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The footprint left by former FC Internazionale Milano coach José Mourinho is too deep to erase and Leonardo is too shrewd by half to bother trying. Indeed, with a UEFA Champions League round of 16 encounter with FC Bayern Münich on the horizon, the Brazilian coach is more interested in following in the footsteps of his predecessor than covering the trail.
It was the Portuguese tactician, after all, who led Inter to European glory against Bayern last season and, if need be, Leonardo will happily heed Mourinho's words of wisdom if it means commanding a repeat performance against Louis van Gaal's men. As such, Leonardo had no qualms about admitting to have spoken to Mourinho as soon as he took over from Rafael Benítez late last year.
"The legend of Mourinho's lives on here – everything he did and achieved," the 41-year-old told UEFA.com. "It's impossible to achieve more than he did. We just have to take the many positives that he left, because it's not just the Mourinho effect, it's what lives on in the players who are still here, and we must bring on those ideas.
"I talked to Mourinho, but I knew him before, so we already had a good relationship," Leonardo continued. "He spoke to me about everything very openly, like a friend, to help me, as it was a very difficult situation for me, coming in halfway through the season, joining a team that has won everything, that has great players in the squad, that has its needs, its methods. So he definitely showed me great support."
Mourinho's advice was clearly invaluable, although Leonardo deserves plenty of credit himself given that Inter have won eight of their ten Serie A games since he arrived, scoring 26 goals in the process. The Nerazzurri are back in contention for the Scudetto, have reached the Coppa Italia semi-finals and will approach the tie against Bayern with great enthusiasm.
"I have found a very solid team, and being able to start with a base like that gives you great optimism and strength," the former AC Milan coach explained. "You can see that in training, what form they are in. It's unbelievable – these are players who have already won everything, players who have already played at this level for many years, and then last year's successes which crowned all that. That spirit, which is permanently present, gives you the right boost. It motivates you to succeed. I have to say that we have a very strong and solid base here."
It is a base that has been in place for some time, according to the Inter coach. "This club has had its own philosophy for many years now. Every coach plays his own role. I think it started a bit with [Roberto] Mancini, the start of a very successful era, because before that not many titles had been won for a while, and then he won the domestic title, and from then on it exploded and those successes began. Then with Mourinho they reached the peak of that cycle."
However, the former Brazilian international, who is fluent in six languages and an avid reader of philosophy, expects a rather different contest from the Madrid final when his side reconvenes with Bayern. "On the one hand you have a one-off final, with one direct winner. This time we are playing at home and then at Bayern so there are many things to consider. I don't think our style will change much between how we play home and away, but of course there will be respect for and an in-depth analysis of our opponents."
One thing Leonardo is sure of is Bayern's determination to avenge the 2-0 defeat in Madrid, but Inter can take comfort in holding a slight psychological edge. "There will always be something there in [Bayern's players'] minds. There is always a certain history in Champions League matches when teams with great tradition face each other. Bayern brings back very positive memories for Inter, because of winning that final after so many years. That was then and many things are different now, but that past is and always will be there."
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