Jose Mourinho and his Internazionale midfielder Thiago Motta reopened old wounds with Barcelona ahead of tonight's Champions League semi-final second leg when Motta labelled Barça players "divers" and his coach said Inter were chasing a "dream" that was purer than the European champions' "anti-Real Madrid obsession".
Mourinho famously accused Lionel Messi of play-acting when as Chelsea manager he faced Barcelona in February 2006. This time it was one of his players making the "theatrical" charge as the Portuguese contented himself with attacking Barça's preoccupation with reaching the final because it is being played in Madrid.
There was bad feeling at San Siro in the first leg last week, when Inter won 3-1, as the Barcelona midfielder Xavi confronted Mourinho in the tunnel after the game and, after the Italian side's third goal had looked offside, accused the Portuguese referee Olegario Benquerenca of bias towards his compatriot. Mourinho responded by referring Xavi to the refereeing in last season's Champions League semi-final at Stamford Bridge, when Chelsea were refused what they felt were several certain penalties and Barça went through with a late goal, and it seems that ill feeling will continue into tonight's second leg.
Yesterday, Motta was asked about the how Inter would look to help the match officials and he said: "We are used to seeing Barcelona players throwing themselves down and I just hope that both ourselves and Barcelona can help the referee do his job."
Asked to clarify his comments, he said he had respect for Barcelona but added: "The important thing is that the game is fair and nobody tries to cheat anyone." Mourinho followed up by saying: "We had a meeting today and I want to support the work of the referee and only be worried about the football. If Barcelona players want to do the same then it will be easy for the referee."
The Inter coach, under the watching eye of his club bodyguard, who he insisted always accompanied him and had not been drafted in especially for his visit to the Nou Camp, then touched another Barça nerve – Real Madrid.
Playing himself even more into the hearts of his potential employers next season, he said: "For Barcelona it is not a dream to reach the final, it is an obsession and there is a difference. A dream is more pure than an obsession."
Barcelona have launched an extraordinary campaign this week in an attempt to galvanise their sometimes passive fans with calls for them to fill the ground an hour before kick-off to intimidate Mourinho's side, so desperate are they not to miss out on the chance to win the final in Real's Bernabeu Stadium.
Mourinho said: "Barcelona reached the final in Paris and that was their dream and they reached the final in Rome and that was their dream but now it is not a dream for them. The dream is gone and this is an obsession and the obsession is called Madrid and the Santiago Bernabeu."
It was classic Mourinho, who, having seen his side's contest with Barça branded in the Catalan press as "the brute up against the beauty" turned things on their head by making Inter's charge to the final look like a romantic quest alongside Barcelona's ugly compulsion to get one over on their La Liga rivals.
"I was here in 1997 as a translator in the [Spanish] cup final at the Santiago Bernabeu, I felt what it was like," he added. "I understood the significance of that match. It was as if they had won the World Cup. To have the Barcelona anthem at the Bernabeu was something big for the club and for the Catalans so that's why I say that the final at the Bernabeu now is an obsession.
"The only thing this match means to me is that Inter can reach their dream, I can't say it's my dream because I won the Champions League before."
Internazionale tonight face Messi – a player who has scored 40 goals this season but has never netted against Mourinho's teams in six attempts. Asked if he could take the credit for Messi's failures, he said: "If I had been literally on the pitch against him it would be 51-0 and I would not even touch the ball.
"I have to give all the credit to my players. Perhaps tonight he will score four as he did against Arsenal and then all this talk will look ridiculous. We will work hard and press him but he is capable of anything."
Mourinho hinted that he would be able to play the midfielder Wesley Sneijder, who has been struggling with a thigh injury, then proceeded to reel off his 11 starters. "We will not change the team too much. There will be no big surprises," he said.
The charm offensive might have been aimed more at Real than Barcelona but he also recalled some fond memories of the club where he started his coaching career in 1996. "I owe a lot to Bobby Robson because he gave me the chance to work in Barcelona and also to Louis van Gaal, who wanted me to stay, and I owe a lot to the presidents of the club and to every person who I worked with while I was here."
If Inter clear the final hurdle to the final on 22 May they will have done so the hard way. "Chelsea [in the last 16] was a hungry candidate because of the way they were knocked out last season and then we have had to play four times against the European Champions," Mourinho said.
Before he disappeared stage right to the door opened by that imposing minder, his discourse inevitably returned to the subject of the referee as he denied stories that he part-owned a restaurant in Porto with the Portuguese match official from the first leg. "I thought it was meant to be Oslo" he joked. "I dedicate myself so much to what I do as a coach I have no time for business outside of football."