Mourinho's crowning moment
Special One laps up Real Madrid speculation as Inter bid to seal unique treble
THIS was not a press conference at the Bernabeu last night, this was a coronation.
Jose Mourinho was presented with a plastic crown, a book, countless compliments, endless opportunities to wax lyrical about himself and, a moment that really took the biscuit, two packets of his beloved Custard Creams flown out especially for the Special One from London. He may even be presented as Real Madrid coach in the same room next week.
Only Mourinho could eclipse a Champions League final, the Inter Milan manager holding court at his proposed new home and receiving his subjects like some medieval potentate. Sitting on a dais, Mourinho smiled and reminisced, joked and pontificated, all the while sounding distinctly like a man hurtling towards a career crossroads.
Everyone, and particularly the Spanish, wanted to know about his future, about whether this Galactico amongst coaches would be experiencing a new life after the final.
"After the game it will be a new life for everyone, not just me,'' Mourinho replied. "Everyone will be going to the World Cup, to holidays on the beach, in the mountains or the countryside.
"Until the final whistle we cannot think about it. I cannot say after the match, maybe in three or four days.
"Real Madrid seem to have a new project now and need a new manager.''
Despite his desire to focus on the Champions League final, an event he hailed as "the El Dorado of football'', this coaching conquistador seemed a man who knew he had reached the end of one journey and was about to embark on another adventure, even slipping into reflective mood, particularly when mulling over Inter's defeat of his old Chelsea team on the road to the Bernabeu.
"At Stamford Bridge I cried because I realised my friends were out of the competition,'' said Mourinho.
"I have so many friends at Chelsea that I feel I still belong a little bit to them, and they belong a little bit to me. It was an important match for Inter, but I felt emotionally difficult for me.
"I've learnt everywhere I've been, in Italy, England and Portugal, and all these experiences are very important. If anyone asked my advice I would say to them, don't spend your entire career in one country.
"It's really beautiful to move around, to get experience of different cultures and countries. It enriches the coach and really helps them to become better. I would love to work in Spain and then go back to England.''
Madrid then Manchester United? Few would be surprised. Mourinho has always talked respectfully of Alex Ferguson and his admiration for United, although he would need to play a more expansive game were he to take the helm at Old Trafford. Real Madrid's supporters, many of whom remain sceptical, will make a similar demand.
He seemed to be analysing his career, joining in the great debate of what made him tick.
"Somebody said that wherever there's a football pitch, players and a couple of balls I would be happy. I agree. As long as I have a team, good working conditions with clear-cut objectives I'll be happy to work as a coach.
"I'd like to coach in Spain, go back to the UK and work in Portugal. In the coming years I don't think I'll struggle to find work.''
Never the most modest of life's citizens, Mourinho's mind did glide back to his early days, working under Louis van Gaal at Barcelona.
"We lived very close together, my home was 15 metres from his, and we worked 24 hours a day, seven days a week,'' said Mourinho of Bayern's manager. "We had a very good relationship and he left a mark on me. I used to work like a beast, but I was happy to do so. I learned a lot from him. There will be a big hug before the match and a big hug after the match.''
When it comes to self-belief, Mourinho is joined on the pedestal by Van Gaal. The king of the put-down, Bayern's manager dealt skilfully with any attempt to stir tension between him and Mourinho. Asked whether Mourinho was the best coach of his generation, Van Gaal flicked the question away.
"He's 10 years younger than me so yes he is -- for his generation.
"What I learned from the first time I met Jose was that he was a special one. I remember first meeting with Bobby Robson and President Nunez and I was told I would be manager. Mourinho thought he'd been promised the youth academy. Nunez only spoke to Robson not Mourinho. He was so angry, he shouted and shouted so much I was impressed. On that day he was a special one so I hired him.
"He was an excellent co-trainer, a substitute coach. He carried out all the analysis for Barcelona. He studied all the opponents. I even let him coach matches because I was convinced he had specific qualities. Little did I know he would be such a great coach. He was an excellent coach then but now he's one of the best in the world.''
Van Gaal watched and admired the way Mourinho outwitted Carlo Ancelotti and Pep Guardiola. Mourinho really attacked Chelsea at the Bridge and flooded midfield and defence to frustrate Barcelona at the Nou Camp.
"A coach always has to find a way to win and Mourinho does,'' said Van Gaal.
"Tactically he's good but you also have to convince your players and that's part of the art of the coach. That's why Jose's very good.''
The final is being billed, slightly one-dimensionally, as Van Gaal's attack versus Mourinho's defence.
"My philosophy is to attack, always attack,'' said Van Gaal. "Mourinho is more defensive, that's his tactic. I believe you should always entertain the public.
"But I still don't believe we are a team of the highest level -- Barcelona, Chelsea and Manchester United are the three best teams in Europe -- but we can win. Teams from a lower level can be lucky.''
For all Bayern's occasional barbs about Inter's defensive nature, the Italians boast Wesley Sneijder, who can wreak damage roaming about in the hole.
"Wesley is a world-class player and can become one of the best in the world,'' said Mark van Bommel, Bayern's captain, who knows his Dutch compatriot well.
Bayern, though, also have a Dutchman capable of devastating goals, as United discovered.
"I am glad Arjen Robben is playing for us,'' said Van Bommel of the former Real Madrid attacker. "I don't know why Madrid didn't want him. He's very important for us. I love having him here.''
Bayern promised to attack.
"We are a team who like to play full throttle,'' said midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger. "We want to show off and showcase our talents.''
Van Bommel and Schweinsteiger will patrol the central area where Sneijder does his high-speed scheming and their confrontation could decide the match.
So much rests on tonight. Either Mourinho, a winner with Porto in 2004, or Van Gaal, who bestrode Europe with Ajax in 1995, will join Ernst Happel (Feyenoord 1970 and Hamburg 1983) and Ottmar Hitzfeld (Borussia Dortmund 1997 and Bayern 2001) in the exclusive coaches' club of winning the European Cup/Champions League with two clubs.
"For sure a third man will be in that group, but hopefully we will carry on and the one that doesn't do it will do it later,'' said Mourinho, who cannot wait for kick-off.
"I will wake up thinking about winning the Champions League. My heartbeat will beat a bit faster, my body temperature will go up a little bit. During the match I'll feel like I'm in my natural habitat. Some people want me to win, some people want me to lose. If people want to me on my side in this journey then so be it.''
Blessed with a good keeper in Julio Cesar and such an obdurate defence, a tireless midfield in players like Esteban Cambiasso and creative types in Sneijder, Mourinho could become that Third Man tonight. (© Daily Telegraph, London)