One of the most fascinating moves this summer was Internazionale’s hiring of Jose Mourinho as manager after Roberto Mancini was sacked despite winning the title. Mourinho has built a strong reputation in a short time and I am interested to see if he can push Inter further in the Champions League. They’ve struggled in recent seasons despite their good domestic league performances.
If Jose Mourinho’s first competitive game in charge is anything to base hopes on, Inter fans should be optimistic for this season. Mourinho coached a side weakened by injuries to their first silverware of the season as they beat AS Roma 6-5 (following a 2-2 draw) on penalties to win the Italian Super Cup on Sunday.
His first competitve game in charge gave an opportunity to examine how he will stamp his mark on the club. New signing Sulley Muntari looks to add the same verve and versatility to the Inter midfield that Essien gives Chelsea’s midfield. Muntari’s driving forward run led to the opening goal after 18 minutes as he cashed in on a loose ball in the Roma penalty area.
Mourinho used his favoured three-pronged attack (usually as part of a 4-3-3 formation) that saw Luis Figo play out on the right wing and Inter’s other big summer signing, Brazilian winger Mancini on the left. Mancini was constantly booed by Roma’s away fans (he jumped ship from the Giallorossi to join Inter) but kept his composure and put in a decent performance.
A key to Inter’s success this season could be striker Mario Balotelli. Though he is just 18-years-old, he scored a number of clutch goals in the closing moments of last season, and one would expect him to feature a little more regularly this season despite a number of other strikers on contract at the club. He came on as a sub and scored Inter’s second goal as well as scoring his penalty kick.
Both Adriano (a calf strain) and Zlatan Ibrahimovic (knee) are hobbled by injury at the moment and Lazio were in talks to sign Hernan Crespo but Crespo’s wages and the transfer fee are reported to be a stumbling block for the Biancocelesti. Crespo has been deemed surplus to requirements and is unlikely to get much playing time under Mourinho.
Mourinho was forced to play midfielder Esteban Cambiasso in defence because of injury problems to Marco Materazzi, Walter Samuel, Christian Chivu, and Ivan Cordoba and that has to be worrying for Mourinho. Inter were dominant last season when their squad was healthy but after the turn of the new year, injuries contributed to their poor form and almost saw them drop the title to Roma in the final weeks of the season.
Mourinho has been more humble thus far. Perhaps being sacked from Chelsea has led to a more measured outlook and has taken away that feeling of being untouchable. He was equal parts self-effacing and self-promoting in his post-game comments. He told reporters that “I’ve won the Super Cup… but I want to remember that I’ve won it because Roberto Mancini won the last championship. This game is a reply to those who say they don’t play good football in Italy. We’ve seen four goals and a spectacle.”
In fact, Mourinho has been quite complimentary of Mancini on a number of occassions saying that changes he will make are simply down to a difference in footballing philosophy and not a critique of Mancini’s squad-building ability. When he first was appointed, Mourinho told reporters “I like this group, I like the team’s mentality very much – I have a lot of confidence in this group. I want to start a different cycle, practically with the same squad. I think differently to Roberto. I imagine it would be the same situation if Roberto went to Chelsea, for example. He would change things because he thinks differently from me. It’s far from a criticism, it’s just the reality of football.”
After the Italian Super Cup, Inter’s president Massimo Moratti revealed that Mourinho has asked the club to sign FC Porto winger Ricardo Quaresma. However, Moratti insisted that the club cannot bid for the Portugese international unless they sell one of their players in order to meet Porto’s asking price of 25million euros. It’s easy to see how Quaresma would fit into Mourinho’s system and it would be exciting to see a squad with Mancini on one flank and Quaresma on the other.
However, the real interesting development will be to see how Moratti and Mourinho get on. Moratti has been through a total of 14 managers since he bought the club in 1995 including respected men such as Roy Hodgson (twice) and Marcello Lippi. It has been reported that Mourinho’s salary has gone up significantly from what he earned at Chelsea and that now he is paid more than 10m Euros per season. That is reported to be considerably more than what was earned by Mancini who lead the club to three straight Serie A titles.
Not only does he have to wow the boss but Mourinho will also need to win over the notoriously critical Inter fans. In past seasons, these dedicated but difficult-to-please fans have left the stadium before matches were over to protest what they felt were poor performances from the players and even forced the abandonment of a Champions League quarter-final second leg against AC Milan by throwing flares from the stands.
Mourinho has brought some of his Stamford Bridge backroom staff with him including right-hand man and fitness coach Rui Farias, known as “mini-Mourinho”, goalkeeper coach Silvino Louro and chief scout Andrei Villas Boas. They will be hoping that they can duplicate the success they enjoyed during their Chelsea days.
No matter what the Mourinho team manages to accomplish, it might be difficult to surpass the club’s legendary manager Helenio Herrera. In his time at the club in the 1960s, Inter won three league titles, two European Cups and two Intercontinental Cups (now known as the FIFA Club World Cup).
One thing the two managers share is a strong belief in building from a defensive base and relying on quick counter-attacks. I like the discplined, tactical approach that Mourinho brings to a club and his combination of brashness and frankness in interviews. I hope Mourinho succeeds at Inter but the other thing that he may end up having in common with Herrera is that no matter the success, managers do not leave Internazionale under pleasant circumstances.