Tuesday, March 16, 2010
Mourinho looking to break Chelsea hearts
When Jose Mourinho was in position as the all-conquering manager of Chelsea, one of his chief tasks was acting as the leading defence counsel for Didier Drogba.
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Back in the days when the Ivory Coast striker was being constantly chastised for his infuriating histrionics on the field, Mourinho became Drogba's most passionate ally, with the duo uniting in a mission to overthrow the game's hierarchy under the newly formed Chelsea brand.
In many ways, Mourinho and Drogba were kindred spirits as both revelled in the position of being hard-done by outsiders, intent on defying their critics as they took on the game's establishment with angry intent, and the affinity between the two was highlighted by the Chelsea striker's comments in the days after his mentor's sacking in September 2007.
"I find Jose's 'eviction' hard to take," Drogba, who is said to have openly shed tears when Chelsea sacked Mourinho, said. "I could not see the blow coming so brutally and it changes an awful lot of things. We were perfect for Chelsea and each other."
The strong bond between the duo continued after Mourinho's exit from Stamford Bridge, with the coach penning a gushing eulogy for the opening pages of Drogba's autobiography, and yet the coach who did so much to mould the finished article now faces the prospect of being on the receiving end of a chilling act of betrayal.
If Carlo Ancelotti's Blues are to reverse their 2-1 first leg deficit in their Champions League last-16 tie against Mourinho's Inter Milan, Drogba will need to do the dirty on the coach who helped to transform him from an unfulfilled 25-year-old footballer fishing in the backwaters of French football to the superstar he is today and the 'Special One' admits it is a curious position to face.
"Didier is like a son to me and this is the reason why I remember every moment we spent together," Mourinho said. "I remember meeting him for the first time and, when I went to Chelsea, he was the player I had to sign. He did not disappointment me. He became such a great striker once we managed to add some extra dimensions to his game, which allowed us to have some incredible times together.
"Didier and I always had a special rapport as manager and coach. The Premier League titles we won together, the cup finals, special moments.
I especially remember the way he came looking for me in a crowded dressing room at Wembley after we won the FA Cup together in 2007. It was amazing.
"They are wonderful days and this is why it was so hard for me to leave people like Didier behind at Chelsea. I wanted to bring him with me to Inter, but they would never allow this and now we have to play against each other.
"He is powerful, direct and can trouble defenders time and again, but you have to be good enough to deal with this if you want to succeed in the Champions League. My loyalty is to Inter now and I have to hope Didier has a bad time against Inter."
Mourinho's enduring affection for his Chelsea favourites Frank Lampard and Drogba is contrasted by his intense loathing for the man now filling his shoes at Stamford Bridge, with Blues boss Ancelotti a sworn enemy after the year they spent in opposition as managers of Inter and AC Milan.
Yet while he has long been determined to court controversy and confrontation during his colourful managerial reign, Mourinho is less willing to restart a war of words with his old adversary ahead of this showdown with former employers he still clearly has plenty of affection for.
"I would take no extra pleasure in beating Chelsea, but I will have satisfaction if Inter are in the quarter-finals after this tie," Mourinho said. "I won't celebrate a victory at Stamford Bridge like I did when I was manager there as I have too much respect for the club and the fans.
"Instead, you will see me being professional and looking to beat a very good Chelsea side who realise they are up against a team that is now ready to move from a nearly team in the Champions League to something else.
"We go to Stamford Bridge with a realistic chance to progress and this is already a step forward for Inter. This club has not won too often at this stage of the Champions League in recent years, but suddenly we win a game against a top side like Chelsea. Maybe the confidence we can take from our victory in the first leg can give us the inspiration we need to go through and don't forget that all the pressure is on our opponent. They have to find the goal or else we are in the next round.
"The big picture is I am at Inter to try and win the Champions League and doing that means beating the top teams and Chelsea are one of those. My feeling is, if we win this tie, we will make the final. That's how close we could be."
Mourinho's desire to outsmart Chelsea is bound to burn brightly on Tuesday night as it seems increasingly likely that this will be his second and final attempt to bring European glory to the Nerazzurri.
The desperation of the Inter Milan hierarchy to succeed in European football's marquee event inspired them to recruit the divisive 2004 Champions League-winning coach, yet Mourinho has not been accepted by a bulk of the Italian football family and his regular touchline bans and clashes with the local media seem certain to end his brief love affair with Serie A this summer.
Real Madrid, Liverpool, Manchester City and even Manchester United may be more likely destinations for this maverick coach to start next season, but imagine the scenario that could follow should Inter Milan leave West London as winners on Tuesday evening.
An early Champions League exit for Chelsea this week may well leave Ancelotti needing to win the Premier League to hang onto his job and, if Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich were to make another managerial change in a couple of months' time, the candidates available to fill the post would be limited.
Mourinho's revelation that he shared a warm telephone chat with Abramovich and was offered use of the Russian billionaire's executive box at Stamford Bridge when he returned to watch a Chelsea game in December confirms relations between the once warring duo have thawed.
So could a Mourinho victory against Chelsea on Tuesday spark a chain of events that ends with Abramovich taking the plunge and re-hiring the only coach who has given him the trophies he craves on an annual basis?
Accepting the tempting positions likely to be vacant elsewhere may appear to be juicy prospects for Mourinho right now, but an offer to rekindle his first love would be impossible to ignore. Didier Drogba, for one, would welcome such a turn of events.