JOSE MOURINHO, the man for whom all the field’s a stage, has finished Act One of his latest production with a narrow advantage over Chelsea and the fascination now is to see what twists and turns he has planned for what should be a dramatic finale at Stamford Bridge in three weeks’ time.
The Special One is not a man who likes to be upstaged and after masterminding a 2-1 victory over Chelsea in the first leg of this Champions League tie the opportunities for further drama in the second leg are infinite.
The enigmatic Portuguese coach gave little away after he edged the psychological battle at the San Siro, insisting: “I don’t think the game was a question of tactics it was a real Champions League game, a high level game. No surprises. I told my players they are not better than us – they are different but not better.”
There is no doubt the tie now rests precariously on a knife’s edge. Chelsea have a crucial away goal, thanks to Salomon Kalou, but they have also lost goalkeeper Petr Cech to injury and, of course, will start the second leg a goal behind.
So what does Jose do next? It’s a question that will appeal to his sense of drama.
Remember when UEFA banished him to the stands for criticising referee Anders Frisk? He simply hid an earpiece under a woolly hat in the next round and then sneaked into the Chelsea dressing room at Stamford Bridgein a laundry basket.
When Chelsea won the title the first time he threw his medal into the crowd to hog the back-page headlines; and when they won it again he announced in his post-match press conference he had nearly quit twice during the season – and ended up taking the limelight again.
He has not been averse in the past to walking out on the pitch first to take the heat from the crowd – and the attention of the press with it – or to naming his team, and Barcelona’s, in advance of a big Champions League tie.
However big the match, however electric the occasion Mourinho always finds a way to bring it back to him.
It was no surprise, then, to see him walking the stage at Tuesday’s pre-match press conference ahead of a tie that almost the entire football world has been eagerly awaiting since the draw for the last 16 was made.
The English champions against the Italian champions, Mourinho against the club he made and then left in bitter circumstances; Ancelotti against his nemesis and John Terry, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba against the man who made them great. Mourinho played his audience with the deftness of a RADA-trained politician; and of course the same inquisitors that were happy to kill the golden goose when things went wrong for him in England lapped up every word and got all misty eyed about the old days when the Special One was guaranteed back-page copy.
In truth, Mourinho has been playing a role ever since he arrived in Italy, too, and it has been remarkably successful. Instead of being the man everyone loves he is now the one they all hate – the pantomime villain who has an entire country booing but is still the biggest crowd-puller in Serie A.
He has brought an ‘us against the world’ mentality to Inter, alienating the press as well as opposition managers and players but bringing his team ever closer together and it has worked. But unfortunately for him he left that same mentality behind in west London and his former players have never forgotten how to use it.
WITH captain John Terry stripped of the England captaincy for a string of misdemeanours off the pitch and Ashley Cole splashed across every tabloid for cheating on his wife it has been a tough time to be a Chelsea player. But they dug deep against Inter to call on the spirit of Mourinho to take on their former mentor and went home relatively happy.
What Chelsea forgot, unfortunately, was how the Mourinho game plan works and that cost them an early goal in the San Siro which really should have been avoided.
The regular Mourinho game plan in London was to start games quickly, go ahead within the opening 15 minutes and then sit back until half-time to see if the opposition were up for a challenge. A quick burst after the break would make it 2-0 and then Chelsea shut up shop and journalists sat back, too, happy to write their intros with only an hour on the clock.
This match so nearly fitted that exact pattern because Chelsea were caught cold by Inter’s quick start and conceded after only three minutes when Terry was too easily beaten by Milito and Cech was sent the wrong way.
But Chelsea responded well, earning the majority of possession for the rest of the half and hitting the bar through Drogba’s free-kick. There was also a strong penalty claim from Kalou before finally and crucially, they found a way to beat Mourinho at his own game.
Kalou’s equaliser following a quick start to the second half could prove a crucial one in the tie, even though Cambiasso’s swift reply gave the Special One a slight edge in the end.
Perhaps that is why Mourinho was relatively low-key in his post-match responses. No doubt, like all good performers, he is saving the real drama for the final Act.
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