Jose's special delivery
Mourinho takes madrid to France tonight looking to renew his - an dhis club's - love for the Champions League
For Jose Mourinho, there is no place quite like London. He named the English capital his favourite city last week in an interview conducted just days after a lightning visit to watch his old Chelsea side draw with Fulham.
That appearance at Craven Cottage and the texts sent to ex-players fuelled speculation he could make a comeback at the Bridge, but there is a far more probable return on the cards -- not so much a moving back in with the old flame, as a one-night stand at Wembley on 28 May.
Competition favourites Barcelona are on the ropes against Arsenal and as their coach Pep Guardiola pointed out at the weekend: "In Europe there is nobody better than Madrid." Real took 16 points from a possible 18 in the group stages, something no other team managed.
Mourinho has won his internal power struggle with general manager Jorge Valdano and can now concentrate on becoming the first coach ever to win the European Cup with three different teams. He will move a step closer to that goal if he can beat Lyons and take Real Madrid to the quarter-final stage for the first time in six years.
The Champions League is the competition that has given him his greatest moments. Galloping up the touchline at Old Trafford as Porto coach; sliding along the Nou Camp turf as Chelsea boss; soaked by the sprinklers on the same ground last season after dumping Barcelona out in the semi-final.
Not to mention the melancholic celebration in Gelsenkirchen after Porto won the trophy, knowing it was his last game in charge; and the tears at the Bernabeu last season after landing Internazionale their first European Cup in 45 years.
"I love the knock-out competition because it favours the mentally strong," he says. "Normally you win it with a completed team, not with one in construction. It's no coincidence that I won the tournament in my second season at Porto and in my second season at Inter."
But Mourinho knows his Real Madrid team have already taken a step towards completion in his first season after, against Valdano's wishes, Emmanuel Adebayor was signed in January.
Valdano wanted to block the signing because he saw it as a threat to Karim Benzema, the underperforming former Lyons striker who he signed in 2009.
"Karim is more technical than me and reminds me of the Brazilian Ronaldo. I am more physical and better in the air," says Adebayor, who has been on a charm offensive since arriving, making friends even with the player whose place he will take in the team in Lyons tonight.
His ability to play as a lone front-man with his back to goal was most evident two weeks ago when Real Madrid were down to 10 men after 80 seconds and the City loanee ran himself into the ground to help secure a 1-0 victory at Espanyol.
"Real Madrid are in a privileged position with Adebayor," Mourinho says with a sideswipe at Valdano and the obstacles he put in the way of the deal.
"You have the player for six months and the price is already agreed if we want to buy him. You have time to analyse him and, despite the fact that he belongs to Manchester City, the decision is yours not theirs. It is a fantastic position and only people with their eyes open have been able to arrive at this situation at a time when we were down to one fit striker."
Real Madrid's training camp is now out of bounds to Valdano and Mourinho no longer has to speak to the club's director general. Four weeks ago, Mourinho threatened to walk at the end of the season and there were major rumblings of discontent.
"Real Madrid does not have the structure that its size warrants," was one gripe. "I have always won my big battles with external foes. I don't know if I can win a battle against an enemy within," was another.
He also spoke of having a dislike for people who "are paid to work for clubs but who end up putting their own personal interests ahead of the interests of the clubs who employ them".
A head-to-head with president Florentino Perez and an apparent cabinet reshuffle has changed all that.
"I am happier now than I was a month ago. And it has nothing to do with results," Mourinho said. "I feel right now, both on a personal and a work level. The communication is very good. We now have the horizon pushed back into next season. My relationship with the president is very good and I have an excellent relationship with (executive director general) Jose Angel Sanchez."
Of the man he has managed to marginalise, he says only: "Jorge Valdano has his work within the club. If he has that work then it is because the club is happy with him."
Having lined up his allies off the pitch, the Madrid coach has also lined up his generals on it. There is a Premier League spine running through the team he is building, with Cristiano Ronaldo, Xabi Alonso and Alvaro Arbeloa all constants in his big-match team selections.
"This year it is going to be completely different," says Ronaldo when asked about having fallen at this very hurdle in the Champions League last season, also against Lyons. "The manager knows how to make us win. We will go out on to the pitch knowing everything about the opposition. I am convinced that we will get past the last-16 round this year. We have to imagine that we are up against a Barca or a Milan and we have to kill before being killed. This season we will be ready."
Alonso and Arbeloa were left out of Saturday's routine league win over Levante, underlining their importance to the team. Alonso's role is no surprise but Arbeloa's importance was less predictable at the start of the season when he looked like being nothing more than a reserve option for full-backs Marcelo and Sergio Ramos.
"I like him because he is never a six out of 10 but always between seven and nine," Mourinho said. "He is usually marking the opposition's best player and usually they don't get a kick. He never gives me any nasty surprises."
Arbeloa could line-up at left-back tonight with Marcelo pushed into midfield alongside Alonso and Sami Khedira. Mesut Ozil, whose rapid acclimatisation has pleasantly surprised everyone at the club, will line-up alongside Ronaldo behind Adebayor in attack.
"You should always try to win the first match," says Mourinho. "Home or away, you have to try to win the first leg."
That was the key last year when his Inter side knocked out Barcelona. His team were defensive in the second leg but had earned the right to park the Airbus with a stirring display in the first game, which saw them run out 3-1 winners. A repeat performance tonight will see Real Madrid well on their way to breaking that last-16 barrier.
The most successful club of the 20th century has been humiliated season after season since 2004 when the Galacticos went out with a whimper against Juventus. Arsenal did for them the following year and Bayern Munich knocked them out in '07. Roma beat them in '08 and in '09 they were ridiculed 5-0 on aggregate by Rafa Benitez's Liverpool.
They have never beaten Lyons in six European games but pre-Mourinho statistics will count for nothing at the Gerland stadium tonight.
That Guardiola affirmation that there is no better side in Europe was a justification of his own team's fine league form. Barcelona's defeat to Arsenal had some commentators talking of crisis and Guardiola's point was "how can we be in crisis if we are five points clear of this Madrid side?" "They are coached by someone who has not lost a home game for nine years, a record that will never be bettered," Guardiola added.
Mourinho has made a habit of winning the league in his first season but Barcelona are doing their best to make that impossible this time. Their five-point advantage is really six because head-to-head goal difference would count against Real after that 5-0 Clasico drubbing at the Nou Camp.
The league could be beyond Mourinho this season. Winning Real's 10th, and his third, European Cup -- and doing it in his favourite city -- would be some consolation. (© Independent News Service)
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