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Heart to Heart

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As José Mourinho gripes about referees and supporters, his unbeaten side travel to Anfield on Saturday to face a team who drew strength from defeat on Tuesday night, a strength embodied by the ever ebullient Kolo Touré.

It was pizza for the post-match meal. Kolo LOVED pizza.
It was pizza for the post-match meal. Kolo LOVED pizza.
Alex Livesey

People talk a lot of glib and superficial guff about heart, don't they? One of the most self-abused organs in our bodies, this hollow, muscular mass of tissue has become metaphorically associated, over centuries of linguistic development, with ideas like courage, empathy, resolve and quintessence. Sadly, language has now evolved, or perhaps disintegrated, to such an extent that even the incoherent mumblings of Paul Merson and the priggish pontifications of Alan Shearer are deemed acceptable analytical modes of expression by huge television companies.

The aforementioned duo, along with so many others paid inexplicably large amounts to offer no insight at all, can often be heard wittering about this player's lack of heart or that player's surfeit of it. It's become a lazy fall-back trope for jaded ex-pros who have made it in the media game by relentlessly carping about the same old things. They'll sagely note how how Steven Gerrard's legs have gone and how those foreign lads bottle tackles and like a dive whilst lamenting the passing of the days in which one could get stuck in and leave a bit on someone early doors in order to mark his card. In short then, having heart, has joined the ranks of hackneyed expressions which have been rendered almost pointless through over use.

Of course, there are exceptions to this. Sometimes those who speak of heart are doing so in a way that is genuine or perhaps cynically exploitative rather than through bovine laziness. José Mourinho is one such special case. Nothing this media puppeteer says is random or unaffected. One gets the impression that this serial Portuguese winner even has an agenda when buying a coffee in a service station. He is the kind of arch manipulator who you just know has planned his spontaneous jokes in advance, so when he spoke, in the wake of his team's disappointing draw with Maribor in the Champions League, about his eternal passion for Chelsea, it was with an alternative purpose in mind.

It seems the posturing gilet fancier is a little peeved at the unresponsive nature of Chelsea's fans, of late. In a display of startling tactlessness and the kind of onanistic self regard with which he has become synonymous, he not-so-subtly placed his enduring love for the club in stark contrast with those who made him feel he was in an "empty stadium."

"Everybody at Chelsea Football Club knows how much I love the club, how much I want it to improve and how much I want to be part of the club in the future," insisted the noted crowd shusher. Even a moment of criticism has to be analysed with different eyes, with the eyes of somebody who knows why I came back to Chelsea and why I'm here with my heart and why I want to stay for a long, long time.

"This is not, for me, just a job," he averred so very earnestly. "It is more than that, because it's Chelsea. Maybe I go a little bit too far. But I see myself in the stands, watching Chelsea and I want to play, I want to help. If I'm not a player I cannot play, if I'm not a coach I cannot make decisions. If I'm just a fan what can I do to help? That's just my view."

Is there one other manager in the Premier League, now that the Dark Lord of Mancunia has removed his puce noggin from our sights, who would dare to use the expression just a fan? Surely only a man as convinced of his own magnificence and centrality to all that is important could utter such a patently disrespectful phrase? Lately, your scribbler saw Mourinho feign modesty when his achievements were put into comparison with those of Brian Clough. He didn't believe what he was saying, of course -- that much was apparent -- but it is interesting to compare and contrast the gargantuan ego of the man known as Ol' Big Head with that of the even more narcissistic Mourinho.

On the other end of the likability spectrum is the perma-grinning Kolo Touré. The Ivory Coast native has been one of the most popular signings made by Liverpool in recent years with an on and off-pitch demeanour that has endeared him to the club's fans from the moment of his arrival. Touré, originally thought of as an experienced head to supplement the squad, was thrust into first team action to great effect at the start of last season. Following injury, the centre half lost his place and his subsequent sporadic appearances have been a melange of daftness, spectacular howlers and inspirational excellence. In short, it is hard to dislike Touré because, like his fellow mentalist José Enrique, he is always entertaining.

Ahead of the visit of Mourinho's unbeaten Chelsea and following his outstanding Bernabeu showing, Touré has been speaking of his excitement at being involved in the first team and his desire to ensure Saturday's opposition do not emulate the achievement of the Arsenal Invincibles he was a central part of.

"They cost us the league, and now we have the chance to beat them -- I can’t wait for that, honestly," he beamed mischievously. "Is it a chance for payback? Definitely. It’s a very important game when you think what they did to us last season. And it’s a great chance to end any argument about them being invincibles too. But the most important thing is we want to win the game. I’m ready for it. Any position, I am ready to fight for my club, I play from my heart, that is what is important.

"I definitely miss being involved in those games -- they are ones you just remember all your life. The Last game I played here I won with Arsenal. Today I lost 1-0. That’s part of my life. Every moment is different. It is not easy to take against the best team in Europe, especially when you don’t play a lot. But determination is the most important. It doesn’t matter, you have to be waiting. We were written off, but that gave motivation. When you don’t play a lot and the manager gives you a chance to show what you have got you give everything. We gave everything we have got and that is the way we need to play. We showed to the manager it doesn’t matter which player he plays, we will fight."

Kolo Touré, there, dear reader. A man so amiably unaffected that his words cannot fail to have roused your cold indurate soul to the point where you feel at least a modicum of hope about the weekend's Anfield clash. Brendan Rodgers, much maligned in the aftermath of the midweek defeat, has an opportunity to reclaim a little of the credibility that he has lost in the eyes of some fans. Central to that process will be a strong performance, the acquisition of three points and the proof that the first team is a meritocracy. If that is truly the case, Kolo Touré will be one of the first names on the teamsheet and José Mourinho had best put in some time before Saturday practising excuses in those bitter wheedling of his tones because there is a fair chance he will witness the true meaning of heart.