Saturday 25 March 2017

Magical Mourinho casting final spell

'In Italy I have found everything I want, but not in football. That's why maybe I will decide to move'

Ian Chadband

FROM a medieval piazza in Siena crazed by excitement to the seething cathedral square in Milan, the final days of the emperor Jose Mourinho here -- part magnificent Caesar, part barking Caligula -- have been marked by a kind of biblical madness.

"Mourinho sei un grandissimo! Non puoi andartene via!" wailed a kid amid the throng banging on his car outside the gates of Inter Milan's training complex in Appiano Gentile. "Oh great one, you can't go!"

A banner swaying above Inter's 50,000 celebrating tifosi in Milan's Piazza del Duomo read simply "Il Profeta," sure in its belief that this prophet would lead Inter to the promised land of European Cup glory for the first time in 45 years.

On television, banks of suited middle-aged men just talked at eternal length deep into the night about one bloke behind the backdrop of a vast moody image of their subject.

For even if Italy, beyond the adoration of the Interisti, has professed to despise the man, his methods and his morals, it cannot help, but be obsessed by him and them.

It seems that just as a nation is resigned to the inevitability of his departure for Real Madrid, it has suddenly dawned what it will be missing next season. Only its most volcanic and magnetic screen presence; only its biggest drama queen since La Lollobrigida.

And what a way to take his leave. In the fevered build-up to tomorrow's final at the Bernabeu, it has been an education to watch Mourinho deliver the bravura performance of even his theatrical footballing life.

In Siena, as Inter clinched the Scudetto, the disappearing act, whipping off silently down the tunnel, followed later by public tears -- crocodile or otherwise, who knows? -- and a bizarre TV interview conducted with him sitting slumped soulful and alone on the team bus, agonising emotionally over his future.

Then, back in Milan, with the world's media in his thrall at the Pinetina training base, the full Mou vaudeville. You want high comedy?

"When my friend Louis van Gaal says he wouldn't have celebrated the same way as I did in Barcelona, he couldn't anyway because he was too slow. He can't run the way I can. I'm fast like a lion! Voom! Did you see that run!?"

You want a good quote?

"This game is bigger than the World Cup final."

"I'm a bit ashamed of what I earn" (£10m a year, at the best estimate).

"I'm Catholic. I believe in Him. I try to be a good man so He can have a little bit of time to give me a hand when I need."

Fibs

You want outrageous fibs?

"I respect people. I never make a mess with my opponents."

Er, of course not, Jose; you mean like Arsene "voyeur" Wenger or Claudio "he's old and won nothing" Ranieri or Carlo "no friend of mine" Ancelotti?

Listening to Mourinho here, it dawns why he has to leave Italy for new battles in Spain. There's no one left to fight. Ancelotti? Ranieri? The pressmen he blanked while forcing them to acknowledge his brilliance? The refs he almost prompted to take strike action with his handcuff gesture and other demonstrations of disrespect? What about the mafia who planned to kidnap him? He's beaten the lot.

Here's a man who operates best when armed with a siege mentality. So if there is no bogeyman, invent one. Take Van Gaal; he was Mourinho's mentor, a friend who gave him his major break as his Barcelona assistant and probably schooled him in the art of self-appreciation -- hence, the billing for tomorrow's game as "God v Son of God".

Now, though, as Bayern coach, he's the voodoo doll after noting mischievously this week: "I think I educated Jose a little but he trains to win, I train to play beautiful football and win. My way is more difficult."

Oooh, a red rag.

If Mourinho is sensitive about anything, it's the idea that his sides are dull. "We beat Barcelona by smashing them at the San Siro with incredible attacking football," was his boomed riposte. He's like Joe Pesci's mobster in 'Goodfellas' who doesn't care to be reminded by an old godfather of when he was a shoeshine boy. You fancy he would enjoy nothing more than dumping Van Gaal's reputation in his car boot.

Belatedly, Italy has discovered the 'Special One'.

Arrigo Sacchi, master of AC Milan's pressing efficiency a generation ago, believes the country can ill afford to lose its one foreign revolutionary "who has changed the thought process of Italian football, who can convince a Serie A team they can go to Chelsea, attack at 1,000mph and bring home victory." And should he earn Italy's first cup/league/Champions League treble and his 16th piece of silverware in just eight seasons across three countries, not to mention being the youngest manager, at 47, to win the Champions League with two clubs, could there be any debate about Dejan Stankovic's post-Siena claim that "you're seeing the best coach in the world"?

Mourinho's reponse? "There's a special group of managers which I deserve to be among. But to be the best? This is not a pure fact; it's like who is the best player? I don't want to think about it." You can bet he does, though.

While breezily claiming a win is "a dream, not an obsession" because "I'm so young as a manager still that I'm sure sooner or later I'll do it", you just know that, as he sits flanked by a huge photo of Helenio Herrera and Inter's mid-1960s champions, he understands tomorrow is an unmissable shot at history, the chance to emulate Il Mago Herrera, another wizard of an overseas coaching pioneer who could never countenance anything but victory.

One English visitor asked Mourinho about the magic dust he sprinkled. What made him special? You could see him positively purr at the old flattery which has been so much harder to find in Italy. "I pray a lot," he responded, breaking into laughter.

Then the serious blueprint. First, work hard and well, so that when your players are living it up on a midnight open-top bus ride to celebrate their Scudetto, draping their bus with a banner bearing rude jokes about Franceso Totti's bottom, you're already back home in Como poring over videos of Bayern.

Then, lead your players through mutual respect and acceptance, not power and status; create an atmosphere where everyone, from the doorman to the kitchen maid feels part of the family.

The Nerazzurri players have been lauding him all week, to persuade him to stay. "Not just a great coach," as Wesley Sneijder put it. "But a great man".

For Mourinho will be the show-off, the raging egotist, the pain in the neck, the agent provocateur, the entertainer supreme who will make himself the whole story.

Yet this perceived public selfishness cannot deflect him from the approach that inspiring collective selflessness and devotion in private will always be his teams' greatest weapon.

Loved

"I attract the pressure so my players will be free of it." How did he want his career to one day be remembered? "To be loved forever by the people I work with and by the supporters of the clubs where I work," he said.

If so, he has his wish; at Porto, Chelsea, Inter, the adoration will remain undimmed.

But what chance of him ever establishing Fergie-like dynastic roots somewhere?

"When everything's going really well and I feel loved and respected, I'd love to do this. For the stability of my family, my kids, it could be very important for me.

"But in Chelsea for some reason we decided to stop our relationship. In Italy I have found everything I want, but not in Italian football. That's why maybe I will decide to move, but the day will come when I feel that's where I want to stay."

At Madrid, perhaps?

Doubtful. Not one of the last nine managers has lasted more than 18 months there. The odds are Mourinho will be like a comet; dazzling, brilliant and then gone.

Inter fans know the feeling but will never forget him for just one final glorious starburst showered over the Santiago Bernabeu. Molto grazie, Jose. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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