Internazionale FC coach Héctor Cúper is not interested in a first ever European final between the giants of Milan or extending his own impressive record in the continent's grandest competitions, he is focused solely on tonight's UEFA Cup semi-final against Feyenoord. "Let history look after itself, I'm not going to worry about that," he said.
Cúper is two games away from his fourth European final in as many years. Having steered RCD Mallorca to the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup final against S.S. Lazio in 1999, the Argentinian then enjoyed two more showpiece occasions with Valencia CF in the UEFA Champions League. But as against Lazio, both ended in defeat, against Real Madrid CF and FC Bayern München.
This was a shame given the way his Valencia team illuminated the continent's top club competition, particularly in 1999/2000 when Gaizka Mendieta and Kily González supplied the bullets for the speedy runs of Claudio López. Valencia were runners-up in the Primera División that year too, denying Cúper the trophy that would have won over the Mestalla fans. As it was, they were booing him during last term's Champions League campaign.
If Cúper left bittersweet memories in Spain, he is flavour of the month in Italy. Inter lead Serie A and the Nerazzurri stand on the verge of securing a domestic title they have not won since 1989. Indeed, the Inter fans see him as something of a footballing academic, while at Valencia he was known for his discipline and organisation. Which ever is the more accurate, the Argentinian refuses to discuss the secret of his success. "If I had one, I would not be telling you."
Yet while this former Argentinian international defender admits to having watched Feyenoord "six times, two live, four on video", he concentrates on his own side's strengths. "We are Inter. We know the team were are up against, but we try to play our game in every match. The players must do what they do best in every match."
"I want an attacking team," he added. "If I don't have two attacking players on the wing, I like to have one in central midfield." Spanish critics might raise their eyebrows, but Inter have been scoring at a rate of nearly two goals a match this season. "I can't compare Inter to Valencia, but what I will say is that they are both very strong, especially mentally. The Champions League is a tougher competition than the UEFA Cup, so the best thing would be to compare them next season provided Inter are in the Champions League."
"What I look for is a good dressing room," he added, "which is difficult when you have so many top players. But I don't have any favourites and the players respect the coach and they respect the team. They have to respect those who take their place in the side. That's what I tell them."
'We've won nothing yet'
So far so good. But Cúper is taking nothing for granted. "We can't look too far ahead," he said. "We could end up with no trophies this season." There speaks the voice of experience.
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