Mourinho stakes his reputation on return

Troubled former Chelsea manager plots progress while seeking return to England
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The Independent Football

When Jose Mourinho was asked last week about the possibility of facing Chelsea in the Champions League it was pointed out to him that it was Chelsea who had made his reputation. "I don't know whether it was Chelsea who made my reputation," Mourinho mused, "or me who made Chelsea's reputation."

Now that Chelsea have drawn Mourinho's Internazionale in yesterday's Champions League first knockout round we will get to see if the monster that Jose created has finally outgrown its master. So much has changed since Mourinho left the club in September 2007. But when he returns to Stamford Bridge on 16 March for the second leg of Inter's tie against Chelsea, Mourinho will probably regard himself as having a greater affinity with the club with whom he won two Premier League titles than the one he now coaches.

Given the rancorous nature of his sacking at Chelsea – the non-existent relationship with their owner Roman Abramovich and the row with John Terry that hastened his exit – that seems incredible. But Mourinho's catastrophic falling out of love with Italian football, principally the Italian press, now causes him to reminisce regularly about the good old days spent with Chelsea in English football.

When Mourinho left he blew a hole in the club that has never quite been filled. It was always anticipated that his inevitable return one day as manager of an opposing team would be the moment he took revenge on Abramovich for replacing him with the unremarkable Avram Grant. But in two years life has shifted, Mourinho has a whole new set of enemies and a suitcase full of new problems. He will probably greet Abramovich like a long-lost friend.

Mourinho's revisionist view of his life in England has begun with his Inter players who he regularly blames for falling short of the standards of his stars at Stamford Bridge. He complained recently that certain Inter players had problems coping with three games in a week, adding that "Frank Lampard got angry if I rested him for a game against a third division team or a friendly."

Then there is the Italian press with whom Mourinho had his most famous bust-up last week when he called Andrea Ramazotti of the Corriere dello Sport a "son of a bitch" for speaking to Inter players around the team bus. Mourinho has since suggested that Ramazotti buy him lunch in return for having been made famous by the incident. He said that the only Ramazotti anyone knew in Italy before last week was Eros Ramazotti, a naff soft rock Italian pop star, the kind Mourinho probably listens to on his car stereo.

Anyone who thinks that Mourinho had a painless relationship with the English press is living in cloud cuckoo land. Although there were many times when he rose to the challenge of providing some memorable words he could be extremely petulant. He once refused to take questions from a reporter who, having previously worked for the London Evening Standard, Mourinho believed should have been more supportive of Chelsea.

There was plenty of that nonsense from Mourinho who, by the end of his three years and four months in charge had grown tired of having to live up to his reputation as king of the one-liners. The more Chelsea struggled, the less we saw of him on Fridays before games.

In Italy, that process seems to have happened on fast-forward. Even in a country where strangulation by tactics is venerated, Mourinho's Inter team, top of Serie A and five points clear of Milan, are considered boring and over-reliant on the creativity of Wesley Sneijder. They are regarded as a physical team, who struggle without Sneijder, to bring the strikers Samuel Eto'o and Diego Milito into the game.

There is also serious evidence that Mourinho is losing the calm, pre-meditated style that was made so effective when he was at his devious best. In the build up to Inter's game against Juventus this month he warned his young star Mario Balotelli against being wound up by Juve's racist fans and then was subsequently sent to the stands himself after 20 minutes for sarcastically clapping the referee.

There are suggestions that after Inter's 2-0 defeat to Barça in the Nou Camp last month, the president Massimo Moratti came to the dressing room to talk to the manager and players. Life is starting to get more than a little uncomfortable for Mourinho in Italy.

Mourinho will regard the Chelsea tie in February and March as not simply a chance to achieve a famous victory – and his Inter definitely start as underdogs – but to remind English football that he is still around, still talented, and still available.

At Stamford Bridge, Mourinho will get a fabulous reception and, in fairness, the legacy of the pre-recession days when he spent Abramovich's money like a drunken sailor is all over the team. Didier Drogba, Michael Essien, Ricardo Carvalho, Ashley Cole and Michael Ballack are all still mainstays of the side. Even Florent Malouda, Mourinho's last big signing, has come good in the end.

The nature of his relationship with Carlo Ancelotti, whom he taunted as "zero titoli" – no trophies – last season when the current Chelsea manager was Milan coach, will also add to the tension around the game. Mourinho will relish lapping up the acclaim of the Chelsea supporters, who, with the exception of Guus Hiddink at Wembley in May, have been reluctant to embrace any subsequent managers.

Ancelotti refused to get involved yesterday when it came to Mourinho. "I like him like as a coach," he said, convincing no-one. "He's a fantastic coach. He won everywhere he has coached. But I'm not able to discuss his character. That's not a problem for me." It is a measure of how unsure Mourinho is of his strategy for this game that he refused even to discuss the Champions League draw yesterday.

As ever with Mourinho, this game will be about him – however much he protests otherwise. It will be about his Chelsea, his Inter and, ultimately, his future. Manchester City, Liverpool, even Manchester United are all jobs that could arguably become available in the next two months to two years and Mourinho will want to be right at the head of the queue.

An emotional night at Stamford Bridge reminding everyone why he rates himself so highly will be exactly what he had in mind.

'He thinks everyone else is stupid' - Mourinho vs Ancelotti

Mourinho on Ancelotti

*Ancelotti is a great coach and knows how to play around with words, but he thinks everyone else is stupid.

February 2009

*When I mentioned coaches that lose their own dignity, what I wanted to state is that while I choose the team that goes out on the pitch, other coaches don't do that, and in the world of football it's full of them. If anyone told me what to do with my line-up, the next day my office would be empty – I'd have my suitcases packed.

Saying Berlusconi, the Milan owner, picked team, not Ancelotti. March 2009

*I don't know [a Special One] either, but I do know a coach who won two consecutive titles with Chelsea after 50 years without winning it.

Reaction to Ancelotti saying he didn't know the "Special One". July 2009

*He may have beaten my record of opening victories in the League with Chelsea, but he can never beat winning the title after a 55-year wait.

September 2009 Ancelotti on Mourinho

Ancelotti on Mourinho

*I admire Mourinho for his frankness, his ability to be straight, whereas I would try to buy time sometimes.

January 2008

*If I ran things like Mourinho, I wouldn't have anyone at training.

November 2008

*When people describe Mourinho they always refer to him as a "communicator" but that part of his personality frankly bores me, because he often says pointless things.

March 2009

*If he meant me, then I can only say with Berlusconi as coach I won two Champions League trophies as a player and two as his assistant manager. Reaction to Mourinho saying Berlusconi picks Milan's team.

March 2009

*I don't know any "Special One". I do not want to make comparisons with other coaches. I only want to do it my way.

July 2009 (after being asked about the "Special One")

*If Mourinho is Jesus, I am certainly not one of his apostles. Reaction to Mourinho comparing himself to Jesus.

October, 2009