Should He Stay or Should He Go? returns to haunt Inter – it was only a matter of time before the beast that is SHSOSHG? was unleashed again at the San Siro to ravage the managerial integrity of the latest Coach at the Nerazzurri.
As Jose Mourinho trudged along the Old Trafford touchline last Tuesday night in the wake of Inter’s unceremonious Champions League exit, you could hear the knives being sharpened all around him.
The self-proclaimed ‘Special One’ arrived in Milan last summer following the sacking of former favourite Roberto Mancini and promised trophies. Mancini had already masterminded a hugely successful spell at the Nerazzurri helm, albeit with a little help from the infamous Calciopoli scandal. But his trophy-ridden stint was ended with Massimo Moratti wielding the axe, with Mancini’s terrible record on the European stage proving his downfall. Il Biscione hasn’t won the Champions League (formerly the European Cup) since the mid sixties and Moratti has never been quiet in indicating this is the crown he craves.
So Mourinho stepped in – Champions League winner with European minnows Porto in 2004 plus an array of honours during his tenure with Chelsea, Moratti had landed a world class Coach for a world class club. Surely, a match made in heaven? It has proved anything but.
Many will argue – with a strong case – that Inter currently sit top of Serie A with a seven point lead and almost certain to score a fourth successive Scudetto. How can you sack the Coach in these circumstances? What more can he do? Well arguably Mancini’s rein has plenty to do with this. Three titles on the trot – some by a wide margin with record-breaking form – has lead the Nerazzurri hierarchy (and tifosi) to regard the Scudetto as something of a formality. The change of Coach was so the club could be taken to the next level with the club already at the point of dominating domestically – Mourinho was charged with European domination, or at least European glory.
Inter failed to reach the last four under Mancini – an unacceptable record for a side supposed to be the cream of Serie A, so Moratti handed his new Portuguese Tactician a blank chequebook and said, “Win me the Champions League.” For even such a ‘special’ and astute Coach, was a European and domestic double too much to ask for in his first season?
Mourinho’s quest for Champions League glory at Inter has been nothing short of embarrassing. Fair enough they were eventually knocked out by the holders and arguably the best team on the planet, but the Nerazzurri never caused their below-par English counterparts any major reason for panic, and their form in the Group Stage was just abysmal. Inter’s eight points from their six group encounters was the lowest return of any of the sides who progressed into the knockout stage and with all respect, the group they were faced with was hardly a daunting one. Greek giants Panathanikos along with Cypriot side Anorthosis Famagusta would have acted as whipping boys for most of Europe’s elite and while Werder Bremen possess some gifted individuals, they are far from a European heavyweight. A shock San Siro reverse at the hand of Panathanikos coupled with defeat in Bremen and so nearly a humiliating defeat in Cyprus – Inter looked a long way away from potential European Champions and exited the competition on the club’s worst run in the competition for five years.
Their domestic form hasn’t been spectacular either. No one can question their ability of grinding out results but winning the Scudetto title ‘ugly’, doesn’t seem to sit well with the Nerazzurri faithful. They want to sweep their inferior opponents aside with fast, free flowing football – Mourinho has given them resolute defending and a side who battle stiffly past the opposition. But any Chelsea fan would’ve told you that the ‘total football’ philosophy is as far away from Mourinho as you could ever get. He is a winner – he wins with solidarity, determination and no thrills, so when he doesn’t win, it is very easy to criticise the former Porto man. When Arsene Wenger fails to deliver trophies he can stand firm alongside his youth policy and beautiful football, while Mourinho has none of these.
Another criticism levelled at the former Chelsea boss has been his summer acquisitions. And he can offer few excuses. Ricardo Quaresma was so awful since his big money arrival that il Biscione tifosi booed him off in what was to be his last appearance (of the season anyway) in the blue and black of the Nerazzurri. However, Quaresma did at last pick up one award during his stint with Inter – the Bidone d’oro (or Golden Bin) accolade was handed to the former Barcelona winger after consistently abject performances. Mourinho also brought in Roma winger Amantino Mancini, who along with Quaresma were meant to be ideal for the two wide berths as the Special One tried to replicate his 4-3-3 formation which brought him so much success in West London. Both the players and the formation have since flopped, leaving Mourinho reverting to an unfavourable 4-4-2 diamond formation whilst also counting the cost of around €30m of transfer funds wasted. His only other summer acquisition was that of Portsmouth’s Sulley Muntari, who had been a reasonable success down on the South Coast, although he had hardly set the world alight during his short time in England. This time the fee was believed to be around €15m with Muntari faced with the task replicating his fellow Ghanaian Michael Essien, by tenaciously chasing, battling and acting as a real workhouse making his side difficult to play against, like Essien had performed so brilliantly at Chelsea under Mourinho’s guidance. But Muntari is a mile away from his fellow countryman and has looked out of his depth at times this season – recently being dropped for the crunch clash at Old Trafford after his horror showing in the first leg.
