Thursday, February 25, 2010

Dr. Needles is preparing a Chelsea miracle

There's nothing Jose Mourinho leaves to chance when it comes to dealing with sports media. The guy makes a calculator look improvisational. That's why this interview with Sky Sports only seems to feature Mourinho being sporting, polite and glib regarding Petr Cech's unfortunate leg injury in Chelsea's 1-2 first leg defeat at Inter in the Champions League. Give it a look:

(Editor's note: Enjoy Mourinho's black turtleneck, but don't let it overcome you. Yes, it's silly while being suave, but you'll miss his cunning genius if you get too wrapped up in it.)

See how he sneaks that "Doctor Needles" reference in there? You probably thought, "Something's not right about this Dr. Needles." Yes, Mourinho sounds so hopeful about Cech playing in the return leg. He comes across as such a sportsman. "Of course I think Cech could play. I don't listen to those reports that he's out for a month or more. Doctor Needles can probably get him healthy enough to play – and play well!" And he says it with a wry smile that tells you he knows something about what Chelsea can do for injured players. And why shouldn't he? He knows – and he knows you know he knows – Chelsea and all those guys in that locker room.

But Mourinho's charming little nod to his past there is so much more than that. Yeah, he knows Cech's gimpy calf muscle or whatever it is probably will keep the top-notch keeper out of the next match. But Mourinho also knows about Dr. Needles. Oh, Needles isn't his Christian name. No, it's just a moniker. Mourinho's allusion to "Dr. Needles" is in the sly "wink, wink, nudge, nudge" fashion of all the great subtext purveyors of the management tradition. Mourinho wants everyone to fully understand, you see, that Chelsea has this illegal doctor running around like a wild man, shooting up the injured and fatigued Chelsea players with all kinds of Russian god-knows-what. If Inter somehow survive the match at Stamford Bridge, he'll probably grant Sky another interview in which he casually jokes about a night out in Moscow with Dr. Needles before the Champions League final. Mourinho was there to see some old friends, and, well, Dr. Needles was working on a new treatment for John Terry's mild case of vertigo that was affecting the team captain's balance and ability to stay upright. It was a spirited night of conversation.

If Inter are eliminated, he might just come out and tell the truth: that he saw Dr. Needles in the tunnel before the match injecting Michael Ballack with some sort of glowing green liquid inside a syringe the size of Big Ben.

Who exactly is this Dr. Needles? Who knows? A News of the World investigation might uncover some sort of tenuous, poorly sourced connection to an East German KGB outpost where Putin frequently "lunched" during the old days. It's immaterial, really. Mourinho doesn't care who Dr. Needles is. Mourinho just wants you to know that Dr. Needles is out there. He has to be! Chelsea needs his expertise.

Of course, Mourinho might add some day, Dr. Needles' methods recently have been questioned by some of the players. Or at least that's what he hears through the "Bluesvine" of Chelsea contacts he keeps. The players don't seem to have that extra flit and zip in their step after Dr. Needles' treatments like he remembers them having.

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