Have Inter found their billion-euro mastermind?

Mourinho has finally won over the blue and black half of Milan as his club sense a glorious end to a costly 15-year quest.
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The Independent Football

At long last, this is amore. For a man who claims to be unloved in Italy there was a lot of it about at Malpensa airport, some 20 miles to the north-west of Milan, in the early hours of yesterday morning.

When Internazionale's players filed into arrivals shortly before 3am an estimated 5,000 blue-and-black festooned supporters were there to offer their acclaim, but their attentions soon became focused on one man. It was not long before Jose Mourinho was where he most likes to be.

He had called – declaring post-match that a welcome party should assemble – and they had come. "I thought I had reached the height of emotion with Chelsea's fans," he pronounced yesterday after a few hours' rest, "but Inter's supporters are even better. I'm in love with Inter and these fans, not Italian football – I respect it, but I don't love it."

On a spring morning, Italy, for a change, offered him unrequited love – "The new great tactician of a new great Inter" – and the adoration criss-crossed the Mediterranean. In Madrid, where Mourinho and his team will return next month for the Champions League final against Bayern Munich, Barcelona's great Catalan sporting cathedral was gleefully renamed "Camp Mou" and Mourinho anointed its king. "We still haven't won anything yet," pointed out Maicon, Inter's Brazilian defender, but it fell on deaf ears. It is carnival time in the blue half of Milan.

It may be galling for the other side of the city – Silvio Berlusconi's apparent preparation to remove Leonardo, his coach, is the classic foot-stamping reaction of a seriously green-eyed red-and-black camp – but these are the best of times for close on half a century for the Nerazzurri. Five more wins this season and they will be the best times ever with three trophies to place in the club's cabinet. On Sunday they go to Rome to play Lazio defending – which is, of course, what Inter do best – a two-point lead on Roma (Lazio share the same dilemma with Liverpool this weekend), before meeting Roma in the Italian Cup final on Wednesday. But it is the game in three weeks' time that will define Inter's season, and Mourinho's place in Italy.

The European Cup has been the all-consuming goal of Massimo Moratti since he took on the presidency in 1995. It was under the stewardship of his father, Angelo, that Inter enjoyed their heyday, winning successive European Cups in 1964 and 1965. There was another visit to the final in 1972 – a defeat by Johan Cruyff's Ajax – but since then nothing. Moratti, an oil billionaire, has funded repeated lavish sprees that have bought the likes of Christian Vieiri, Ronaldo, Hernan Crespo, Roberto Baggio and Juan Sebastian Veron to San Siro, recruits that have not always provided value for an awful lot of his money. He is now one modest buy away from reaching the one billion euro mark.

Under his father it was Helenio Herrera who provided the trophies. He may have been the son of a Spanish anarchist, but Herrera's teams were the very model of tight-knit conformity and he set the benchmark that a succession of coaches have failed to reach. They went 15 years without even a Scudetto – while the hated Rossoneri neighbours strutted across the grandest stages – until Roberto Mancini broke the drought four years ago when Juventus were stripped of the title after the Calciopoli scandal. But Mancini was moved on as the Champions League remained out of reach. Until Mourinho.

In year one the Portuguese won the Scudetto – now the basic requirement for an Inter coach – but he has never taken to Italy like he did to England, nor Italy to him. "I don't like it and it doesn't like me," he said recently of Italian football. He does not talk to the Italian media outside the compulsory media demands of the Champions League, has rowed with fellow coaches, notably Roma's Claudio Ranieri, and recently served a touchline ban after making a handcuff gesture following the dismissal of two of his players against Sampdoria.

"It's nice to see him showing some joy," said Moratti. "A large part of this is due to him. He brought us here, now let's see how he finishes it."

The finish is all important but the comparisons with Herrera, who also had two spells in charge of Barcelona – a route Mourinho acknowledged yesterday that he will never be given the chance to take – are inevitable and Moratti is better placed than most to make them. His coach, he said, is making him feel young again, reminding him of the days when he would accompany his father and brothers to San Siro.

"Mourinho and Herrera? It is a natural comparison," said Moratti "They have a similar character; great workers, great professionals, courageous and charismatic. I see them as very similar. There's 40 years between them but they're very similar. Both great workers, both very finicky but also professional. And they both show a lot of charisma toward the players."

Herrera was renown as an early master of mind games. Mourinho too is a "second-rate psychologist", to borrow from Joan Laporta, Barça's president. "With 10 our team plays better than 11," was one of Herrera's mantras and it applied to Mourinho's "heroic lions" on Wednesday night as much as it has to any Inter side. "It's difficult to find a defect on Mourinho," said Moratti. "Perhaps he is a little introverted but he is marvellous."

Introversion is not the first word that comes to mind when considering a man who tagged himself "The Special One", but he is a marvel of modern football. Only two coaches – Ernst Happel with Feyenoord and Hamburg and Ottmar Hitzfeld with Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich – have lifted the European Cup with different clubs. Mourinho left immediately after winning with Porto in 2004 and there seems every chance he will repeat the trick in the Bernabeu next month.

If he does he may not have far to go. Schadenfreude aside, there is another reason why the Madrid press have fallen for Mourinho. They want a new coach for Real and football's Don Juan is the object of their affection – which is just the way Mourinho likes it.

The Views of the World

*Marca (Spain): Mou, you have earned it. A place in the final, and your signing for Madrid.

*La Repubblica (Italy): The hero is Jose. Never before was he so special, with one of the most exceptional defensive displays ever seen at that level.

*El Mundo (Spain): For Barça, the miracle of Stamford Bridge could not be re-lived. Inter's solid defence only allowed the rival to stage an attempted comeback in the final seven minutes.

*Corriere dello Sport (Italy): They go down to 10, resist without trembling to eliminate a great Barcelona.