Mourinho’s machine-like Chelsea side was not only built on determination and sometimes pure stubbornness, but a genuine team spirit. It was always visible and Mourinho likes to create a kind of ‘them and us’ in the face of criticism, wanting his players to feel like the world is against them and that their only friends are those inside the club, i.e. team mates and Coaches. But the tight-nit squad the Portuguese so desperately yearned has failed to come to fruition with in-camp bust ups with the likes of Mario Balotelli, Patrick Vieira, Hernan Crespo and Adriano – it has been a far from dressing room harmony.
The Italian Press has been quick to blow such incidents out of the water in an attempt to expose Mourinho and question his relationship with his squad. Mourinho was arrogant and cocky upon arrival in Milan – much like his entrance into English football, to the dislike of most Italian journalists, so they haven’t taken any prisoners when Mourinho’s confidence has come back to bite him. It’s been a rocky relationship between both parties with plenty of bitter sparring. Only last August, Mourinho’s explicate interview in which he referred to the much loved Claudio Ranieri as having a “loser’s mentality” while rather unforgivingly labelling him “almost 70-years-old”. Was this just the start of his master plan of the them-against-us situation he craved or were these just mind games OR had the new man in town gone way too far? The Italian media certainly thought so, furiously slamming the “ugly” attack, marking Mourinho as “arrogant”, “hideous” and “lacking respect”. He was instantly the villain and the exchange hit boiling-point when he claimed Serie A was lagging behind its superior opposition in the English Premier League and Spain’s Primera Division. This he claimed because of the Italian’s obsession with the ”tiny” matters in football like his decision to snub a post-match press conference leaving his assistant Giuseppe Baresi the media duties, to which the Italian media made a big furore about, apparently forgetting the important issues, i.e. Lecce’s negative tactics during their previous encounter. While Mourinho’s antics and cockiness made him plenty of friends as well as enemies in England, it seemed Italy were not so taken by the Portuguese charmer.
But while there has been plenty of negativity surrounding Mourinho’s short time in Milan, there are some blatant facts that show him and his side in a far different light. Inter have lost just two Serie A matches this campaign, Zlatan Ibrahimovic has emerged as the world class striker he has threatened to become, at least domestically anyway, and Mourinho’s men could still seal a domestic double. But this seems to count for very little. Il Biscione’s lead in the title race has been blamed on their rival’s inabilities rather than Inter’s merciless march and consistency. The players who have floundered under the ex-Porto boss count more than the likes of Julio Cesar, Javier Zanetti and Esteban Cambiasso who have flourished under the Special One’s guidance.
Mourinho has been credited with the emergence of young defender Davide Santon – Italy’s seeming favour towards experience is unquestionable and it’s hard to envisage too many other Coaches in Mourinho’s high-pressured position to have faith in an 18-year-old kid over some other less risky options – such as Maxwell. But Mourinho is unerring in his judgement and he must be given credit for his nurturing and belief in young Santon.
Let’s put Mourinho’s brief tenure in Milan into context. An early Champions League exit along with an unattractive style of play, poor transfer market fortunes and an ugly relationship with the Italian Press has left the ex-Chelsea man more perched on the Inter hot seat than planted. While on the other hand – topping the Serie A standings with a clear margin coupled with the possibility of a domestic cup triumph and his ability to bring the best out of some big name players show the Nerazzurri truly do have that world class Coach to lead them to the next level. Critics have rounded after the Man Utd defeat, but let’s be fair, it was harsh on Inter to draw the Premier League Champions so early on with the Red Devils looking so invincible in recent months – admittedly Liverpool’s total demolishing of Fergie’s men does nothing for this argument but that was a blip and few would argue United has the best squad in world football.
One journalist said last week that Mourinho’s surprise inclusion of Vieira at Old Trafford was a big mistake in a big match, and that this should ultimately cost the Portuguese Tactician his job. Mourinho admitted himself that planting Vieira on Vidic for the opening goal was a mistake. However, one things for sure, if this was a mistake (and it was a curious team selection) then this mistake alone is not enough to relieve Mourinho of his duties. His first nine months in charge could’ve gone better, but they could also have gone a lot worse.
It’s tough following in the footsteps of success as it leaves the new man needing success to just survive, while only making his own success through an even greater, unparalleled amount of success.
Has Mourinho been charged with an impossible task?