Skip to main content

The brutal beauty behind Mourinho’s coronation

âÂÂOpen, flowing finals? Only for teams who donâÂÂt know what theyâÂÂre doing.â That was Gazzetta dello SportâÂÂs verdict on InterâÂÂs efficient despatch of Bayern Munich in the Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday.

Jose MourinhoâÂÂs Inter knew just what they were doing in a game that was more coronation than contest. MourinhoâÂÂs tactics â concede possession until they enter your half, regain possession and counter quickly â werenâÂÂt pretty but they were pretty effective.

In some ways, his approach is a strange twist on Arrigo SacchiâÂÂs pressing game. Inter donâÂÂt press upfield, like SacchiâÂÂs legendary Rossoneri, but they do compress the play, forcing opponents to attack in a confined space, and when they donâÂÂt have the ball, show a compactness â especially if you look at the distance between the front and the back lines â that Sacchi would approve of.

Arjen Robben was marginalised, showed wide by Cristian Chivu with Esteban Cambiasso designated to cover inside and outside if the Dutchman got through. Chivu never looked comfortable but it didnâÂÂt really matter.

Philip Lahm, presumably under instruction and knowing that tracking back isnâÂÂt RobbenâÂÂs strong suit, rarely made the kind of runs expected of an overlapping full-back. Indeed, in the first 25 minutes he barely hit a forward pass.

WhoâÂÂs that nutter in the UEFA seats? Oh itâÂÂs me

Even though MourinhoâÂÂs tactics were brutally pragmatic â striker Samuel EtoâÂÂo, once deemed an egotistical iconoclast, often became an extra full-back when Inter lost the ball â some of their play, especially their passing out of defence, was a joy.

Diego MilitoâÂÂs movement â using the full width of the pitch and playing in front of and behind EtoâÂÂo at times â was simply wondrous. When the Argentine feinted past Daniel van Buyten to score InterâÂÂs second, the goal was so technically perfect I jumped out of my seat and shouted âÂÂYes!âÂÂ, as if I was a demented, diehard Nerazzurri, to the mild consternation of the UEFA officials sitting around me. (IâÂÂm not a diehard Nerazzurri by the way â though I may be demented â I was just enthralled by MilitoâÂÂs brilliance.)

The first goal was technically brilliant â and Route One. Presumably on MourinhoâÂÂs orders, keeper Julio Cesar spent much of the first half hoofing long balls up the pitch. Just as I was starting to find this tactic a) irritating, b) repetitive and c) counter-productive (Bayern mostly regained possession) Milito rose to head the ball to Wesley Sneijder who passed with accuracy and speed for the Inter No22 to float the ball into the net to make it 1-0. (Milito deserved his man of the match award although, for awesome efficiency and quiet brilliance, Cambiasso could easily have won that prize.)

Mourinho said defending deep was the best way to mask his teamâÂÂs lack of pace. But it was BayernâÂÂs lack of pace in attack that made this final so uncompetitive. On Sky Germany, Matthias Sammer and Stefan Effenberg felt BayernâÂÂs lack of confidence was crucial.

Ulrich Hesse, Championsâ contributing editor noted on an email: âÂÂThe interesting thing was that you just knew from looking at them at half-time that they both felt it was already over. They didnâÂÂt say the game was lost, you could just tell from their expressions.âÂÂ

Sloth, omschakeling and serious downshifts

The only way to beat Inter was to attack them at speed â by that I donâÂÂt just mean physical pace but the speed with which the ball travels â and BayernâÂÂs players sometimes took seven touches before passing.

The possession stats tell the story: Bayern had 66% of the ball but only six shots on target, one less than counter-attacking Inter. Apart from one cracking save just after the break from Thomas Muller, Cesar didnâÂÂt have much to do. BayernâÂÂs sloth in attack was startling given that Louis Van Gaal has focused them on the importance of exploiting the omschakeling, the moment when a team regains possession and has the chance to strike before the opposition reorganises.

