Special One gets ready to save his status
THE week ahead places Jose Mourinho where he most likes to be, pouting before an English audience.
That Chelsea oppose him provides the requisite ‘me' time to milk. It also presents him with arguably his greatest challenge since leaving the Premier League 29 months ago.
Mourinho is threatened with a downgrade in status. Good, yes, but special? Failure to progress to the quarter-final stage against English opposition for the second successive season would hardly enhance his claim to a coaching gold card. It might even lead to a spell in footballing rehab and, you never know, a long, rather than longing, look in the mirror.
He parades around Italy like a man in exile, condemned by passport and paranoia to the station of outsider. “In England you're shown respect if you're a foreign coach who comes in and offers his experience and knowledge. In Italy, this respect only comes if you're born as an Italian. Someone like me, the foreigner, isn't considered worthy of being here.”
Right, Jose, that's why you are the highest paid coach in Serie A. That old saying, “to have a friend one must first be a friend”, has yet to find its way into Mourinho's phrase book.
By definition his critique embraces Carlo Ancelotti, a declared devotee of the anti- Jose faction and the coach at his throat on Wednesday. It smacks more of the way he sees himself rather than how others see him. It is the kind of barb he threw in targeted areas during his time in England. Remember Arsene Wenger, the “voyeur”?
Mourinho pines for England and for Chelsea, though his ego would not allow him to acknowledge the latter. He points to the largely pot-less state of Stamford Bridge, one FA Cup, since his departure. When he ran the King's Road he banked two championships, two Carling Cups and an FA Cup, don't you know.
His first season at Inter Milan returned a fourth successive Scudetto but no advance in the Champions League.
Inter go into the Chelsea tie again buttressed by a championship lead, seven points. So what? Roberto Mancini rattled off a hat-trick of titles and was sent on his way by Inter chairman Massimo Moratti.
The oil tycoon is not persuaded by reasonable arguments. He does not want to hear about the impoverished nature of the domestic challenge post-calciopoli, the 2006 betting scandal that tore apart Italian football.
He is the fourth son of Angelo, the head of the Inter family during the club's golden period in the late 1950s and early ’60s. And he is seeking Angelo's posthumous approval, a very Italian dynamic and potentially an unplayable hand for His Speciality, as Carlo Ancelotti likes to dismiss him.
Moratti wants bona fide European bling on his Lake Como sideboard. He brought in Mourinho to win the Champions League. Nothing else will do.
Mourinho can hardly complain since he used the European Cup's platinum glow to enhance his standing in the game. The ‘welcome to me' speech delivered on his arrival in England in June 2004 after his victory with Porto defines him still; the ‘Special One'. Mourinho was a man riding his moment in time, a temporal surfer cresting a wave that washed him like treasure on the English shore.
In truth we didn' t know much about him. There was the touchline dance at Old Trafford following Costinha's fortuitous injury-time equaliser that sent Porto through to the Champions League quarter- finals.
Before that a spiteful triumph over Celtic in the 2003 UEFA Cup final. Not enough to construct a reliable composite.
Victory over Monaco in the 2004 Champions League final at Gelsenkirchen was his passport to the most coveted posting in the club game. The Champions League is again Mourinho's barometer. Over two legs beginning in the San Siro on Wednesday and three weeks hence in London, Mourinho submits to examination by a Chelsea team assembled largely by him.
As he puts it, take Nicolas Anelka, Branislav Ivanovic and Yuri Zhirkov out of the equation and “you have almost the same squad I left”.
Obviously Chelsea would have won the Champions League had he not departed in September 2007.
The addition of Lucio, Wesley Schneijder and Samuel Eto'o makes this Inter team better equipped than the one that lost at the same stage a year ago to Manchester United.
There is more at stake than a quarter-final place. This is Mourinho's chance to show Abravomich he was wrong, to show Ancelotti who is boss, to show England what it is missing, to show he is special, still.
Defeat, however, represents more than a loss. It says Roman was right, that Ancelotti is right, that Mourinho is mortal after all. (© Daily Telegraph, London)