If you’ve never seen the programme Dragon’s Den before I’ll explain it briefly. A panel of entrepreneurs of varying success and smugness listen to some, often witless, business pitches and decide whether to insult them or to invest their piles of money in the pitched idea. If they agree to invest they ruthlessly cream off any profit as part of the investment deal. They then insult the plebs in front of them anyway. If they don’t invest they just sneer and mock for our general entertainment, with more barbed insults and cantankerous remarks thrown in for good measure . It can be good fun at times but, in the main, quickly becomes formulaic and repetitive. If ever a man was made to be a sneering judge on a low budget, big audience television panel show then surely it is the great man himself, Jose Mourinho.
On Wednesday evening we venture into the San Siro and will look to dent Inter’s fantastic home record. Undoubtedly the tie of the round both teams could easily end up going all the way, picking up that big tin cup in Madrid. As a fan it’s not the home record, the league holders form, the talented players or the occasion that’s unsettling me this time. It’s the thought of being on the end of a Jose quip at the end of it. It would be awful to be knocked but even worse by the most successful manager in our history. The tie is all about Mourinho and that’s the way he would always want it. If he can deflect any of the huge pressure on his side to succeed in Europe he will have played his part. Welcome back to the mind games.
In The Damned United , the footy biopic of Brian Clough’s brief tenure at Leeds United, he promptly told his new players that, as a dirty team, all their previous medals should be thrown in the bin. They had cheated and not played football the right way. When Mourinho first joined Inter he pulled a hilariously similar trick, that the league titles won as part of the 2006 Calciopoli scandal were utterly worthless. For both it seemed a great piece of motivation, a first broadside to a high achieving team and for the manager to stamp their own personalities on the side. For Old Big Head it quickly went pear shaped at Leeds. For the Special One it went very right winning the Italian Cup and Scudetto in his very first season. However the critics still weren’t happy believing the team played stale football, grinding out wins that the performance often didn’t merit. Inter have been more creative this term and Mourinho has since said they are now ‘his’ team. It’s fair to say he’s still the most entertaining aspect of this side and all eyes will be on our former manager this Wednesday night.
In the build up Mourinho has been up to his usual psychology and it is with great credit that both Ancelotti and the players have merely shrugged in response. The message seems to be that we’ll do the talking on the pitch. The team will be focused on getting a result in the San Siro, the extra spice of our old manager will certainly help motivation. How Inter will play should hold few surprises to Carlo and the boys. It is, after all, out on the field where the game will be won or lost. This first leg will be crucial in keeping ourselves well positioned in the tie. We would expect to have Zhirkov, Deco, Essien and Bosingwa back by the second leg. For this match it may hinge on what Carlo does about the left back, knowing the Inter coach will see it as a weakness. I would favour putting Malouda at left back and Joey Cole in front of him. Cole works tirelessly and Malouda has the legs and attacking ability to have Maicon running the other way. Likewise for Inter it looks as though the 37 year old Zanetti will be lining up as left back. If we use the pace of Anelka on that side for breakaways, similar to what we’ve done counter attacking against Arsenal recently, then we will cause real damage. It promises to be a thrilling tie and if Chelsea knock out one of the tournament favourites at this stage it might prove to be a truly special season.