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Buffeted Chelsea look for consolation in Cup glory

Chelsea have had a bumpy ride this season, buffeted by power struggles at the club and injuries on the pitch. The most they can win is a League and FA Cup double.

sports Updated: May 15, 2007 10:39 IST
Clare Lovell

Jose Mourinho's Chelsea have had a bumpy ride this season, buffeted by power struggles at the club and injuries on the pitch.

While Alex Ferguson can enjoy the FA Cup final as secure in his job as at any time during his 20-year tenure at Manchester United, a question mark still hangs over Mourinho's future.

Until this month Chelsea were in with a shout for an unprecedented quartet of trophies.

But a limp Champions League semi-final exit at Liverpool and the surrender of the Premier League to Manchester United after a tired series of draws mean the most they can win is a League and FA Cup double.

Until Roman Abramovich bought the ailing club in 2003, a cup double would have provoked wild celebration in south west London where fans were used to supporting a fashionable side of serial underachievement.

But the Russian billionaire, who has spent more than 500 million pounds ($990 million) on the club in the last four years, has ambitions to make Chelsea the top side in the world.

Mourinho, hired in 2004 as a Champions League winner with Porto, has served up two Premier League titles and two League Cups, but this season seems like something of a failure.

"I'm happy we are not happy," Mourinho said of the season's disappointments after the last Premier League game on Sunday, a 1-1 draw with Everton. "It shows our nature."

Laid low

Chelsea were laid low by a series of long-term injuries halfway through the season.

Czech Republic keeper Petr Cech fractured his skull and was out for three months. Midfielder Joe Cole spent most of the season nursing knee and foot injuries and his England team mate and inspirational captain John Terry missed two months with a back problem.

When Mourinho asked for money for players to cover injuries in the new year transfer window, Abramovich withdrew his wallet, however, believing the coach, so outspoken and confident in his own abilities, should be able to manage with the rest of his highly paid squad.

Mourinho was struggling with some of his players, however. Ukraine striker Andriy Shevchenko and his fellow high profile 2006 signing Michael Ballack failed to live up to expectations, except in Cup games.

While they often looked off-pace in the Premier League their goals — a Shevchenko screamer in the sixth round replay against Tottenham Hotspur and an extra-time strike by Michael Ballack in the semi-final against Blackburn Rovers — proved crucial to Chelsea's FA Cup run.

Neither will grace Wembley, however, after injuries and surgery curtailed their season, too.

The three-month standoff between Abramovich and Mourinho described by chief executive Peter Kenyon euphemistically as "healthy tension" eased after a rapprochement last month.

The board endorsed their head coach in somewhat lukewarm fashion saying they would not sack him and Mourinho insisted he would stay.

There appears to be little warmth in the relationship, however.

For warmth Mourinho must look to his players in whom he has fostered a formidable team spirit and never-say-die attitude.

They and the fans, who remember the barren years, have been vocal in their support of the "Special One" and his name will ring round the stands of the new Wembley stadium on Saturday.