James Lawton: Mourinho calls the shots to make Italy think again about his style

Even Jose Mourinho has rarely known a night like this, one in which not only a second Champions League title but perhaps even the keys of European football may have been at least halfway into his grasp.

If Mourinho had some substantial gifts from his Portuguese compatriot referee, including a third goal that was plainly offside, there was no questioning that he had produced from his Internazionale a magnificent response to the challenge of facing the reigning champions of Europe, a team with the potential, some of us may still believe, to touch new levels of excellence.

His reward, surely, is to place himself on the top of most people's list of desired football leadership.

First, though, there was the dream, then the reality. The dream was that Barcelona would do in San Siro what they did at the Emirates a few weeks ago and play football from another planet.

The reality kicked in when Mourinho reminded us again that he hates to appear in other people's fantasies or, as he once put it so pithily, anybody's movie but his own. It certainly looked like another blockbuster from rival director Pep Guardiola when a sudden, silky burst from Barça, and some sub-standard defending from Internazionale's Brazilian stalwart Maicon, allowed Pedro Rodriguez to stroke home a 19th-minute goal for the champions.

Mourinho, though, believes he has equipped his team to reject evidence of superior all-around ability in their opponents. They did that at Stamford Bridge in the outstanding result of this season's Champions League so far and in 11 minutes they suggested they might just be capable of doing it again, this time against a team of such mesmerising skill that being champions of Europe has sometimes seemed like the least of their status.

The suggestion was made by Wesley Sneijder's equaliser and then the confirmation came like claps of thunder when first Maicon, then Diego Milito redeemed themselves spectacularly early in the second half, Maicon for his light-headed neglect of duty in defence, Milito for his profligacy in front of Barcelona's goal.

Their goals landed like a heavyweight's fists on Barça, whose response to their first setback, Sneijder's cool plundering of a cluttered defence, had been little short of serene. At 1-1 Barcelona played the ball to each other as though they had all the time and the space in the world. You could just imagine Guardiola's cool half-time advice that his men were merely required to return to some of the certainties that had carried them on a run of 25 undefeated games and produced the sublime break-out against Arsenal in the Nou Camp earlier this month.

The trouble was that the author of that epic was no longer an undisputed master of every aspect of football in-fighting at the highest level. Inevitably, Lionel Messi produced moments of brilliance, and the smoothness of his control and passing mostly remained as classical as ever, but this time he was no longer a master of sorcery. His threat hardly disappeared but on too many occasions it fell victim to the pressure applied by Mourinho's men.

Pressure, exerted with a relentless, overwhelming intensity of technique and application, is supposed to be the supreme weapon of Barcelona. It drains the opposition, it leaves them besieged by fatigue and a sense of hopelessness.

Last night at San Siro a different, less lovely but no less effective force was applied. It was the pragmatism of Mourinho, a man who has again been less than retiring in outlining his latest ambitions. He says he is out of love with Italian football and concedes that the failure of passion is mutual but, if he is less than revered in most Italian hearts not committed to Inter, we could be sure that what happened guaranteed a new phase of the relationship.

It was the granting of respect – and specifically for a football accomplishment that has always been rated more highly in Italy than in any other corner of the football world. We are talking about giving what is due to a football man who can get a job done against the most formidable of odds. It does not have to be a masterpiece of the beautiful game. It does not have to send ripples of appreciation across the terraces. It just has to get the job done, it has to bring the supreme redemption of a win.

This was the point of Mourinho's hard-nosed team plan, so similar to the one that beat Chelsea in that it relied on an ability to break up the Barça rhythm and inflict damage of your own.

No one would rule out Barcelona's ability to recover lost ground on their own soil – this, after all is no ordinary team – but then nor was Jose Mourinho's achievement.

He did no less than dispute every assumption about the team who had both conquered and enchanted Europe. He pushed the great team on to their heels. He gave a little more credence to the idea that, when the stakes are at their highest, he is indeed a special one.

Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.
peopleThe idea has been greeted enthusiastically by the party's MPs
Michael Buerk in the I'm A Celebrity jungle 2014
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012
voicesAnd nobody from Ukip said babies born to migrants should be classed as migrants, says Nigel Farage
Arts and Entertainment
Avatar grossed $2.8bn at the box office after its release in 2009
filmJames Cameron is excited
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Stik on the crane as he completed the mural
Happy in his hat: Pharrell Williams
Arts and Entertainment
Stella Gibson is getting closer to catching her killer
tvReview: It's gripping edge-of-the-seat drama, so a curveball can be forgiven at such a late stage
Brazilian football legend Pele pictured in 2011
peopleFans had feared the worst when it was announced the Brazil legand was in a 'special care' unit
i100(More than you think)
Brendan Rodgers seems more stressed than ever before as Liverpool manager
FOOTBALLI like Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
The Magna Carta
archaeologyContemporary account of historic signing discovered
Phyllis Dorothy James on stage during a reading of her book 'Death Comes to Pemberley' last year
peopleJohn Walsh pays tribute to PD James, who died today
Benjamin Stambouli celebrates his goal for Tottenham last night
Life and Style
Dishing it out: the head chef in ‘Ratatouille’
food + drinkShould UK restaurants follow suit?
peopleExclusive: Maryum and Hana Ali share their stories of the family man behind the boxing gloves
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game