José Mourinho has claimed he had no "Graeme Le Saux" in his Chelsea squad as he confirmed none of his players had expressed reluctance to travel to Israel for tonight's game against Maccabi Tel Aviv.
Chelsea departed for Haifa, where the game will be staged, on Sunday, to use the extra day to acclimatise ahead of the match against Group G's weakest side. It is 14 years since the London club last played in Israel and, on that occasion, six members of the squad – Le Saux, Marcel Desailly, William Gallas, Albert Ferrer, Eidur Gudjohnsen and Emmanuel Petit – had opted out of the trip, many apparently under pressure from their families, and remained in England.
That fixture, against Hapoel Tel Aviv in the Uefa Cup, was staged just a month after the September 11th attacks in New York, with the world on high alert over potential further terrorism and Israeli cabinet minister Rehavam Ze'evi having been shot dead on the eve of the match. Chelsea had been told by Uefa to play the game, but did offer their players the choice not to travel.
Tonight’s game comes in the wake of the terror attacks in Paris, in which the Stade de France was targeted by suicide bombers, and with tensions high in Israel. Two people were stabbed to death outside a Tel Aviv shop last week.
Yet, when asked about the security issue in his pre-match press conference, Mourinho opted to single out only Le Saux – a member of the FA's inclusion advisory board who has been publicly critical of the Portuguese over the demotion and departure of Dr Eva Carneiro earlier this season – when reflecting on the issues around the game.
"Leave security questions to people who know more than we do, and people who can do things we can't do," said the Chelsea manager. "We just focus on playing. I didn't have a single problem within the squad. I didn't have a Graeme Le Saux. I had everybody without fears, just wanting to come.
“I had even a player, maybe, whose wife is going to have a baby either tomorrow or the next day, but he’s here, focusing on what he can do for us. ”
Asked who the expectant father was, Mourinho said: “He’s one of the 20 with babies, because the factory is working well. Every two months we have a new baby.”
Chelsea have brought a full squad with them to Israel, with only the injured Thibaut Courtois and Radamel Falcao absent.
Perhaps in another message to Le Saux, Mourinho refused to comment on Real Madrid or their 4-0 loss to Barcelona on Saturday.
“In this moment, I see so many people speaking, especially about the clubs in trouble. It’s amazing, the lack of respect, the lack of ethics,” Mourinho said. “If I speak about Real Madrid, I speak when they are winning, not when they are losing. I don’t enjoy other people losing matches. I enjoy my club winning matches. I don’t smile with defeats from other teams, I smile with my victories. That’s why I don’t smile a lot in the last four or five months.”
Chelsea, who beat Norwich 1-0 on Saturday to end a three-match losing streak in the Premier League, could qualify for the last 16 of the Champions League with victory, if Porto beat Dynamo Kiev.
“Tomorrow is simple,” Mourinho said. “If we lose, we are in trouble. If we lose, we depend on other results. If we get a draw, we can qualify in the last game, but we cannot be first. If we win, maybe we qualify tomorrow and we have a big chance to finish first. The result tomorrow is very important for us.”
Chelsea beat Maccabi Tel Aviv 4-0 at Stamford Bridge in September, but Mourinho has guarded against complacency by reminding his players of last season’s draw with Maribor, weeks after a 6-0 win.
Chelsea are 15th in the Premier League after 13 games, yet Mourinho maintains a place in the top four and Champions League qualification is possible. Guardian Service