Would Franck Ribery have made a difference? The Wall StreetJournal felt, in their best American sports jock prose, that his absence would âÂÂseriously downshift BayernâÂÂs attacksâÂÂ. And Franz Beckenbauer suggested the FrenchmanâÂÂs fearlessness might have inspired Bayern. But on current form itâÂÂs hard to see Ribery changing the result.

It seems presumptuous to query Van GaalâÂÂs tactics but, after Dejan Stankovic came on for Chivu, I was surprised he didnâÂÂt bring Muller into central midfield and switch Bastian Schweinsteiger to his old role on the flank to test the sluggish Serbian with his pace.

This might have prevented Inter deploying Cambiasso, Lucio and Walter Samuel to neutralise Robben. Schweinsteiger might also have beaten the defence to the by-line and produced the kind of crosses Miroslav Klose and Mario Gomez could have made something of.

In truth, itâÂÂs hard to blame the coach. Inter â especially their defence, Javier Zanetti (in his 700th game for the club), EtoâÂÂo, Sneijder, Cambiasso, Milito and Goran Pandev â rose to the occasion.

Too many Bayern players seemed overawed by it. They squandered corners and, as their desperation deepened, began pumping long balls into the box in the vain hope of finding Klose or Gomez.

Even though The Guardian picked Robben as BayernâÂÂs best player (giving him a generous eight out of ten), the Dutch wizard was attracting some serious flak from the heavyweight coaches behind me who felt his failure to track back was stifling Bayern, making their attacks tediously predictable.

But between the 61st and the 68th minute, Bayern looked like they might break through. The Inter fans felt the shift in momentum too, expressing their anxiety and frustration in loud whistles. But MilitoâÂÂs second goal made this the most one-sided UEFA Champions League final since 2004 when Mourinho won this competition for the first time.

The battle of the soulmates is over

As The GuardianâÂÂs Scott Murray noted, Mourinho went through âÂÂmicro-cycles of emotionâ at the end, âÂÂsmiling, laughing and hugging, crying uncontrollably, then smiling, laughing and hugging againâÂÂ. He shook Van GaalâÂÂs hand.

The Bayern coach had confessed, in UEFAâÂÂs official matchday programme, that he and his opponent were âÂÂsoulmates who texted each other oftenâÂÂ. And they were reasonably generous in their post-match remarks.

The Dutchman had one dig: âÂÂPeople remember my teamsâÂÂ. Great teams, he insisted, live in the memory. They donâÂÂt just accumulate trophies. But after a 45-year wait for the European Cup, will any Inter fan ever forget this team?

It is tempting to draw lessons from such a result. It does, incidentally, mean that the city of Milan has now won more European Cups â ten â than Madrid (nine) and Italy, with 12 triumphs, has surpassed England (11). But the game provoked more questions than answers for me.

How myopic â or plain broke â must Premier League clubs be to spurn Milito last summer? Will Mourinho become the first man to win the trophy with three different clubs? HeâÂÂs already only the second man to win it with clubs in different countries. (Ernst Happel, with Feyenoord and Hamburg, was the first.) Who will Van Gaal buy to bolster his attack and central defence? And does InterâÂÂs victory mean that counter-attacking will become as fashionable as BarcelonaâÂÂs reinvention of Total Football? (Probably not. The margin of error is so thin, most coaches and teams will struggle to emulate InterâÂÂs feat. ItâÂÂs still easier to win the game if you control the ball.)

The victory is great news for Massimo Moratti who has born the slings and arrows of InterâÂÂs outrageous misfortune (and, on occasion, outrageous misuse of the family fortune on some naff players) with dignity. And good news for Mario Rosenstock, the Irish humorist whose impressions of The Special One are so convincing the man himself invited him to do them for the Chelsea players. Rosenstock will bring his cult football puppet show Special1TV to BBC3 this summer just in time for the World Cup.

The cult of the Special One triumphed at the Bernabeu in club footballâÂÂs showpiece fixture. That cult will now face its most merciless scrutiny at the same stadium next season.

NEWS: Moratti: Real deal for Mourinho far from secured More to read...
Champions League: News * Stats Blogs * News * Interviews * Home
Join us: TwitterFacebook * Forums 


Thank you for reading 5 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access

Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription

Join now for unlimited access

Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1