Mourinho primed for chain reaction
The football is still a day away but an event which may be more florid and memorable by far is scheduled this evening in the San Siro press room.
It is the occasion when Jose Mourinho will be reacquainted once again with the English experience he so cherished and so clearly misses.
The last time the Portuguese had a large clutch of British journalists interviewing him -- as he will ahead of the first leg of Inter's Champions League tie with Chelsea -- was at Old Trafford last March, when he barely sought to disguise how much he coveted a return to the Premier League.
"In Italy, there is a bit of a drama in difficult moments," Mourinho said that afternoon. "Football (in Britain) is never drama. It is it is always passion and pleasure.''
Of Old Trafford, he said: "It looks like home."
Expect more of the same at Stamford Bridge in a few weeks -- "my Chelsea" is how Mourinho described Carlo Ancelotti's side when he was present to see them beat Fulham at the turn of the year.
His contrasting approaches to the English and Italian writing contingents will also be something to behold this evening.
Just as Alex Ferguson, whose job Mourinho covets, has so divorced himself from the British press corps that his most articulate answers are reserved for the continentals at Champions League press conferences, Mourinho effectively blanked the Italian journalists during that pre-match discussion at Old Trafford last spring, his diffidence with them offering proof of a now tortured and fractious relationship.
The froideur Mourinho feels for his current place of work is a curious one, given his success there.
The Special One has maintained the extraordinarily special record of not having lost a home league game since his days managing Porto in February 2002 and has taken Inter to back-to-back Scudetto successes, matching his achievement with Chelsea.
But, while British football viewed the controversies he stoked and the conspiracies he discerned with a degree of fondness and generally marvelled in the colour he brought to the game, the Italians have always viewed him with suspicion and never with wonderment.
"You have to remember that we are not short of top-class managers. We don't need to have a foreigner showing us how to be great, teaching us how to cook pasta," was the way one seasoned Italian observer put it yesterday.
Those words crystallised why Mourinho has not fitted into Italian football as he has into those Armani black scarves and coats he picks up in the boutiques of his favoured terrain on Milan's Via della Spiga.
Italian football has far more confidence -- swagger, you might say -- in the ability of its own countrymen to manage than the English sport.
Marcello Lippi, after all, makes Italy the reigning world champions while no fewer than 10 Serie A clubs are managed by Italians. The nation was also never likely to find a volcanic latinate temperament like Mourinho's so curious.
All told, it has made for an 18-month tenure of ever decreasing circles at San Siro, with a Mourinho less than enchanted with the place he occupies, perpetuating the conspiracy theories the Premier League often tolerated and causing offence with many of them.
Attacks on Roma's Claudio Ranieri and Sampdoria's Luigi del Neri -- derided for not being as successful as Mourinho -- have been viewed as affronts to the nation's powers of football coaching.
There have also been occasional, insensitive reminders to the nation of the Calciopoli scandal. And when Juventus executive Roberto Bettega told Mourinho to halt his abuse of referees, he characterised the nation as one of "ostriches, digging our head in the sand. Everybody -- everybody -- talks about refereeing decisions."
Mourinho has his devotees as well as his detractors, dividing opinion just as he always has done, but the question for Chelsea as they fly out today is whether the Portuguese was right when he declared on the eve of the Sampdoria game that "we now have a better Inter" than the one which was fairly comprehensively dismissed by Ferguson's side at the same stage of last season's Champions League tournament.
Yes, Inter probably are better than a year ago, with signings like Wesley Sneider from Real Madrid and Lucio from Bayern Munich the most compelling evidence.
As ever, Mourinho's team is not one to quicken the pulse but the back four is tough and resilient, while Mourinho's decision to sell Zlatan Ibrahimovic and use the proceeds on Sneijder, Samuel Eto'o and Diego Milito has given the side more flair. The £13.5m Sneijder has become the heartbeat of the new side. Eto'o may be on the bench tomorrow night.
Mourinho's detractors will point to the fact that luck has been with him in Italy as it was in west London. Just as he rode in on Roman Abramovich's initial flush of enthusiasm at Stamford Bridge, so he happens to find himself with money to spend -- Milan's proprietors, the Moratti family, refine 80pc of petrol used in Italy -- at a time when most other elite Serie A teams are impoverished and sliding backwards.
So while his new recruits are comfortably good enough to maintain Inter's position as Italian champions, the fascinating issue is whether he can begin to take them somewhere in Europe.
Inter have reached only the second knockout round under his leadership and, with no improvement on that, Massimo Moratti may want his manager to go.
Tomorrow will provide some answers, though even if Moratti does bid Mourinho goodbye, the prospect of a return to England is more limited than many seem to believe.
Manchester City will need evidence that their own club is heading backwards before dispensing with Roberto Mancini's services this summer and the odds are currently on his remaining, while Liverpool -- the other club with whom Mourinho is repeatedly linked -- are in such dreadful financial straits that they are unlikely to be afford him, even if Rafael Benitez makes way. (© Independent News Service)