What can be said about the incredible life force that is Jose Mourinho that hasn’t already been said? He is arrogant, charismatic, egotistical, stubborn, and passionate. Oh by the way, he is also a damned good manager. What he accomplished at Inter, regardless of the circus that is currently transpiring at Manchester United, or how his second tenure at Chelsea ended, will always be remembered as one of the greatest managerial feats in football history. To win a continental treble in the modern era of the sport is a feat that a select few clubs can lay claim to. Mourinho did this, most importantly, he did it his way.
Mourinho came to Inter in the midst of the club’s most successful domestic run since the days of Giovanni Trapattoni and his German strike force of Lothar Matthäus, Andreas Brehme, and Jürgen Klinsmann. He inherited a side that had just won the Scudetto for the third consecutive season. That said, Inter were not as successful in Europe as they were in Italy under previous manager Roberto Mancini.
An inherited squad is not exactly what Jose Mourinho thrives on, regardless of how successful it may have been prior to his arrival. He has his way of doing things and prefers to place his own players in the roles he has envisioned for them within the team. Winning another Scudetto would be ideal, but, Mourinho did not come to Inter to simply be the champions of Italy again. He was brought to Inter for one reason: to win the Champions League.
Mourinho attempted to tinker with the formation of the squad in his first we weeks as manager in 2008. The side was not built for his vision of the 4-3-3, however, and he quickly reverted back to the 4-3-1-2 of his predecessor. He was also in favor of selling play-maker Dejan Stankovic, but ultimately retained the services of the Serbian legend. With Stankovic directing the attack behind forwards Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Adriano, and Javier Zanetti teaming with Walter Samuel to lead the back line, Inter would comfortably win their fourth consecutive Scudetto, 10 points clear of Juventus and Milan.
Unfortunately, Inter would again meet their makers in the Champions League. The side would lose on aggregate to Manchester United in the Round of 16, failing to score a single goal over the two legs. Something had to change, and it was within the personnel of the squad, and not so much the manager’s tactical philosophy, where this would ultimately occur.
During the summer of 2009 Inter sold star forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic for €69 million to Barcelona. The deal also included forward Samuel Eto’o joining the Nerazzurri. This would end up being one of the great transfer heists in the recent history of the sport. Zlatan only lasted a single season with the Catalans and the funds Inter received in return helped finance the acquisition of many key pieces from the 2009-10 squad and beyond.
Joining Eto’o at Inter that summer were Thiago Motta, Wesley Sneijder, Lucio, and the player who would become one of the most beloved figures in club history by the end of the season, Diego Milito. These were the players that Jose Mourinho needed to complete his task of returning Inter to European glory for the first time in over four decades.
Comparing Mourinho now with the Mourinho of ten years ago is not an apples-to-apples comparison. In 2009, despite his success at Porto and Chelsea, Mourinho was still climbing the proverbial managerial mountain. He had been a top name in the sport for five years by that point, but, that alone is not enough to obtain football immortality.
To ascend to the status of a Bob Paisley, Alex Ferguson, Helenio Herrera, or Ernst Happel, one must accomplish something truly remarkable. How about winning the continental treble? How about achieving something that had never been done before in Italian football, and which has only been accomplished seven times since the inception of the European Cup in 1956? Yeah, this was right up Jose Mourinho’s alley. Arrogance combined with experience and knowledge equals success. At least in his world it does.
The one thing about Jose Mourinho above all else is that he is a born winner. Some simply have it in their DNA, most don’t. In fact, it could be argued that he hates losing more than he loves winning. Though he did not sacrifice his squad’s chances at a fifth consecutive Italian championship, it was clear that more than anything else, he wanted the Champions League title. Inter would go on to win the Scudetto, though, it was the closest anyone came to dethroning them during their five year run on top of the Serie A.
The Champions League had been Inter’s Achilles’ heel. Year after painful year, despite having a dominate side, Inter would falter in the early knockout stages of the competition. In the post-calciopoli era, the Serie A clubs were under a microscope, as the league’s once prestigious position within Europe had taken a massive public relations blow. Inter were now above Juventus and Milan as the torchbearers of the league. Up until 2010, they had failed to succeed in this role.
Once the knockout stage of the Champions League gets underway, there are no easy opponents. Inter immediately went to battle with Mourinho’s former club, Chelsea, eliminating them from the competition with a convincing 3-1 aggregate victory. Inter had failed to advance past the quarter-finals of the Champions League since 2003, but were in a prime position to do so as they faced CSKA Moscow in the next round.
Mourinho’s emphasis on defense, well-timed counter-attacks, and the exceptional chemistry his side had developed as the season progressed, helped Inter to elevate their game to a whole new level. His own confidence, perhaps with a splash of arrogance, had spilled over into the team, as the Inter players truly believed they could beat anyone. They would make short work of the Russians, winning the fixture by a 2-0 aggregate score.
The true test would come in the semi-finals as Inter were matched up against their group stage rivals and defending champions of the competition, Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona. The first leg took place at the San Siro, and although Barcelona struck first in the 19th minute thanks to a goal from Pedro, Inter answered back emphatically, scoring three goals in a span of 31 minutes.
Mourinho, a mastermind of defensive football, had a 3-1 advantage as the fixture transitioned to the Camp Nou for the second leg. His tactical approach in that match was brilliant. A tired, worn-down Barcelona, needing two goals to force extra time, managed to score their first and only goal of the match in the 84th minute. It was too little too late for Barca. Inter would advance to their first European Cup final since 1972 after corralling the Catalans 3-2 over the two legs.
In the end, it was the name previously mentioned, the player who was acquired the summer before the 2009-10 season from Genoa, the Argentinian striker by the name of Diego Milito, who would be the difference-maker in the final against the German juggernaut Bayern Munich.
Bayern were in control of the match, dominating possession, and had the better chances. This is precisely what Mourinho football is all about, though. Just when you think you are in control, you are anything but. Out of nothing, Milito scored on the simplest of plays in the 35th minute to place Inter ahead 1-0. He would later add to that in the 70th minute. Milito, with a brace to his name in the Champions League final, would come off in the dying moments of the match as his manager wanted him to hear the adoration of the black and blue faithful in attendance on that magical night in Spain. Inter were Champions of Europe again, at last.
Jose Mourinho came, he saw, and he conquered. Considered by many a mercenary manager, and while he may be just that, it is claimed that he cried upon leaving Inter, immediately regretting his move to Real Madrid. How can a manager be a club legend after only spending two years in that position, you ask? The answer is simple. You do something that only six other managers in European football history have done. These are six of the best to ever stand on the touchline, and Jose Mourinho can add his name to that list as number seven.
Regardless of how he left Inter, the chaos surrounding his current post at Manchester United, or how you personally feel about the man, Jose Mourinho is a mastermind of football, having forever left his stamp on the sport eight years ago. Though, never to be forgotten, he did so under the colors black and blue.
Other legends in these series: