The brutal beauty behind MourinhoÃ¢ÂÂs coronation
Ã¢ÂÂOpen, flowing finals? Only for teams who donÃ¢ÂÂt know what theyÃ¢ÂÂre doing.Ã¢ÂÂ That was Gazzetta dello SportÃ¢ÂÂs verdict on InterÃ¢ÂÂs efficient despatch of Bayern Munich in the Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday.
Jose MourinhoÃ¢ÂÂs Inter knew just what they were doing in a game that was more coronation than contest. MourinhoÃ¢ÂÂs tactics Ã¢ÂÂ concede possession until they enter your half, regain possession and counter quickly Ã¢ÂÂ werenÃ¢ÂÂt pretty but they were pretty effective.
In some ways, his approach is a strange twist on Arrigo SacchiÃ¢ÂÂs pressing game. Inter donÃ¢ÂÂt press upfield, like SacchiÃ¢ÂÂs legendary Rossoneri, but they do compress the play, forcing opponents to attack in a confined space, and when they donÃ¢ÂÂt have the ball, show a compactness Ã¢ÂÂ especially if you look at the distance between the front and the back lines Ã¢ÂÂ 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 didnÃ¢ÂÂt really matter.
Philip Lahm, presumably under instruction and knowing that tracking back isnÃ¢ÂÂt RobbenÃ¢ÂÂs 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.
WhoÃ¢ÂÂs that nutter in the UEFA seats? Oh itÃ¢ÂÂs me
Even though MourinhoÃ¢ÂÂs tactics were brutally pragmatic Ã¢ÂÂ striker Samuel EtoÃ¢ÂÂo, once deemed an egotistical iconoclast, often became an extra full-back when Inter lost the ball Ã¢ÂÂ some of their play, especially their passing out of defence, was a joy.
Diego MilitoÃ¢ÂÂs movement Ã¢ÂÂ using the full width of the pitch and playing in front of and behind EtoÃ¢ÂÂo at times Ã¢ÂÂ was simply wondrous. When the Argentine feinted past Daniel van Buyten to score InterÃ¢ÂÂs second, the goal was so technically perfect I jumped out of my seat and shouted Ã¢ÂÂYes!Ã¢ÂÂ, as if I was a demented, diehard Nerazzurri, to the mild consternation of the UEFA officials sitting around me. (IÃ¢ÂÂm not a diehard Nerazzurri by the way Ã¢ÂÂ though I may be demented Ã¢ÂÂ I was just enthralled by MilitoÃ¢ÂÂs brilliance.)
The first goal was technically brilliant Ã¢ÂÂ and Route One. Presumably on MourinhoÃ¢ÂÂs 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 teamÃ¢ÂÂs lack of pace. But it was BayernÃ¢ÂÂs lack of pace in attack that made this final so uncompetitive. On Sky Germany, Matthias Sammer and Stefan Effenberg felt BayernÃ¢ÂÂs lack of confidence was crucial.
Ulrich Hesse, ChampionsÃ¢ÂÂ contributing editor noted on an email: Ã¢ÂÂThe interesting thing was that you just knew from looking at them at half-time that they both felt it was already over. They didnÃ¢ÂÂt say the game was lost, you could just tell from their expressions.Ã¢ÂÂ
Sloth, omschakeling and serious downshifts
The only way to beat Inter was to attack them at speed Ã¢ÂÂ by that I donÃ¢ÂÂt just mean physical pace but the speed with which the ball travels Ã¢ÂÂ and BayernÃ¢ÂÂs 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 didnÃ¢ÂÂt have much to do. BayernÃ¢ÂÂs 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 Street Journal felt, in their best American sports jock prose, that his absence would Ã¢ÂÂseriously downshift BayernÃ¢ÂÂs attacksÃ¢ÂÂ. And Franz Beckenbauer suggested the FrenchmanÃ¢ÂÂs fearlessness might have inspired Bayern. But on current form itÃ¢ÂÂs hard to see Ribery changing the result.
It seems presumptuous to query Van GaalÃ¢ÂÂs tactics but, after Dejan Stankovic came on for Chivu, I was surprised he didnÃ¢ÂÂt 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, itÃ¢ÂÂs hard to blame the coach. Inter Ã¢ÂÂ especially their defence, Javier Zanetti (in his 700th game for the club), EtoÃ¢ÂÂo, Sneijder, Cambiasso, Milito and Goran Pandev Ã¢ÂÂ 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 BayernÃ¢ÂÂs 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 MilitoÃ¢ÂÂs 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 GuardianÃ¢ÂÂs Scott Murray noted, Mourinho went through Ã¢ÂÂmicro-cycles of emotionÃ¢ÂÂ at the end, Ã¢ÂÂsmiling, laughing and hugging, crying uncontrollably, then smiling, laughing and hugging againÃ¢ÂÂ. He shook Van GaalÃ¢ÂÂs hand.
The Bayern coach had confessed, in UEFAÃ¢ÂÂs official matchday programme, that he and his opponent were Ã¢ÂÂsoulmates who texted each other oftenÃ¢ÂÂ. And they were reasonably generous in their post-match remarks.
The Dutchman had one dig: Ã¢ÂÂPeople remember my teamsÃ¢ÂÂ. Great teams, he insisted, live in the memory. They donÃ¢ÂÂt 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 Ã¢ÂÂ ten Ã¢ÂÂ than Madrid (nine) and Italy, with 12 triumphs, has surpassed England (11). But the game provoked more questions than answers for me.
How myopic Ã¢ÂÂ or plain broke Ã¢ÂÂ must Premier League clubs be to spurn Milito last summer? Will Mourinho become the first man to win the trophy with three different clubs? HeÃ¢ÂÂs 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 InterÃ¢ÂÂs victory mean that counter-attacking will become as fashionable as BarcelonaÃ¢ÂÂs reinvention of Total Football? (Probably not. The margin of error is so thin, most coaches and teams will struggle to emulate InterÃ¢ÂÂs feat. ItÃ¢ÂÂs 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 InterÃ¢ÂÂs 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 footballÃ¢ÂÂs showpiece fixture. That cult will now face its most merciless scrutiny at the same stadium next season.