José Mourinho will be the centre of attention when FC Internazionale Milano visit his former club Chelsea FC in the second leg of their UEFA Champions League first knockout round tie. The coach, though, hopes his players steal the limelight as they seek to press home a 2-1 advantage and reach the quarter-finals for the first time in four years.
"The good thing is that I don't have far to walk," he told UEFA.com as he looked forward to Tuesday's encounter. "From the dressing room to the bench is five metres – I don't have to cross the stadium, I don't have to feel the emotions and reactions from the crowd. I will just sit there and play my game.
"The players play on the pitch, I play outside," he continued. "They are much more important than me, because on the pitch you win matches, not on the bench. But I will be there with my heart fully on either side. That's what a professional does. I don't hide that Chelsea are a very important part of my life."
Mourinho can nonetheless be confident of getting the required result in west London. As Chelsea manager, he went 60 league games unbeaten at Stamford Bridge and won back-to-back Premier League titles. He also claimed the Scudetto in his first year in Milan last season, although the Nerazzurri fell short in the UEFA Champions League – losing to Manchester United FC at this stage. Mourinho, a European champion with FC Porto in 2004, believes Inter are now better placed to advance, because "year after year, the tendency is to improve".
"If the coach does well and the club supports [him], and this is the case; we always modify to improve," the 47-year-old explained. "We bought a few players, the type of player we did not have last year – a purely creative attacking midfielder in Wesley Snijder. We have more solutions in attack with [Diego] Milito, [Samuel] Eto'o and [Goran] Pandev.
"Of course we lost Zlatan Ibrahimović, but with these three players we have more solutions and more options. Also, Lucio is the type of central defender we didn't have – tall, strong in the air. I think we are more adapted to the needs of the modern game."
Lucio was outstanding in the 2-1 defeat of Chelsea on 24 February, keeping a close watch on Didier Drogba, while Sneijder, a close-season capture from Real Madrid CF, also caught the eye. "He is an Ajax player, and normally Ajax players – with the coaching they have since they are kids – are technically superb," Mourinho said.
"The left and right foot are exactly the same, the way they think about football is very smart, and they have their eyes open to read the game. It is the consequence of the youth work in that beautiful culture that is Ajax. [At Inter] now there is a structure that can give Sneijder the freedom to play as he likes. Sometimes I think he is a striker because he has so much freedom to play. Here he has found the environment to express his potential."
Inter's improvement is not just down to recruitment. According to Mourinho, they are also mentally stronger. January's derby victory against AC Milan was one example – achieved despite finishing the game with nine men. The 4-3 win against AC Siena was another marker, resulting from a stoppage-time goal by a centre-back, Walter Samuel, playing as a centre-forward. Even the goalless draw with UC Sampdoria on 20 February, when Inter played with nine men for more than an hour, showed an ability to a grind out results.
"The Siena match is a good example of what we are," Mourinho said. "We were losing and scored the equaliser for 3-3 in the 91st minute. A normal team, normal players and coaches, would have said: 'Okay, we did it, we have a point, we did not lose, it's done.' But I was shouting to the players: 'Three minutes to go, three more minutes.' You can win or you can lose. We won.
"Samuel was asking me, 'Do I go back?' My reply was, 'No, don't go back – stay up for three more minutes and see what happens.' It was my decision, but a coach can only be arrogant, can only have this winning mentality, if he knows the players' response is good." The Portuguese recognises, however, that not even a winning mentality will guarantee UEFA Champions League glory.
"It's really about details – lucky or unlucky in the draw, if the ball that hits the post goes in or out, the player that is suspended and cannot play a crucial game, the timing of injuries whereby a team goes into a game missing two or three key players, a refereeing decision that can go for or against you. Of course, only a very good team can win the Champions League, but I can find seven, eight, nine teams who can win the competition. It's so hard to predict."
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