Sunday 4 December 2016

Still struggling to emerge from Mourinho's shadow

The Special One is gone from Inter, but his ghost will haunt the club for some time yet, says Dion Fanning

Dion Fanning

Published 25/09/2011 | 05:00

When Jose Mourinho was coach of Inter Milan, he would talk about the closeness he had with the team and how he loved to observe the players from his office at Inter's Appiano Gentile training ground.

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He would, he said, watch through a window that overlooked the pitches as his players, his devoted players, performed in front of him. Even if he wasn't on the training ground, the players would know he was watching and their closeness would be cemented.

If any of his successors had noted his words -- and most of them at one time or another have had reason to -- they would have been surprised when entering the coach's office to find that there is no panoramic view of anything and there is barely any window. If Mourinho was observing Inter's players from his desk, he has an even greater range of talents than even he acknowledged.

Last week, Internazionale sacked Gian Piero Gasperini and appointed Claudio Ranieri. Since Mourinho left they have now had four coaches. Some, like Rafael Benitez, were determined to break with Mourinho's methods and found that he would snipe from the sidelines while others tried a different approach. Nothing has worked.

Gasperini's side lost all but one of their games this season, most notably going down to Novara, a team playing in Serie A for the first time in 55 years, last Tuesday night. He had tried to introduce the formation he used successfully at Genoa but last weekend, during their draw with Roma, Inter's players looked as if they were taking part in a shadow play training session as they ponderously and deliberately moved into the positions demanded in Gasperini's 3-4-3.

Against Novara, the team revolted with Esteban Cambiasso reportedly telling Andrea Ranocchia, "we're playing a back four". Inter shuffled the tactical deckchairs but nothing changed and the next day Gasperini was gone.

The hold Mourinho retains over his players has been noted but it is not the only reason for the turnover in coaches since he left. Inter had only two coaches -- Roberto Mancini and Mourinho -- from 2004 to 2010 but since then they have increased production to a rate that is familiar to owner Massimo Moratti. He has made 17 appointments since he took over the club so the nosedive since Mourinho's departure just brought out some old habits. Of course, it may have something to do with Mourinho's methods and his ability to get mature players to give him their all.

Last week, stories emerged in Spain about the discontent within the Real Madrid dressing-room. There were two factions -- the Portuguese players, most of whom are represented by Jorge Mendes, Mourinho's agent and the Spanish players, led by Iker Casillas.

Casillas had been successfully wooed by Mourinho last season as part of his well-worked strategy of drawing the influential players at a club close to him.

As captain of the World Cup-winning side, Casillas may have been less enamoured than most by what came next: the fracturing of that Spanish side as the games between Barcelona and Madrid became dramatic, divisive clashes. Mourinho is now said to be upset that Casillas had attempted reconciliation with some of his Spanish team-mates.

The coming months will be an examination of Mourinho's methods. Will he be able to develop a siege mentality which involves not only the team thinking that everyone on the outside is against them but factions in the team thinking that other elements in the team are also against them.

In Milan, he worked it differently with Inter. He was, close observers say, a first among equals and as Inter went on their run for the Champions League, his players were prepared to work endlessly for his goals. Mourinho behaves like a player on the sideline and he treats the players he brings close to him as men, allowing them plenty of leeway. A new coach will arrive and decide to change things, maybe bring in a more uniform standard of behaviour and that's where the problems start.

He left having won an impossible treble. His critics might have said that the poor standard in Serie A helped him but the Champions League victory, defeating Chelsea and Barcelona along the way, seemed to confirm his genius. It certainly confirmed it to Mourinho.

He left, talking about "his" team, much as he has done with Chelsea who also have struggled to find anyone to match him.

Inter will now try to find stability with Ranieri. They go to Moscow in the Champions League on Tuesday needing a result after their defeat to Trabzonspor in the first round of matches. Mourinho, meanwhile, may use the post-Mourinho disasters at Inter to remind everyone in Madrid of his achievements.

Within football, there are those who now express reservations

about following a Mourinho side, having witnessed what happened at Inter and at Chelsea.

If Madrid win nothing more than the Spanish Cup again this season, then Mourinho may depart in another puff of smoke but without the mystery that usually comes with it.

He may also have worked out something obvious: there is a good time to leave a capricious owner to his own devices. Mourinho persuaded Moratti to spend money but Moratti hasn't done much spending since.

Their Champions League victory came at a time when Italian football was trying to reinvent itself, having fallen behind England, Spain and Germany in terms of revenue.

Mourinho achieved something many thought was impossible. He certainly thought it was impossible and he didn't try to do it again. He told his successors they couldn't match him.

Once again, he has been right.

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