The best indication Jose Mourinho is not ready to walk away from Serie A quite yet came this week when he made an unprecedented appearance on a primetime, non-sporting chat-show, Chiambretti Night – ‘Only for Number Ones.’ Mourinho has been forced into a charm offensive against the Italian public, and indeed Inter fans, who have begun to tire of his defensive, aggressive and victimised approach to football in the peninsula, and the time had come to milk his considerable character to as big an audience as he could. Looking at the outcome, Jose will feel quite pleased with his performance on a show that is dedicated to their one guest throughout, and is hosted by an annoying uncle type, that always has to get the last laugh. Mou justified his post-match, media-unfriendly approach, by explaining that he doesn’t enjoy the media games, but also that his answers would be different and friendlier on a Monday – but of course he stopped short of apologising for a catalogue of ill-advised attacks on Italian legends. Something tells me that he has never apologised to anyone in his life. He continued to be good entertainment, whilst not giving the chasing pack of journalists present anything new to put in the papers the next day. The closest he came was a perfectly insinuated attack on Luciano Moggi’s influence over the Italian game, but the words he chose would not have been a story in their own right. He even managed to look only slightly awkward when, as is customary on this show – and Fabio Capello can testify – the semi-naked dancing girls were gyrating around him. More than the eyes of the media, Mourinho seemed to know that the eyes of his wife were fixed on him, as he blanked the dancers accordingly.
Whatever we may individually think about his attitude or behaviour, this conscious push to win over the hearts and minds of the Italian public and the Nerazzurri faithful, is a sure sign that Mourinho wants to stay in the peninsula come the end of the season, and more than likely he has already sought assurances from Massimo Moratti. A Serie A with Mourinho is a stronger league than one without, and if the league is to continue its improvement and progression, then keeping hold of ‘Number Ones’ is a must.
This weekend sees one of the biggest games of the season in Serie B, as 1st play 2nd. Bari are currently sitting in top spot, four points clear of Parma in second, as the two sides meet at the weekend at the oversized Stadio San Nicola di Bari, Wednesday’s venue where the Azzurri hosted their Irish opponents. The battle come Saturday will be mostly to become Champions, but also to ensure their promotion to Italy’s elite. Parma especially is in need of taking something back to Emiglia Romagna. Five points clear of Livorno and the play-offs, a defeat at the weekend would reduce that distance to just two, before those two sides meet in a fortnight’s time. Former Juventus midfielder Antonio Conte has taken Bari to the top playing with a solid, conservative 4-4-2, headed by strikers Francesco Caputo and Paolo Barreto, with former Ascoli winger Stefano Guberti also winning rave reviews for the Pugliese team. Parma boast two names more familiar with Calcio fans – Cristiano Lucarelli, the Livorno legend, and on-loan Milan striker Alberto Paloschi. They have been helping Parma get back on track following their surprise relegation last season, but the next two weeks will be vital to getting one of the great sides of the 1990s and early 2000s back where it belongs. Whatever the result on Saturday, Serie A next year looks like it will only have quality added to it if these two sides are representative of the level that Serie B has reached.
In Serie A this weekend Sampdoria will host Roberto Donadoni’s Napoli, who are looking for their first victory since Edy Reja’s departure. Unfortunately for the Partenopei they will be up against two players in great form. Antonio Cassano is always a threat, and is finally being considered as a serious option for the big four of Italian football. He will be desperate to put more pressure on Marcello Lippi to bring him into the international fold, especially after the Azzurri dropped points in midweek. If that wasn’t enough – and a motivated Cassano often is – then Napoli are also facing Giampaolo Pazzini, who has had a week of extreme emotions for la Nazionale. Fresh from great scoring form for Samp (eight goals in 10), Pazzini had earned himself a run out against Montengro and capped it off with a goal. The injustice he will feel for his sending off on Wednesday night will surely still be grating, and the best way for him to direct that emotion would be to score on Sunday. Look out Napoli.
Meanwhile, both Juventus and Milan have home ties that they will expect to win, against Chievo and Lecce respectively, and will be hoping to keep on the heels of an Inter side that just do not seem like dropping points. Their task is an away tie to Udinese who can possibly dream, at least momentarily about their home win over Juventus just over two months ago. A repeat of that could really bring a twist to the title race.
Udinese vs. Inter – Easy for Inter as Udinese have one eye on Europe
Juventus vs. Chievo – Resurgent Ceo out to end title dream
Sampdoria vs. Napoli – Goals galore or a bore draw