James Lawton: Special One's school of science is a lesson in substance over style
Internazionale engaged the brain rather than the heart. If it was a form of larceny it was also, in the cold perfection of its execution, worthy of a raid on the Louvre
Monday 24 May 2010
From the man who a few days earlier declared, "Il Calcio Sono Io – I am football", Internazionale's Champions League triumph in Madrid was less than some rhapsodic vindication. It was so clinical it might have been prepared in a laboratory.
But then if Jose Mourinho wishes to claim for himself the moon and the stars as well as the spoils of meticulous planning, it is, as always, his own egocentric business. For the rest of us it is surely enough to acknowledge that, for the moment at least, he is the most effective coach of footballers on earth.
The way he confounded the hopes of his former mentor Louis van Gaal as the old Dutch master's Bayern failed to exploit their huge advantage in possession, as he did those of deposed champions Barcelona in the semi- finals, verged on the sadistic.
If it was a form of larceny it was also, in the cold perfection of its execution, worthy of a raid on the Louvre.
Yet if we wish to lionise the remarkable achievements of Mourinho we must surely accept too that Bayern, especially without Franck Ribéry, were a team whose presence in the final was nothing so much as a rebuke to the overall standard of the tournament – and, from an English point of view, particularly the failure of Manchester United and Chelsea to make it into the semi-finals.
This is not to diminish Mourinho's tour de force with Inter over the last two years, or to endorse Rafa Benitez's frankly risible doubts about the wisdom of Real Madrid's pursuit of his services, but to say that what we saw in Madrid was rather the enforcement of some classically applied defensive and counter-attacking principles than any new benchmark of revolutionary quality.
What Mourinho reminded the football world of most persuasively was his formidable capacity to fit a set of tactics most effectively to a certain set of players.
He also proved that, at the age of 47, his instinct in the matter of picking both players and strategy is showing evidence of a deep refining process. It is making an already extraordinary haul of 14 major titles look like a mere deposit payment on his journey into the pantheon of winning coaches.
This surely must be the most overwhelming reaction to the way he ambushed his old club Chelsea and the impressive Carlo Ancelotti at Stamford Bridge and overcame the virtuosity of Barça in the semi-finals. What we saw on those occasions was a marriage of defensive thinking and an understanding of the need for genuinely potent counter-attack.
In the fulfilment of that planning at the Bernabeu we also saw the most striking evidence of Mourinho's growing prowess in finding players perfectly suited to his needs.
Diego Milito's two goals were superbly delivered. They gave Mourinho every right to claim a masterpiece of practicality when he decided to lift the veteran Argentine out of years of relative obscurity with Zaragoza and Genoa and into the place of the profoundly overrated Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Using Samuel Eto'o, whom he gained in exchange for the desultory Swede, simply to run at opposing defences seemed idiosyncratic at the time, but again it was something that worked perfectly in the final phases of the treble-winning campaign.
Finally, there was the apotheosis of Mourinho's team-building, the redeployment of Real Madrid's Wesley Sneijder. While the most expensive batch of galacticos moved into Madrid, Sneijder moved on – and began to play the football of his life.
When we embrace these underpinnings of Mourinho's second Champions League title we can see clearly the development of his touch since his first breakthrough with Porto in 2004. That year, like this one, was non-vintage, with Monaco providing the opposition, but it did serve to show the remarkable commitment Mourinho could engender among a group of overachieving players.
At Chelsea that ferocious talent was developed with two straight title wins, but even at the peak of his Stamford Bridge pomp no one was about to proclaim the unveiling of tactical genius. Indeed, twice in European action Benitez's Liverpool provided the roadblock – and without provoking anything more innovative than a resort to the long ball, a desperation that was expressed memorably when Robert Huth was sent on for his potential to cause havoc in the opposing penalty area.
Yet who could now suggest that Mourinho has not marched beyond frustration with such ever-growing authority that Real Madrid's move for him has been as inevitable as the sun rising over the sierra?
No, there is no hardship in giving Mourinho his due, including the keys of Real. If it is true that in some respects he meets Napoleon's demand for, above all, a lucky general, his other qualities of nerve and pragmatism are also self-evident. He has animated the players and fans of Inter in the most extraordinary way. Yet for some of us it would be false to pretend that the joy of his victories does not bring a certain strain.
Most troubling is the sense that Mourinho's impressive progress to the inner circle of winning football men is unlikely to be marked by the most attractive quality of a great coach. This is the implicit understanding that, ultimately, the best teams are made by alchemy rather than dictatorship.
Internazionale beat Bayern impressively, undoubtedly they were the team most in charge of what they were attempting to do, but did they create any of the emotion inspired by Barcelona in Rome last spring?
No, they did not. They engaged the brain rather than the heart and could it really be otherwise, with Mourinho's presence on the touchline so pervasive in everything they did? In the end, it will always be a question of priorities. With their vast spending and unbridled ambition to draw alongside their hated rivals Barcelona, Real Madrid's imperative has never been in doubt. They want the man who has proved most likely to make them winners.
By such calculations, Mourinho wins by the length of the Gran Via. He will make it his mission, his show, and Real suggest they will be more than happy to go along for an eventful ride.
Some of us, though, do have the right to keep a degree of faith in the recuperative powers of Barcelona, the team who in recent years have so brilliantly reminded us that football at its most seductive is about the expression of great players liberated to play the game of everyone's dreams. So far, we have to say, this is not part of Jose Mourinho's prospectus. It doesn't make him any less of a commodity, of course, just someone less perhaps than everyone's football prayer.
Since lifting his first league title with Porto in 2003, Jose Mourinho has won trophies nearly every season since, and has amassed 14 major honours overall.
*2003 Portuguese Liga, Portuguese Cup, Uefa Cup ( with Porto)
*2004 Portuguese Liga and Champions League ( Porto)
*2005 Premier League, League Cup ( Chelsea)
*2006 Premier League ( Chelsea)
*2007 League Cup, FA Cup ( Chelsea)
*2009 Serie A ( Internazionale)
*2010 Serie A, Coppa Italia, Champions League ( Internazionale)
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