Saturday 7 December 2019

Attack best form of defence for vindicated Special One

Kevin Garside

THIS was sport as theatre, Jose Mourinho taking the lead role of football manager. He's back for one night only, the great Jose. And did he deliver his lines.

A running exchange with the fourth official was a mini-series all its own and set the touchline ablaze for much of the first half. His refusal to return the ball to Yuri Zirkhov for a thrown-in was a fine example of the Mourinho school of dramatic art.

That was the unscripted bit. You can imagine Mourinho practising for days in front of the mirror rehearsing his entrance here. Rarely can players have practised so unfettered by the long lens. The camera crews were all stalking the tunnel preparing for the grand entrance.

That at least was the expectation. Typically Mourinho confounded all by slipping out quietly ahead of his team. And there he sat, solo, as the stadium announcer talked the players into the middle. As well as creating an atmospheric photo opportunity it caught his polar opposite, Carlo Ancelotti, off guard.

The avuncular farmer's son hovered by the tunnel making himself available for a ceremonial handshake but Jose wasn't there. He was staring ahead into the great floodlit yonder playing his own game.

Mourinho's word is the truth. This he believes absolutely. Just as it was for Brian Clough, to whom he was likened by old big 'ead himself, Mourinho's conceit is a compelling feature of the football landscape. He uses his charisma surplus to manipulate the agenda and to engineer an edge.

His record at Porto and Chelsea in differing circumstances and subsequently at Inter Milan demonstrates the value of his approach. Many among the Chelsea fraternity were sufficiently discomfited by his pre-match propaganda to appear nervous before kick-off. Inter Milan had grown into a team of the ages, a mythical beast peopled by the best players in the world. I've never lost at Stamford Bridge he said, erasing first-leg impressions from the San Siro that leant heavily towards Chelsea.

As a coach, Mourinho is asked to rebut the charge that he is essentially defensive, that his teams smother first and flatter later, if at all. It is the reason advanced for his removal by Roman Abramovich, a radical step that has yet to put silver on the sideboard, as Mourinho never tires of pointing out. They can't get Mourinho on much else. Ancelotti hung out the idea beforehand claiming that he had at last met the attacking demand and that the boss approved.

This was never going to be about style but substance. The size of the prize dictated an evening not of poetry recital but full on cock fighting. The occasion demanded commitment to make knees knock in the stands. Footballers are too readily dismissed as prima donnas. They might be labour intensive, they might require high maintenance, but on nights like these there is no scope for retreat.

Mourinho knows how to fight. His South American defensive ensemble of Maicon, Lucio, Walter Samuel and Javier Zanetti breakfast on flying boots and elbows. Inter didn't have to win this match to progress. Mourinho sent out his team to earn a passage to the quarter finals, not to impress. It was up to Ancelotti to solve the problem of scoring.

And as the chances piled up for Inter Ancelotti was a mute presence yards away, looking on impotently with his hands in his pockets. This was the time to demonstrate attacking prowess. Mourinho did with Samuel Eto'o inserting the blade on the boss's behalf. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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