Jose Mourinho savours lead role in Manchester UnitedInter Milan pantomime

23 February 2009 09:48
This was Mourinho's chance to show England what it is missing and at Inter Milan's grandiose training complex on the outskirts of Lake Como, he did not waste a second of it.

Mourinho is more pantomime dame than Widow Twankey. As his captain, Fabio Zanetti, spelt out how Inter were going to dispose of Manchester United, the world club and European champions, Mourinho sat silently by his side thumbing through a copy of the Champions League programme as if he were waiting to have his hair cut.

The studied insouciance was intended to send out calming signals to his players and the supporters. We are cool. This is the tie we wanted. We have prepared in the normal way. What's the problem?

The problem pitched up at the San Siro two hours later looking as relaxed as he has ever been. Sir Alex Ferguson appears to be getting the hang of this European thing, finally trusting in his team to set about the Champions League in a manner commensurate with their status as the world's best.

Mourinho gave it his most impressive, vacantly manic, David Copperfield stare; 'look into my eyes, watch my lips, listen to what I'm telling you' routine. We were meant to fall under his spell as of old. "It is nothing special [to beat United]. It means the same as any other opponent. The objective is to go through. We were happy with the draw. It was very easy to prepare for the game from a psychological point of view. I don't need to motivate the players. Everything is there. The smell is in the air, the adrenalin is in the air."

Like that other grand dame of the theatre, Lady Macbeth, Mourinho did protest too much. His is the desperation to do well, to prove himself the management yardstick he believes himself to be. The curve balls were out early. United would be the team who would have to give way, to bend to his will, to change their style to accommodate the threat of Inter.

In that anal way of his, Mourinho delved into the madre of all footballing archives to prove his point, rolling out the Barcelona example in last year's semi-final. We were too polite to remind him that United won.

Mourinho rattled off the old cliches about Continental sophistication and English passion, leaving us to infer the inevitable outcome in this tie. Fergie unleashed the statistics that gun the argument down, an all English final in 2008, two English winners in the past four years. Mourinho is not listening. He knows best. "The game in England is more emotional, is beautiful, is open, with an incredible atmosphere. But here from a technical point of view it is stronger. I have told my players that they should not be afraid of this tie. I told them to look at it with the feeling that in 15 days we can celebrate when we beat the European champions."

Beneath the machismo posturing a river of respect flows through Setubal's finest for the man European competition has returned to his midst. "A top manager no doubt", the phrase was used more than once to describe Ferguson and to neutralise the hyperbolic acid of his bolder claims.

The feeling is mutual. Ferguson admires his adversary, speaks candidly about the impact Mourinho had on the English milieu and how he, the most significant figure in it, had to examine his own methods to fashion a response.

"When Jose came there was a great upsurge in Chelsea's position in the game. It happened suddenly. He uttered those words 'I'm the Special One' and it seemed to galvanise the whole club. They won two titles and caught us on the hop.

"I don't go round thinking about all the other games I've played against other managers. It is not a stat I like to think about, one victory in 12, but it depends on how you look at it. How many defeats were there? Not as many as 11, so I wouldn't worry about it too much. It doesn't matter tomorrow."

Mourinho walks a tight line between fantasy and ridicule. He must balance expectation with an understanding that Serie A does not bear the scrutiny it once did as the world's pre-eminent stage. Inter strolled to a 2-1 victory last Saturday against a Bologna side who, according to the English eyes that bore witness, would struggle to hold their own against Milton Keynes Dons.

The truth is Mourinho cannot be certain how his team will go on Tuesday night. The exaggerated claims on behalf of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, whom he boasted was ready to topple Cristiano Ronaldo from his Fifa world player of the year station, reflect the need for a stellar contribution rather than the reality and have yet to be born out by the player himself in games that really matter.

This one matters as much as any since Mourinho's arrival in Italy. The league, which Inter lead by 11 points, is all but won. Nothing special there since his predecessor Roberto Mancini posted three successive championships. Mourinho was appointed to master Europe, the summit of which Inter have not seen for 44 years.

In his more reserved moments Mourinho almost retreated to the neutral corner, suggesting the teams were evenly matched.

"I'm waiting for a big game," he said. "A game that when it comes to the last minute you don't know who is going to go through. I'm not expecting this tie to be done tomorrow. I'm waiting for a 180-minute tie, maybe 210, you never know.

"They are the champions. I'm not speaking in a negative way about them. Never, never. I'm speaking positively about them. They are really top, no doubt about it. They have quality in every aspect of the game. But I'm calm in my mind, I'm confident and ready. You know the way I am. I started with a small team and worked my way up.

"I have my way of managing. I live very closely with my players. I believe 100 per cent in them. I know for many years Inter did not win the big cups in Europe. Milan and Juventus have had a lot of success. But tomorrow is what counts.

"The past is a museum. It might be a beautiful museum, but it is no more than that. Fergie has had great glories in the past, won so much, but what is important is what you do today."

Ferguson's concerns are all in defence. Jonny Evans did not train last night and John O'Shea had only a light workout. Ferguson has been here before. He knows as well as Mourinho that a team that features Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov does not demur on any stage.

Source: Telegraph