By Simon Hart
Rivals at the San Siro tonight, Internazionale FC and Sporting Clube de Portugal have more in common than a shared desire for UEFA Champions League football.
Both clubs also have Brazilian international strikers who, in an ideal world, would be lining up against one another in this Champions League third qualifying round tie. Instead, Ronaldo and Mario Jardel will be absent, as Inter and Sporting look to break the deadlock after their first-leg goalless draw in Lisbon.
In Ronaldo's absence, Christian Vieri and Álvaro Recoba, rather than Mohammed Kallon, look set to start up front for Inter, while Fabio Cannavaro is fit and in line for his Inter debut, according to coach Héctor Cúper. The Argentinian warned against the visitors' "counterattacks because if we lose the ball in certain areas it could prove fatal". Sporting may well start with Vitaly Kutuzov, a late substitute in the first leg, in attack alongside the Romanian Marius Niculae. Kutuzov should know a thing or two about the San Siro: he is on loan in Lisbon from Inter's neighbours, Milan AC.
Sporting won their opening league fixture last Friday 2-0 against Clube Académica de Coimbra yet what they would give to be able to send out Jardel to grab an away goal tonight. Their Hungarian coach, Laszlo Bölöni, said: "When you have somebody who scores more than 40 goals and then he is gone, it is normal that the team can have then goalscoring problems."
Trouble and strife
Jardel, like Ronaldo, has sat out his side’s pre-season programme. For both players, their relationship with their clubs has been damaged possibly beyond repair. Yet their summer circumstances could not have been more different. While Ronaldo was leading Brazil to glory in the FIFA World Cup, Jardel was being led through the divorce courts by his wife. And if Ronaldo's World Cup was a release after four years of woe, Jardel's troubles, it seems, were only beginning.
Both in limbo
Europe's 42-goal leading scorer last season as Sporting won the Portuguese double, Jardel's marital problems prompted an unscheduled visit to Brazil in late July after which he told a press conference back in Lisbon that he did not want to play for Sporting any more. Since then he has been working with a fitness trainer at a friend's house outside Lisbon, a similar lonely limbo to Ronaldo, whose pre-season preparations are presently being conducted in his private gym at home.
Suffering from depression
Jardel claims to have been suffering from depression. The absence of his wife and their two children - now back in Brazil - is the main factor, plus the 28-year-old was bitterly disappointed by his exclusion from Brazil's World Cup squad. Luiz Felipe Scolari was the coach he was closest to yet Jardel did not figure for the Seleção after their Copa America defeat by Honduras last year.
Yet Bölöni insists there is nothing wrong with Jardel. "Mário Jardel is not sick, there is no problem with him," he told Record newspaper yesterday. Indeed the crucial factor is Jardel has been holding out for a move to a club in Spain or Italy. Bölöni added: "What is sad in this case is that there is no club interested in him, but he still maintains that childish attitude which is doing so much harm to us but also to himself."
What is interesting is that reports in the Portuguese press suggest Jardel, who is expected at this week's UEFA Gala in Monaco to collect the Golden Shoe, is a target for Real Madrid CF, should they fail to land the one summer signing they really want ... Ronaldo. The endless speculation about Ronaldo prompted a refusal to answer any questions about the Brazilian at the Italian club's pre-match press conference yesterday. Last week, both clubs insisted the deal was off but it seems certain a decision on Il Fenomeno's future will come before UEFA's 31 August deadline for clubs to register their squad lists for the coming European campaigns.
The wait goes on
Rumours in the Spanish press that Ronaldo might already have signed a pre-contract with Madrid seem unfounded given the relationships between the two G-14 clubs - as does talk of interest from a third party, possibly FC Barcelona. Whatever, there is no doubt the Ronaldo saga has proved an unwelcome distraction for Inter coach Cúper as he plans for the new season, just as the Jardel saga has hurt Sporting. Tonight at least, however, these two coaches can think about the real business of what happens out on the park. For their troubled strikers, the wait goes on.
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