - we will have to do our job, because we know he will want to do his, which is score goals," said Mourinho, of the Ivorian who has not closed his mind to a return to England when his contract expires this summer.
"It is a strange feeling to play him and we have to try to forget it."