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Should Thiago Motta prove fit and able to serve on Matchday 5, then his return to Camp Nou to face FC Barcelona, the club where it all began for him, is likely to be challenging and emotional.
When the FC Internazionale Milano midfielder was released by Barça two years ago, he left with a UEFA Champions League winner's medal from the 2006 victory over Arsenal FC but dwindling faith that he could overcome chronic injury problems. An unhappy season ensued at Club Atlético de Madrid, followed by an unsuccessful trial at Portsmouth FC which had him doubting whether he had a future in professional football at all. One tremendous campaign with Genoa CFC later and all question marks have been erased: Motta was transferred to Inter for €15m this summer to become a mainstay of José Mourinho's bid to win the Serie A and UEFA Champions League double. Now, with Inter top of Group F, Motta and his team-mates are bidding to seal progress to the last 16 at the home of the European champions.
"I feel this is a great reward for me after all the time I spent not playing," the 27-year-old Brazilian explained to uefa.com. "I worked hard to recover and to return at a high level. Thanks to the people at Genoa I was able to do so, and the reward is being able to play in the Champions League and face other huge challenges – I'm really happy. A team like Barcelona are always difficult to beat. Because they keep the ball so well, you never have possession for long, and in attack they have fantastic players, especially Messi. Beating Barcelona isn't easy, but it is important. If we up our game, we can do great things, not just against Barcelona but against any team in Europe."
Motta may be putting his recurring knee problems behind him but he cannot escape the past in an Inter dressing room shared by former Barcelona team-mate Samuel Eto'o and Mourinho, the coach who trained him with the Barça reserves. "Yes, I had a season with Barça B and José would work with us some days. He still uses some routines we learned back then because Barcelona is a great school of football. I think he's also learned a lot in England, which is so different from Italy and Spain.
"He's a coach who improves all the time thanks to his ability to learn," continued Motta. "Mourinho is a special trainer; I've never known anyone like him. He transmits confidence and his players often do things they wouldn't normally expect of themselves." Such as Inter going one better than their goalless draw with the Blaugrana on Matchday 1 and winning at Camp Nou, perhaps. It is not just the Mourinho effect that has transformed the likeable Motta, however. His talents never deserted him during his darkest days – as he was no doubt more relieved than anyone to discover. "I found out I was good again."
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