Quoting Albert Einstein, accusing Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola of criticising referees even when they get decisions right, and then calming euphoria among his own supporters by saying he had "no magic potion" to stop Barcelona: Jose Mourinho was on top form yesterday as he prepared for tonight's Champions League semi-final first leg at the Bernabeu.
Guardiola was left to react angrily to Mourinho's mind games and count his available players as injuries left him with just two fully fit defenders and without midfielder Andres Iniesta.
"Einstein wasn't stupid," said Mourinho, beaming with an even greater self-confidence having won his first trophy as Real manager last week. "He said that the one force greater than atomic power was willpower. We have worked tremendously hard to reach this position. I don't have a magic potion to stop Barcelona. I am the same coach who lost 5-0 to them last November, but we have worked extremely hard."
It was Mourinho at his aggressive best, with the former Chelsea coach perhaps sensing his Barcelona counterpart is not too far away from having a "Kevin Keegan moment". Mourinho and Guardiola have engaged in an on-off psychological war all season and after the weekend's league matches there were signs that, much as Sir Alex Ferguson did to Keegan in 1996, Mourinho is beginning to grind his opponent down.
"Mourinho will be happy," said Guardiola at the weekend when asked about plans to hand officiating duties for tonight's game to the Real manager's fellow Portuguese Pedro Proenca. Uefa eventually decided not to go with Proenca and selected Germany's Wolfgang Stark instead. However, Mourinho used the controversy to launch his most direct attack so far on Guardiola, who had earlier criticised the decision to rule out a Barça goal in last week's Copa del Rey final against Real despite replays showing scorer Pedro was indeed offside.
Mourinho said: "We seem to be starting a new era. Until now we have two groups of coaches. One very small group who never talk about referees and one much bigger group, of which I am part, who talk about referees when it feels that a wrong decision has been made. But now we have a third group with only Guardiola in it, of coaches who criticise a referee for getting a decision right.
"I have never seen anything like it. He played against one less in the match with Inter last season and then again in the match against Arsenal [this season]. Now in the Cup final, when the referee has a very difficult decision to make, and he gets it right, he criticises it."
Guardiola responded with controlled rage to Mourinho's open criticism saying: "I have not reacted before but on this occasion he has called me by name. I'm going to call him Jose since he calls me Pep. We will meet on the pitch tomorrow; off the pitch he has already beaten me. I cannot play these games. If Barcelona want someone who can compete with these kind of games then they need another type of manager. I could come up with a list of complaints but we would be here for ever. I don't have secretaries working for me. Here Mourinho is lord of the manor. He is the boss in this press room."
Mourinho has played Barcelona 10 times and on only four occasions has his team reached the end of the game with 11 men. "All I hope is that the match official is a good referee and a lucky one, because he will need a little bit of luck as well," he said.
Asked if he thought Guardiola was more a friend of the referee than himself, Mourinho said he only had one referee who was his friend, Mark Halsey, who fought cancer to return to refereeing last year but who, Mourinho added, "will be retired before I go back to England so it will not be a problem to be friends with him".
Guardiola's failure to steer clear of the Spanish refereeing debate – which is magnified whenever Real and Barça face each other – is an indication that it is now the Catalans who need a distraction, not Real.
For much of the season, Mourinho's referee rants have been seen as a tactic to mask his team's shortcomings. Barcelona's coach now needs a decoy as he plays his third Champions League semi-final in three years and his second against Mourinho, but with a threadbare squad boasting only two fully fit defenders – Gerard Pique and Dani Alves. Carles Puyol has come through his last two training sessions without any reaction to a hamstring injury and could start, but he has not played 90 minutes since January, spending almost three months out with tendinitis.
If he starts it could be at left-back because Guardiola has all three options for that position unavailable. Eric Abidal is still absent, Adriano is out for the season and third-choice Maxwell also misses the game.
If Puyol slots in at left-back, Javier Mascherano will continue in the centre of defence alongside Pique, who admitted this week what a massive influence Puyol is alongside him. "I told him how much I've missed him during the game he came back in," said Pique. "And he started shouting back at me to shut up and concentrate. That is what he is like."
Puyol's authority, and understanding with his Spain team-mate have all been sorely missed, never more so than in the Cup final that Barcelona lost to Cristiano Ronaldo's first goal in open play against them last week.
Ronaldo re-enters his personal duel with Lionel Messi full of confidence while Messi is still looking for his first goal in a Champions League semi-final. He failed to score against Manchester United in 2008, against Chelsea in 2009 and again drew a blank against Internazionale last year.
He has scored 50 goals this season, however, and looks like outscoring 42-goal Ronaldo, although it is the latter who Real fans now believe will be at Wembley for the final in May.
A prickly Guardiola said at the weekend: "They are the favourites now; I keep reading that they are already in the final." But Mourinho did his best yesterday to prevent any of that typical Madrid over-confidence affecting his players. "There are no favourites in semi-finals," he said. "Maybe after the first leg we can talk about one team having a slight advantage but before the first leg, no way."
If Mourinho's record in knockout competitions is any gauge of how this semi-final will go then maybe Real should be slight favourites. He has won 53 of 64 such encounters. He was asked last night if he would leave the club if he won them their 10th European Cup, just as he walked away from Inter and Porto after successful finals. "I have not won it yet," he said, "let's answer that question first."Reuse content