Frank Dunne: Mourinho charms Italy to prove his specialness in any language

Inter's new coach says he will only be buying three players

Sunday 23 October 2011 08:08
Mourinho admires an Internazionale shirt after being unveiled as the Italian champions' coach yesterday
Mourinho admires an Internazionale shirt after being unveiled as the Italian champions' coach yesterday

At 11.27am, three minutes ahead of schedule, the Special One strolled into the sweltering press room at Internazionale's plush training complex in Appiano Gentile, just south of Lake Como in the north of Italy. Forty minutes later he strolled out again, with the Italian press pack – a tough bunch to impress – under his spell. In his first public appearance in Italy, when Inter unveiled him yesterday as the replacement for sacked coach Roberto Mancini, Mourinho gave a bravura performance, speaking almost entirely in a fluent and largely accurate Italian, which he claimed to have learned in three weeks. With 16 league titles and two European Cups to their name, Inter are the second most decorated club in Italy after Juventus and some big names have passed this way. But the training ground, known as La Pinetina, had not seen anything quite like this. When the gates opened at 11am, more than 20 camera crews stampeded to bag the best positions in the press centre. It was standing room only for latecomers.

The former Chelsea coach knows how to hold a room and this was classic Mourinho, blending charm with wit and a self-confidence bordering on arrogance. It was during his opening press conference at Chelsea four years ago that Mourinho referred to himself as "special, not one from the bottle", thereby landing himself with the soubriquet that will follow him to the end of his career.

Yesterday he decided to try a spot of humility for the first question. He didn't want to be known as the Special One at Inter, he said, simply as Mourinho, one more man in a special club. But he could not drag it out beyond 30 seconds. "I have never forgotten that I am great coach. I am Jose Mourinho, who doesn't change. I'm the same winning person, with the same mission, the same motivation."

Mourinho quickly ruled out a spending spree this summer as he attempts to transform Inter from a team that dominates in the domestic championship into a team that can win the Champions League – a task that proved beyond him at Chelsea, despite an apparently limitless budget. Inter would bring in "one or two, but an absolute maximum of three players". Much of the morning's questioning inevitably focused on possible transfer targets and, in particular, whether he would bring in Chelsea players such as Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba and Michael Essien, who all at various times have expressed a desire to follow Mourinho.

"It's normal that as a consequence of the relationship that I have with my players, almost all of them want to work with me in the future. I won't discuss with the press which names. The president knows who I would like but it's also a question of what the other clubs want to do.

"I have the read the press from around the world and it seems every player in the world wants to come to Inter, every club president in the world wants to sell players to Inter and every player agent thinks that Inter wants to be the king of the transfer market this summer. It's not true. I will be working with a squad of 21 plus three keepers. I like the players here, it's a great team. I don't need to make any dramatic changes to the team. We all think that we need two or three new players to be more competitive. The message to my players is that I like the group. I've seen a lot of Inter and I like the mentality of the group, I have faith in them. I can't wait to start working with them."

Along with the praise for the squad came another message, about what he will demand from a group of superstars that includes the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Luis Figo. "I'm an honest coach with my players. It's easy to work with me but it can also be very difficult. Easy for whoever works hard and thinks that the team comes before them, very difficult for the lazy."

Inter striker Hernan Crespo, who played under Mourinho at Chelsea, could be "my friend in the group", the Portuguese said. "He can get the message across for me – something that Hernan knows well – that with me whoever works gets to play, whoever doesn't work, doesn't play."

Young Big 'Ed even managed, unwittingly no doubt, to provide a faint echo of Old Big 'Ed, Brian Clough, in his iconoclastic days at Leeds United. "My message to the players at Inter is: 'forget what you have won. What you have won is history.' The president gave me a beautiful book about Inter's history but it's history. We need to write a new book. I like to win and forget the past. Inter has won 16 titles but all 16 are now history."

Mourinho, who won the Champions League with Porto in 2004, was brought to Inter by president, Massimo Moratti, to replace Mancini after the Italian had just delivered a third consecutive Scudetto. It was not enough for Moratti who, like Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, is sated with domestic bliss and craves European glory. Mourinho chose his words carefully yesterday, making sure that his credentials as a winner were underlined at every opportunity but dampening expectation that Europe's top piece of silverware will automatically appear in Milan next season.

"The Champions League is everybody's dream. Next season there will be 11 teams who want to win it: four from England, three from Italy, one from Germany and three from Spain. The third Spanish club is Atletico Madrid. I can say without any fear that Inter is one of the 11. But in modern football it's very hard to win more than one major competition each year.

"My experience tells me that me and my staff know how to do it. In recent years we have always arrived at the end of the season in a position to compete for all the major tournaments. That's down to our methodology and training, which ensure that the players are in the right condition throughout the season and that they are right mentally and physically at the climax of the season."

So how do you become fluent in Italian in a matter of weeks?

Jose Mourinho took the Italian media completely by surprise yesterday, effortlessly conducting a 40-minute press conference in what must probably now be his fourth language after Portuguese, Spanish and English.

A flabbergasted reporter from La Repubblica wanted to know how he could speak Italian so well. Never one for false modesty, Mourinho replied "because I'm very intelligent", bringing the first laugh of the morning. His command of the language was a clear statement about the demands he places on himself. He declined to answer in Portuguese and only very reluctantly answered in English.

The former Chelsea coach had an understandable struggle with the subjunctive – most Italians do – but it was an extraordinary performance, if, as he claims, it was the result of only a few weeks of study.

"I started studying after Inter first contacted me. That was the day after the second leg between Inter and Liverpool in the Champions League [the day Roberto Mancini announced that he would leave Inter at the end of the season]. I already speak Spanish which is similar to Italian."

Mourinho declined to be drawn on a question from an English journalist on whether he would bring Chelsea players to Inter. Another English journalist then tried in a more roundabout way. "Why are we talking about Chelsea?", Mourinho snapped. "It was a crafty way of getting you to answer the same question as before", came the reply. Then followed the morning's longest pause, as Mourinho carefully pondered his reply. Eventually he delivered a classic piece of Milanese slang. " Non sono un pirla" – "I'm not a dickhead". The room exploded in laughter and brought Mourinho his first round of applause on Italian soil. There will be many more.

Frank Dunne

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