Real's resurgence puts Mourinho in control
After a brief period of vulnerability, Madrid coach's name is ringing round Europe again
Tuesday 21 February 2012
Minus 10 on the pitch; plus 10 in the league – Jose Mourinho would have settled for that in December, when after another Barcelona beating he had been left looking uncharacteristically vulnerable.
Ahead of tonight's sub-zero Champions League first-leg first round knockout encounter with CSKA Moscow, the man who made his Champions League debut 10 years ago this week has everything and everyone right back where he wants them once again.
In Spain, Barcelona are trailing in the distance and their manager, Pep Guardiola, is unsure of his future. Sledgehammer-subtle smoke signals to the Premier League have helped cast Mourinho's shadow over the hot seats at Manchester City and Chelsea. And in Madrid, directors and players are lining up to say they hope he stays.
After the weekend victory over Racing Santander, Mourinho was asked how he felt about his name being sung in three stadiums over the same weekend, with supporters in San Siro, Stamford Bridge and the Bernabeu all ringing out the same chorus.
"I have a lot of feelings for those two clubs [Internazionale and Chelsea] but in the past. It was a good past and it is good that people remember but they have to support the people who are there now," he said. No need to twist the knife on Andre Villas Boas – his posturing for the job has significantly weakened his former back-room staffer's position.
What all the perfect political maneuvering, not to mention scintillating league form, now needs is a convincing disposal of CSKA to send Mourinho into the quarter-finals of a competition that has been his stage for a decade now.
It was in February 2002 that, three weeks into the Porto job, he led them at the Bernabeu against Real Madrid. He was lifting the trophy two years later with the Portuguese club, before moving straight to London for the "nearly years" with Chelsea and then on to Inter, where he won the trophy a second time before again making the final his last match before leaving a club.
He was asked about that pattern of walking out on a Champions League winner, ahead of tonight's game in the Luzhniki Stadium. "I don't leave clubs just because I have won the Champions League," he said. "I left Porto because I thought it was time to move on and I had already decided to leave Inter before we reached the final."
Real arrived in Moscow at 11.30 local time on Sunday night, an extra day before kick-off, in an attempt to help acclimatise. Mourinho was last night playing down the extent to which the extra time might help his side combat the conditions.
He said: "We have to be stronger than the conditions. A synthetic surface is not the same as a natural surface and -15C is not the same as 10C. We have not been able to adapt to the conditions in such a short time but our mentality is strong. We have to get the win or even a draw, even a scoreless draw, because what counts is not the result but going through over the two legs. They are a difficult side to play against. They are tactically very strong and perfectly adapted to the conditions and the playing surface."
Real Madrid have left an injured pair, midfielder Lassana Diarra and winger Angel Di Maria, in Spain but are otherwise at full strength. And their manager knows what it is like to beat CSKA. His Chelsea beat them twice in 2004-05 and his Inter side knocked them out in 2009-10, en route to winning the final – a nod to destiny, not lost on Real fans hoping for their club's 10th European Cup success.
CSKA Moscow v Real Madrid kicks off at 5pm today (Sky Sports 2)
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