Jose Mourinho is without a doubt up for the Champions League match against Manchester United. The Guardian takes a closer look into the manager's interesting life at Inter Milan.
There haven't been any surprises or any problems adapting. However, I wasn't expecting the annoying little flies you get during the afternoons here at Appiano." What sounds like the Charles Darwin-style diary of a travelling naturalist in fact describes the start of Jose Mourinho's Italian journey, back in the summer of 2008 at Internazionale's training ground.
Pretty quickly, however, the natives became more of a distraction than the flies, pushing Mourinho to turn his hand to anthropology as well as football coaching in a world rather different from the one he had imagined. His first task was understanding the psychology of the natives and their newspapers. On his arrival, Mourinho believed that honest and straightforward statements, even if politically incorrect, would help him steer clear of misunderstandings and frayed nerves.
Italians who did not understand or appreciate this tactic soon made themselves heard. The director of Catania, Pietro Lo Monaco, said the Portuguese manager needed "a smack in the teeth" while many journalists and TV pundits had no sympathy for Mourinho's break with the usual day-to-day hypocrisy.
Mourinho also believed that his ironclad CV was enough to protect him from demands for "everything, now", meaning results plus spectacular football. But he soon realised his reputation could run out as fast as the credit on a mobile phone. Newspapers and TV kicked off their usual delirium, going for the huge build-up, then taking great pleasure in belittling a man who failed to "keep his promises".
Mourinho reacted with irony, but also excess. Lo Monaco's name means "the monk" in Italian; Mourinho said the only monk he had heard of was a Tibetan monk. He then demanded a fee for all the free headlines Lo Monaco was getting by talking about him. With other managers and journalists he was tougher. He crossed swords with Claudio Ranieri, a favourite target since the Italian's time at Chelsea. The Juventus manager said that unlike Mourinho he did not "need to win to be sure of what he was doing". Mourinho said that "with that mentality", Ranieri had got to 70 years of age – he is actually 60 – winning just a Super Cup, "a little cup" and that he was "too old to change".
This was a replay of his duels in England, when he accused Arsène Wenger of being "a voyeur" and said Rafael Benítez had won little: "Three years in the Premier League without a title? I think I would be out of a job." Sir Alex Ferguson, he said, had "a mean outlook on life", after the Manchester United manager had failed to apologise for suggesting Victor Baia had dived during a match against Porto.
Then, slowly, Mourinho stopped throwing fuel on the flames, partly because the Inter chairman, Massimo Moratti, convinced him that if things got too hot the team would struggle to find its identity. But Mourinho cannot be sedated. Lately he has been venting his fury at referees, slamming "strange things" taking place on the field and accusing one referee of "being afraid" to officiate in a game against Sampdoria and favouring Inter's rivals. That claim saw him sanctioned.
Mourinho has also suffered from tactical headaches. Firstly, his underestimation of the middling teams in Italian football. Secondly, his need to work with players used to the tactics and mentality – more geared to Serie A than the Champions League – of his predecessor, Roberto Mancini.
Mourinho found he was up against a number of dynamic, organised and aggressive teams who were able to train a lot more during the week than those clubs involved in Europe. Atalanta beat Inter 3–1, while Inter scraped a 1–1 home draw with Cagliari and a 10-man Genoa side held out for a 0–0 scoreline at San Siro.
Mourinho was trying to impose his philosophy of pushing up the pitch, keeping possession and speeding things up in the final 30 metres on players more comfortable with containing their opponents before delivering a knockout blow through strength and individual talent.
The problems caused by this clash of philosophies explain the impatience, frenetic behaviour and apparently irrational choices which have been displayed by Mourinho. To unpick the closed defences of opponents, particularly at San Siro, he has tried different formations, starting with his beloved 4–3–3, using two wingers, the Brazilian Mancini and Ricardo Quaresma, who were bought specifically for that role. Then there was the Brazilian-style 4–2–4, with two strikers and two wingers. Finally, Mourinho returned to Roberto Mancini's 4–4–2, with a midfield diamond.
From that moment, results have picked up. But it is not that simple – Mourinho's handiwork shines through. He has changed the way Inter move up the field, involving more of the players. That is why defenders like Maicon, Maxwell, Iván Córdoba, Walter Samuel, Nicolás Burdisso and Marco Materazzi have been scoring goals, not to mention midfielders like Patrick Vieira, Luís Figo, Sully Muntari and Dejan Stankovic. This recalls Mourinho's Chelsea, where goals were provided by John Terry, William Gallas, Michael Essien, Frank Lampard, Joe Cole and Eidur Gudjohnsen.
Add to that the form of two key players. Zlatan Ibrahimovic still scores goals – 14 so far this season – but he has also turned provider and defender. Then there is Stankovic, who has the same physique as Lampard, fulfils the same midfield duties and scores the same long-range goals.
By results alone, the Special One has already proved himself a winner. Apart from losing the first Milan derby 1–0, he has beaten Roma 4–0 away, Juventus 1–0 at home and Milan 2–1 in the return.
There is no doubt, though, that the real test comes in the Champions League tomorrow night, against Ferguson, his long time friend and foe.
The Champions League is why Moratti hired Mourinho, and it is the competition by which Inter fans will judge him.