Italian Serie A

Mourinho revelling in controversy

March 4, 2009
By Dominic Raynor
(Archive)

Jose Mourinho has been at the centre of many controversial episodes during an often explosive career and now the Inter manager finds himself in the middle of a Serie A storm that has descended into a series of personal attacks.

GettyImagesInter's Balotelli takes a tumble against Roma

Following the questionable penalty decision that helped league leaders Inter fight back from two goals down to draw 3-3 with Roma on Sunday evening furious Giallorossi director Bruno Conti was quick to lambast Mourinho for teaching his players to cheat.

With Roma leading 3-1, referee Nicola Rizzoli awarded the dubious spot kick when striker Mario Balotelli went down in the penalty area after trying to squeeze between Daniele De Rossi and Marco Motta.

Conti's subsequent outburst cast dispersions on the integrity of Italian referees at the San Siro, the character of controversial striker Balotelli and amounted to a verbal assault on the Nerazzurri manager.

"You should all compliment Mourinho for the way he is bringing up Balotelli," Conti fumed in the Corriere dello Sport. "It clearly shows that his education methods include diving. Was that a penalty? Are you kidding? If someone saw a penalty in there, he was wrong. End of story."

Former Celtic manager Martin O'Neill would have nodded knowingly as he read Conti's comments, having been on the wrong end of a masterclass in diving and feigning injury when Mourinho's Porto defeated the Bhoys in the 2003 UEFA Cup.

So it is safe to say that Mourinho is no stranger to a cheating storm, or slights on his character, and has played the diving blame game himself on several occasions. Following Chelsea's Carling Cup semi-final in January 2005 the former Blues boss accused Manchester United's players of simulation when he said the games was: "whistle and whistle, fault and fault, cheat and cheat".

The Portuguese also claimed that United manager Sir Alex Ferguson had tried to influence match referee Neale Barry at half-time and despite being fined £5000 for his comments and found guilty of misconduct by the English FA it was a template Mourinho used when Chelsea twice faced Barcelona in the Champions League.

Before their 2006 meeting, the outspoken manager claimed that former Chelsea striker Eidur Gudjohnson had learned to dive since joining Barcelona and following his team's 2-1 2005 defeat at the Nou Camp claimed he saw Barca boss Frank Rijkaard enter referee Anders Frisk's dressing room during half-time. Mourinho was therefore "not surprised" when Didier Drogba was sent off after the break.

Mourinho's inference about the integrity of the referee was then obvious and following the Roma draw, Conti took a page straight out of the Inter boss's handbook to put his opponent and referees under the spotlight.

While controversy is water off a duck's back for Mourinho allegations of a conspiracy amongst referees is still a touchy subject in a league where AC Milan and Juventus are still recovering from the effects of the 2006 calciopoli match fixing scandal and their subsequent punishment for influencing referees.

But that didn't stop Roma midfielder De Rossi and coach Luciano Spalletti voicing their anger at the "endless number" of refereeing decisions that have favoured Inter in recent seasons.

"Over the last four years we have played here [San Siro], we have always been unlucky with an array of refereeing decisions," blasted Spalletti. "It has been four years now, that I have come to play in Milan, and the first question in post match interviews is always about the refereeing."

De Rossi, who was penalised for the alleged foul against Balotelli, fumed: "Whenever we come to Milan it always goes the same way.

"I already lost a championship here to Inter and it is driving me crazy, I'm going mad. We are always asked to help the referees, but it is useless. You all saw what happened."

Back in January Inter knocked Roma out of the Coppa Italia with an offside goal and it would be easy to back up the Giallorossi claims with list of favourable decisions that have gone the way of the Nerazzurri recently.

GettyImagesInter Milan manager Jose Mourinho and Roma manager Luciano Spalletti are all smiles before the match.

Adriano's handball goal helped Internazionale bag a 2-1 derby day win against AC Milan in February, Maicon scored a controversial off-side goal to give Inter a 2-1 win over Sienna in December and conspiracy theorists will point out Inter have not conceded a penalty for exactly one year.

But it is not just the referees and Mourinho that have copped the flack from an irate Roma camp; Balotelli has also been blasted for a lack of "respect for the rules of football" and there is a general feeling in Italian football that the striker needs to be brought down a peg or two.

The 18-year-old has been involved in a number of petulant incidents and after winning the penalty against Roma made the gesture of putting a finger to his lips to sush the away fans. Roma coach Spaletti said Balotelli should have been sent off for inciting the supporters and former Giallorossi boss Carlo Mazzone told the striker to "sort himself out".

"He needs to realise that he isn't king of the world," Mazzone said. "If he were my player, I would have severely reprimanded him. Someone has to intervene because it's not the first time that Balotelli has shown this kind of attitude."

But while Roma fume in defeat, and their indignance might be justified, there is one man who is perched on top of Serie A without a single ruffled feather.

Such bickering and sniping is music to Mourinho's ears; he is a man who thrives in the highly charged atmosphere that is being created by his Serie A rivals and while this latest kerfuffle is not strictly of his making he will be enjoying it all the same.

It is an approach that worked a treat during his trophy-laden stint as Chelsea manager, where he actively initiated incidents to take the spotlight off his players. Conti's verbal attack and all the talk of refereeing controversy is playing right into the Portugese coach's hands.

And when the Inter manager eventually responded to all the furore it was with a typically dismissive jibe.

"Major work was done to manipulate the public's opinion, but I like intellectual honesty," Mourinho said. "No-one has spoken about Roma who have great players, but they will win nothing at the end of the season."

Somewhere in Milan sits a very happy manager, possibly sipping chianti, looking at his league leaders and enjoying the chaos.