The apprentice takes on the sorcerer in the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium here this evening, although being a special sort of apprentice, as he was to Louis van Gaal at Barcelona, Internazionale’s Jose Mourinho is not exactly trembling at the prospect. It was something of a surprise last night when, presented with a crown by a Russian journalist, he declined to put it on, and handed over his club track-suit top in exchange.
The respect between the two managers was evident as verbal sparring began with Van Gaal, who has revitalised Bayern Munich this season, recalling the first time they met, when Bobby Robson was being pushed upstairs by Barcelona: “ I was impressed. He was already a special one for me then, so I hired him." Mourinho, who gave a virtuoso media briefing in four languages lasting 40 minutes, said of his former mentor: “He certainly left a mark on me and I learnt a lot from him. One of the things was that if you want to get anywhere you have to work hard.”
Van Gaal has previously claimed that the difference between them was that Mourinho’s philosophy was only about winning, whereas his own involved entertaining the public. He emphasised the point yesterday in claiming that since joining Bayern a year ago, he had widened their limited popular appeal with a more positive approach. "I try to play football for the fans,” he said, “and I think that the image of Bayern Munich has changed a bit this year because we play an attractive style. I am pleased the whole country is backing us.”
That would certainly be a first. Mourinho, meanwhile, has upset most of Italy apart from devotees of Inter, who now stand on the verge of becoming European champions for the first time since the equally unloved heyday of catenaccio in 1964 and 1965. With his sense of history and of records – especially his own – he is well aware of how long and how agonising that wait has been. “Inter has a history of success but [it is] very far away,” he said, with the careful addendum that “They couldn’t even reach the quarter-final for many years. It will be special if we do it and I would love to do my little contribution.”
Dismissing all talk of an imminent move to Real Madrid as untimely, he also praised the attitude of a squad unfancied as European champions at the start of the campaign. “We’re a team with stars but they don’t behave like stars. OPT CUT: Everybody wants the team to be the star.”
The Germans must quell the brightest of those stars, Wesley Sneijder, who was outstanding against Chelsea, which may persuade Mourinho to use the same formation, keeping Samuel Eto’o and Goran Pandev wide. Bayern will be without the suspended Franck Ribery, despite appealing to the Court of Arbitration, so Turkey’s Hamit Altintop is a likely starter, with Arjen Robben on the other flank hoping to reprise one of the stunning goals that helped Bayern reach this stage. What seems certain is that to increase Real Madrid’s misery at missing out, five of their former players will be on the pitch lovingly tended by groundsman Paul Burgess (once of Arsenal) for a game refereed by the Yorkshireman Howard Webb.
Bayern will be more aware than most that in Goethe’s original, the sorcerer’s apprentice was guilty of messing up. Mourinho may well confound that notion, as he does so much else. ends