ON Wednesday night in Gelsenkirchen, Germany where Wim Kieft ended Ireland's first shot at fantasy in the European Championships 16 years ago, two teams will play for their own dreams. The stated reward is the European Cup, the grandest football competition of them all, but on the pitch and in the managerial benches, ambitions will be greater than the simple matter of winning
ON Wednesday night in Gelsenkirchen, Germany where Wim Kieft ended Ireland's first shot at fantasy in the European Championships 16 years ago, two teams will play for their own dreams. The stated reward is the European Cup, the grandest football competition of them all, but on the pitch and in the managerial benches, ambitions will be greater than the simple matter of winning the prize: in a year when the old guard was removed, Monaco and Porto will form the futures of the biggest clubs in Europe.
Careers have already been planned on less than victory. Win or lose, Porto's Jose Mourinho is expected to become the new manager of Chelsea in the next couple of weeks and he may take some of those who have brought him a UEFA Cup last season and at least a Champions' League final this year, with him.
While Porto lose their leader, Monaco will, at the very least, have their players hand-picked by Europe's elite. Fernando Morientes, turfed out by Real Madrid and unwanted by all last year except Tottenham Hotspur and Monaco, will now choose between Arsenal and Chelsea.
Others such as Jerome Rothen and Ludovic Guily may also be picked off, but it is the coach, Didier Deschamps, who has the pedigree that will attract the biggest, oldest clubs in Europe.
He may yet end up at Stamford Bridge as Roman Abramovich is said to favour the playing style of Monaco to that of Porto. If he does, he will probably take an old friend of Chelsea's back with him.
Just after Deschamps lifted the World Cup in 1998, Chelsea's then manager, Gianluca Vialli, went to Italy and came back with a man he believed would be crucial in establishing Chelsea, not only as a dominant team in England, but in Europe. His name was Antonio Pintus, assistant fitness coach at Juventus, assistant to the legendary but notorious Giampiero Ventrone.
Ventrone was called 'The Marine' and the training camp he ran for Juventus was as secretive as Abu Ghraib prison and, according to some who worked their, the methods used were almost as torturous.
Ventrone dispatched the rule book when he went about conditioning the Juventus team which reached three European Cup Finals in a row. Deschamps played in every one. Players would be worked as hard the day after an important game as they were in pre-season; they trained with rock music in their ears and some reported that Ventrone took a masochistic pleasure in putting players through the intensive suffering of his regime. The players appeared to benefit. Vialli took on a different, more muscular, form while the slight Alessandro del Piero transformed into a bulkier model.
Many, including coach Marcelo Lippi, were happy for The Marine to take the credit. His methods were tough but beautiful.
They came from football clubs across Europe to study Juve's regimes and the first thing they noticed in the camp on the hill was the security. Armed guards patrolled the grounds and nobody moved anywhere without a specific pass. It makes sense for a football club to guard its secrets of success, but Juventus's measures were extreme. So, too, it would soon be alleged, were their methods.
Next month, the trial of Antonio Giraudo, Juventus' general manager, and Riccardo Agricola, the club doctor, will continue. The pair have admitted supplying players with a cocktail of drugs, including Samyr, an anti-depressant, and Neoton, a drug usually given to strengthen the heart during heart surgery, but they deny doping or 'sporting fraud' as they call it in Italy. While The Marine and his assistant Pintus were bawling the players out in one part of the complex, it appears that chemical warfare was taking place quietly somewhere else.
After previously ignoring two court summonses, at the end of January this year Zinedine Zidane, Deschamps' former team-mate for club and country, gave evidence. He admitted that he had been given drugs - including Neoton, Samyr and Esafosfina, a drug normally given to people with extremely low phospate levels - by Agricola and Giraudo but claimed that he, along with the rest of the players, believed they were taking vitamins.
He had, he said, never encountered anything similar at any other club he played for. There was no suggestion that Zidane had done anything wrong, but Vialli complained that the court case made the players feel as if "we are the ones on trial."
In 1998, Deschamps was one of the first players questioned by police following allegations of doping made by Zdenek Zemen, the former Roma coach. The claims were dismissed as envy on Zemen's part, but when the police uncovered club medical documents, they discovered that a test administered to Deschamps produced a cell reading of 51.2 per cent, high enough to raise suspicions of EPO. If he were a cyclist, Deschamps would not have been allowed to take part in the drugs roadshow called the Tour de France because his reading was too high. Not conclusive of doping, but too high for the Tour De France.
When Vialli returned from Italy with Antonio Pintus, Ventrone's assistant quickly became his own man at Stamford Bridge. There is no suggestion that any of these men were involved in doping and at Chelsea, Pintus quickly asserted that his players would not be taking the legal supplement Creatine.
A year later, Vialli returned from Turin with Didier Deschamps and the player took note of the methods of Pintus - who had quickly acquired his own nickname, 'The Sadist' from the Chelsea players.
Pintus would spend hours in his small flat off the King's Road, poring over graphs and charts as he assessed the fitness patterns of the players.
Deschamps was a failure at Chelsea and after a year at Valencia he retired, having been offered the coaching job at Monaco. The club at that stage was close to bankruptcy and had never recovered spiritually from the corruption that deprived it of French titles in the early 1990s, when Bernard Tapie was buying championships for Marseille.
Vialli's plan for a super-fit Chelsea appeared to be working, but he lost popular players like Gianfranco Zola and, quickly, he lost his job as the malcontents went straight to Ken Bates, and Bates lost patience.
Pintus was isolated by Claudio Ranieri and returned to Italy, joining Udinese. In the summer of 2001 he had the option of returning to England to join Vialli at Watford or moving to Monaco with Deschamps. He chose the latter and their journey began.
In France, they remember Deschamps and Pintus's first pre-season at Monaco. In the austere surroundings of Monaco's camp, which suggests Middlesbrough more than Monte Carlo, the players suffered. Injuries were picked up and Deschamps, who believes through his own experience that hard work is the only route to success, had to change the methods.
A year later, the regime was altered and the players sailed through pre-season. They are now commonly regarded as the fittest team in France.
Deschamps' ambitions will not end there. He may yet succeed Lippi as manager at Juve. "I am inspired by Lippi," he says . . . or he may go to Chelsea, Tottenham, Liverpool or Real Madrid. He may even stay at Monaco.
Wherever he goes, the days under The Marine will go with him. Soon an Italian courtroom will rule on Juve's methods, but those who learned their trade at the feet of Marcello Lippi are unlikely to wait for the verdict of a judge in their eagerness to spread his word.
Champions League Final Monaco v FC Porto Wednesday (7.45) Net2, Sky Sports 1