James Lawton: Mourinho's band of rejects set on ransacking Nou Camp paradise
Tonight's mouthwatering contest pits Barça's idealism against the forces of resentment
Wednesday 28 April 2010
Josep Guardiola's Barcelona will beat Jose Mourinho's Internazionale by the required margin in the towering beacon-citadel of Nou Camp tonight. Then we can all flick over to the next page of the football hymn book featuring songs of praise.
Idealism will roll over the tough pragmatism and vengeful resentment of Mourinho. It will put down the once pushy, egocentric assistant to the late Sir Bobby Robson and Louis van Gaal at Barça. It will scale down the man who left the beautiful stadium burning with anger that his ambitions had been brusquely, sometime insultingly dismissed as the inappropriate self-aggrandising of a mere translator.
At least some of us might like to think it will be so because if we admire Mourinho for his refusal to be denied, if we like the fact that his chronic failure as a player only redoubled his dream of being something in a game that provided his father with a living, we also choose to believe that there is something more at stake even than the winning of the Champions League.
We like to think that Barcelona in some ways are playing for all of us tonight as they seek to push aside the first-leg 3-1 defeat, that in the beauty and originality of their football they remind us that a game is only a game if it cannot reflect some of those things which we yearn for in all corners of life.
Things like grace and skill and unbreakable commitment to the belief that even in football there is a greater goal than merely winning, and that it is to do something so well, so expressively for a little while that it makes you unforgettable.
What makes the tension tonight so exquisite, of course, is that we know precisely how "The Special One" reacts to so much of the foregoing sentiment. He arches a movie star's eyebrow and he exhales his exasperation via a great and lingering pout. He says that you have missed the point of football, at least his version.
Mourinho's football is not about artistic impression. It is about relentless imperatives like covering the ground, nose-to-nose confrontation and an endless exhibition of competitive edge. If half your team nurses at least some of your own resentments, if you can guarantee the majority of your players will not forget respectably sized-grudges of their own, well, it is so much the better.
He can be sure, certainly, that the sense of rejection which has driven him to such levels of commitment, which made him so successful at Porto and Chelsea, at least for several dramatic years, and now in Milan, will not be so difficult to stoke again in the Nou Camp dressing room.
Barcelona are supposed to be this, supposed to be that, you can hear him saying, and what are you? Not fit to share the same field as Lionel Messi or Xavi or Zlatan Ibrahimovic? Remember that last one, Mourinho might say, and was he really better than Samuel Eto'o, one of more than half this team shipped out of the league so dominated by Barça?
You can see the responses of Eto'o – the Barça superstar who was the straight replacement at Inter of the enigmatic and often less than overwhelming Ibrahimovic – and Wesley Sneijder and Esteban Cambiasso and Walter Samuel, all discarded by Real, and Diego Milito, formerly of Zaragoza but such a force last week at San Siro.
You can see another wave of resolve to once more pin Messi and Xavi and Ibrahimovic, the hugely expensive but also often disconnected Ibrahimovic, down in the trenches.
The pattern of Mourinho's player-relations, has rarely been so easily traceable than in this mighty effort to scale down the artistic champions of not just Europe but the entire football world. Because if he does complete a crushing triumph tonight, if he does separate his opponents from the idea that they might indeed be one of the most beautiful, irresistible teams ever assembled, who would place any limit on his potential in the years of his managerial maturity? What achievement could you put beyond him?
For a point of historic comparison we might go back to his Internazionale predecessor, and a former coach of Barcelona of great aura, Helenio Herrera. In the years leading up to the sensational destruction of his Inter team by Jock Stein's Celtic in the European Cup final of 1967 the Argentine's career was at least as upwardly mobile as Mourinho's is now.
Herrera wore a dark coat over his shoulders on the touchline and was known as "The Black Magician". "The Special One" will surely be granted similar powers of sorcery if he does indeed bring down Barça tonight, if his refusal to be passive before their skill produces a second triumph to place alongside the superb dismantling of Chelsea in the last-sixteen.
If it happens, if he goes on as a firm favourite to win his second Champions League, plainly he will have opened the door to a shop of choice that has rarely sparkled so invitingly before any member of his trade.
Real Madrid is one obvious re-location and surely Liverpool, if Rafa Benitez goes to Juventus and they find the resources to make a serious bid, would be dazzled by the forces of resentment he might unleash against Manchester United.
Will it happen? The hymn book here still says that Barcelona will find a way to be re-united with the angels. In such circumstances, however, only a fool forgets that so often the Devil comes up with the catchiest songs.
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