MILAN - Jose Mourinho's uncharacteristic willingness to acknowledge he was wrong was as important to Inter Milan's title success as the goals of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The brash coach, the self-styled 'Special One', belied his image on several pivotal occasions during Inter's romp to a fourth straight scudetto in his first season in charge. This humility, which has sat comfortably alongside his trademark confidence, will be a useful new asset to the Portuguese as he plots European success in the coming years. One of his most important acts was to see early on that his desire to recreate the three-pronged attack which brought him two Premier League trophies at Chelsea was not going to work at Inter. He had bought wingers Mancini and Ricardo Quaresma for a lot of money in his first months as coach but their early performances either side of main striker Ibrahimovic were poor. Inter, thanks to their sheer physical presence and the weakness of opponents, still managed to grind out results but there was no flow to the play. The criticism grew and rather than lash out as he has done at other times, Mourinho went back to the drawing board. "With Quaresma, I made a mistake," the coach said recently. "I have worked at Inter for 10 months and I still have lots to do." Instead of 4-3-3, he switched to a 4-4-2 diamond formation at the turn of the year with Dejan Stankovic as the attacking midfielder. Inter never looked back and sealed their 17th title on Saturday when second-placed AC Milan lost 2-1 at Udinese. Playing with two strikers meant Mourinho needed to find a partner for Swede Ibrahimovic, who has netted 21 league goals. REGULAR PARTNER Adriano annoyed Mourinho early on with his perceived lack of commitment, just like he had frustrated previous Inter coach Roberto Mancini. Mourinho continually overlooked the striker but rather than doggedly sticking to his guns, he allowed Adriano to work his way into the first team picture and the Brazilian became Ibrahimovic's regular partner. He fitted the system and netted important goals, like a controversial header to win February's Milan derby, before being released by Inter after his personal problems resurfaced. Mourinho, rather than lambast the player as some expected, showed off more humility by offering heartfelt sympathy. His treatment of teenager Mario Balotelli was similar. Mourinho criticised his attitude in training and left him out of several early squads but the coach soon realised the striker's talent and he ultimately replaced Adriano. "Mourinho made me understand that, besides my work as a striker, I have to get back in defence and help the team," Balotelli said. Along with fullback Davide Santon, Mourinho has highlighted Balotelli as a key part of Inter's future where youngsters will be joined by several new signings. Genoa striker Diego Milito and Udinese's Fabio Quagliarella have been linked in the media. Inter have lost just three league matches all season, the first derby with Milan, a 3-1 defeat at Atalanta in January and the 1-0 loss at Napoli in April. Club president Massimo Moratti was especially impressed with how Mourinho held his hands up after the Atalanta game. "Mourinho is very honest and he spoke like you speak in a dressing room. There were some clear mistakes that I was not expecting, and he took the blame for making certain choices and for the team's lack of concentration," he said. Mourinho, also reasonably humble when beaten by Manchester United in the Champions League last 16, was less generous with his Serie A opponents and angered fellow coaches with some stinging outbursts that took some by surprise. Next season Serie A will know what to expect and a more refined Mourinho will be aware that a fifth successive scudetto, in a league now fully recovered from the 2006 match-fixing scandal, will be much tougher.
16 May 2009
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