All eyes on Mourinho

Facing former club Chelsea offers Internazionale's manager a perfect chance to silence his critics in Italy and brings him back to the place he truly belongs – the centre of attention
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The Independent Online

It is the occasion when Jose Mourinho will be reacquainted once again with the English experience he so cherished and so clearly misses. The last time the Portuguese had a large clutch of British journalists in attendance, as he will ahead of the first leg of Internazionale's Champions League tie with Chelsea, was at Old Trafford last March, when he barely sought to disguise how much he coveted a return to the Premier League. "In Italy, there is a bit of a drama in difficult moments," Mourinho said that afternoon. "Football [in Britain] is never drama. It is always passion and pleasure." Of Old Trafford, he said: "It looks like home."

Expect more of the same at Stamford Bridge in a few weeks – "my Chelsea" is how Mourinho described Carlo Ancelotti's side when he was present to see them beat Fulham at the turn of the year – but his contrasting approaches to the English and Italian writing contingents will also be something to behold. Just as Sir Alex Ferguson, whose job Mourinho covets, has so divorced himself from the British press corps that his most articulate answers are reserved for the continentals at Champions League press conferences, Mourinho effectively blanked the Italian journalists during that pre-match discussion at Old Trafford, his diffidence with them offering proof of a now tortured and fractious relationship.

The froideur Mourinho feels for his current place of work is a curious one, given his success there. The Special One has maintained the extraordinarily special record of not having lost a home league game since his days managing Porto in February 2002 and at Inter he is heading for back-to-back scudetti, to match his achievement in west London. But while British football viewed the controversies he stoked and the conspiracies he discerned with a degree of fondness and generally marvelled at the colour he brought to the domestic game, the Italians have always viewed him with suspicion and never with wonderment.

"You have to remember that we are not short of top managers. We don't need a foreigner showing us how to be great, teaching us how to cook pasta," was the way one seasoned Italian observer put it yesterday and his words show why Mourinho has not fitted into Italian football. The game there has far more confidence in the ability of its own countrymen to manage than the English sport. Marcello Lippi, after all, makes Italy the reigning world champions while no fewer than 10 Serie A clubs are managed by Italians. The nation was also never likely to find a volcanic Latin temperament like Mourinho's so curious. "We are Latins. We know Latins," the same observer states. "Mourinho is a lot of things to Italy but a novelty is not one of them."

All told, it has made for a tenure of ever-decreasing circles at San Siro, with Mourinho less than enchanted with the place he occupies, perpetuating the conspiracy theories the Premier League often tolerated and causing offence with many of them. Attacks on Roma's Claudio Ranieri and Sampdoria's Luigi del Neri have been viewed as affronts to the nation's powers of coaching. There have been occasional, insensitive reminders to the nation of the Calciopoli scandal. And when the Juventus executive Roberto Bettega told Mourinho to halt his abuse of referees, he characterised the nation as one of "ostriches, digging our head in the sand. Everybody talks about referees."

The handcuff gesture Mourinho made towards a TV camera during the goalless draw with Sampdoria on Saturday – suggesting that officials were deliberately trying to shackle Inter – earned him a three-match touchline ban yesterday. Mourinho also refused to sanction any discussion with the media of that game, in which Ivan Cordoba and Walter Samuel were dismissed, prompting the Milan chief executive, Adriano Galliani, to demand yesterday that Mourinho get a grip of himself. Tuttosport has suggested that referees believe Mourinho is unwittingly inciting crowd violence with his criticism.

Mourinho has his devotees as well as his detractors, dividing opinion just he always has done, but the question for Chelsea as they fly out today is whether the Portuguese was right when he declared on the eve of the Sampdoria game that "we now have a better Inter" than the one which was dismissed by Ferguson's side at the same stage last season.

Yes, Inter probably are better than a year ago, with signings such as Wesley Sneijder from Real Madrid and Lucio from Bayern Munich the most compelling evidence. As ever, Mourinho's side is not one to quicken the pulse but the back four is tough and resilient, while Mourinho's decision to sell Zlatan Ibrahimovic and use the proceeds on Sneijder, Samuel Eto'o and Diego Milito has given the side more flair.

Mourinho's detractors will point to the fact that luck has been with him in Italy as it was in west London. Just as he rode in on Roman Abramovich's initial flush of enthusiasm at Stamford Bridge, so he happens to find himself with money to spend – Inter's proprietors, the Moratti family, refine 80 per cent of petrol used in Italy – at a time when most other elite Serie A sides are impoverished. So while his new recruits are comfortably good enough to maintain Inter's position as Italian champions, the fascinating issue is whether he can begin to take them somewhere in Europe. Inter have only reached the second knockout round under his leadership and with no improvement on that Massimo Moratti may want his manager to go.

If Moratti does bid Mourinho goodbye, the prospect of a journey back to England is more limited than many seem to believe. Manchester City will need evidence that the club is heading backwards before dispensing with Roberto Mancini, while Liverpool – the other club with whom Mourinho is repeatedly linked – are in such financial straits that they are unlikely to be able to afford him.

That makes the prospect of Mourinho staying put this summer a genuine one, with no better way of demonstrating that he can manage like a true Italian than claiming a first major scalp for Serie A since Milan did for United and Liverpool to win the tournament three years ago.

There will certainly be no media blackout if Inter take a stride toward that outcome, and if they fall short, there will be strong words about Chelsea and Ancelotti, the man Mourinho recently declared to be "no friend of mine". Tomorrow's football may or may not be captivating but there are very few uncertainties about the likely shape of events in the press room.

Jose's record

*Chelsea trophies

Premier League 2004-05, 2005-06

League Cup 2005, 2007 FA Cup 2007

*Internazionale

Serie A 2008-09

*Mourinho has lost three of 29 home Champions League games, one each with Porto, Chelsea and Inter. Those defeats came against Real Madrid, Barcelona and Panathinaikos.

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