Tuesday 20 February 2018

'Obsessive One' calls tune on night the music died

Kevin Garside

JOSE MOURINHO is incapable of walking into a room quietly. His specialist subject, the philosophical insult -- or second-rate psychology if you share the view of Barca President Joan Laporta -- set this game on edge 24 hours out.

The sending off of Thiago Motta half an hour in added a material dimension that did away with the need for mischief. Obsession was prowling the touchline radiating indignant splendour.

'The domination of one's thoughts or feelings by a persistent idea or desire' is how the Oxford English defines obsession, an outline from which Mourinho can never escape. His career is one long genuflection to himself, the one and only 'I', the Special One. That concept continues to inflate on the back of this result.

The words of Mourinho's pre-match address were triggered not by a question but an idea conceived long before the tape recorders were switched on. It suited Mourinho to be talking about anything but the match.

Mourinho's ambition was legitimate, Barcelona's pathological, an obsession not a dream. He delivers this in a deliberate Brando-esque mumble calculated to crank the intensity and to draw the focus of the enemy. It works if the opposition are listening. Pep Guardiola does not strike the neutral as a man hanging on the word of another. Or at least he didn't.

His response was as beautiful as Mourinho's sleight. He spoke of a 'great' Inter team led by a 'great' coach. He gave Mourinho the respect he was due and in so doing let him know he was wasting his time. This was Guardiola's patch. He would attack the problem of Inter how he saw fit, not in the light of thinking warped by Mourinho's prism.

It was perhaps naiveté on a grand scale to assume that Mourinho would allow Guardiola to do this. The plan in this tie was always to find a way to stop Barcelona playing their game, to derail the Lionel Messi carousel. The execution at the San Siro was exemplary, a team drilled to within an inch of its life in the disciplines demanded, their own attacking ambitions subordinate to the need to stop Barca's.

It might be that Barcelona were tripped by hubris in that first-leg defeat. They neither expected to fall behind nor did they know how to respond. There was the vague embarrassment of the great champion climbing off the floor. The punch that nails you is the one you don't see. Barcelona weren't looking. They were the ones supposed to be throwing bombs.

The detonation last night was Motta's boneheaded intervention. It left Inter with an hour to survive against the greatest attacking arsenal in the club game on home turf. The sending off was technically deserved though football can do without the kind of cynical reaction offered by Busquets, who peered through fingers clutched to his face to determine how successful his exaggerated response had been in persuading the referee to dismiss his assailant.

What should have been an advantage to Barcelona was turned into a disruption by Inter, whose histrionic response destroyed for the remainder of the half what rhythm Barcelona managed to strike. And that wasn't much. Mourinho excels in the bunker. He is by nature in sympathy with Millwall, no one likes him and he doesn't care.

There was a hint of the dark arts before the kick-off when Goran Pandev did not appear despite his name appearing on the team-sheet.

His replacement, Chivu, would have required the agreement of Barcelona to participate. Permission was never going to be denied. It was just another inconvenience, a detail for Guardiola to consider, a nuisance that he did not anticipate.

Barcelona were handicapped by the absence of Andres Iniesta, the third man in the Xavi, Messi triangle who so often oils Barcelona's Pythagorean machine. Instead of space Messi ran into those Argentine body snatchers Javier Zanetti and Esteban Cambiasso. Barcelona would still be behind were they out there now so spectacular was the degree of strangulation applied by Inter.

This was the night the music died in Catalonia, the sweetest voice in football caught with a frog in its throat.

With eight minutes remaining Bojan ghosted wide of his marker to meet the ball with his head. It was the kind of chance he might take blindfold. The ball drifted harmlessly wide.

Gerard Pique showed him how with a brilliant, swivelled finish to rouse the locals into a frenzied finish. Mourinho flinched, but only a little. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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