Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Mourinho's Inter undone by United
His hands buried deep in the pockets of his latest designer coat, he maintained a lonely vigil at the furthest extreme of the technical area, less than a yard from the pitch. It made him a target for around 70,000 members of a capacity crowd, but anonymity has never been his style. Jose Mourinho may have been looking good - and when the closest individual to provide a comparison is Mike Phelan, he certainly was - but his appearance proved deceptive as Inter Milan were defeated.
Advice was forthcoming. ''Sit down, Mourinho,'' was one of the politer instructions, and one he repeatedly ignored. When the final whistle went, with Old Trafford echoing to the words ''bye bye, Mourinho,'' it was one order he could not flout. ''You're not famous anymore,'' came another taunt. Were that the case the case, of course, it need not be said, although it was a form of insolence towards a man who may prove Sir Alex Ferguson's eventual successor.
Not that such treatment is unusual. Whenever he ventures onto enemy territory, Mourinho is called many things. Powerless is rarely one of them, yet that was how he appeared as Manchester United continued their inexorable progress.
Even when United's bÍte noire intervened, he couldn't quite halt them. Mourinho introduced Adriano and the Brazilian volleyed against the post with his first touch. It was almost a special substitution, but not quite. This time a touchline sprint was not just superfluous, it was utterly unwarranted. Even when stationary, Mourinho diverted attention from the other preening Portuguese at Old Trafford, though Cristiano Ronaldo killed off his compatriot's team.
Neither has ever been plagued by self-doubt, a characteristic that served Mourinho well as an outsider with Porto. His first trip to Old Trafford proved the start of something. This may not be the end of it, but it is worth remembering that Inter proved capable of winning Serie A under Roberto Mancini. The Portuguese's predecessor failed on the continental stage and so, in the view of the Italian press, has he.
Their aggressive line of questioning had echoes of Catalan journalists' treatment of Frank Rijkaard at Old Trafford last season. ''They say my job is to come here and make Inter win the Champions League,'' Mourinho responded. ''You can't just turn up and expect to win the Champions League like that. It's a process, not a miracle.
''Today my players did absolutely everything. We played to our full potential as far as I am concerned. I don't think anyone should be negative about my team's display. If they do want to criticise them, they will have to fight with me. We played very well, but we didn't have any luck.''
Indeed, while they struck the woodwork twice, United scored twice. The clinching goal came when Wayne Rooney chipped a cross from the left wing and Ronaldo ghosted into space to head in. It was a moment to justify the billing. Players of Ronaldo's stature are expected to determine such games. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, championed by Mourinho for Ronaldo's title as the world's finest footballer, spurned his chances. United's No.7 took his.
There was a surprising simplicity to the opener. Ryan Giggs curled in a corner and Nemanja Vidic soared above the Inter defence to head in. ''We looked at 50-odd DVDs of Vidic scoring from set plays,'' added Mourinho. ''We only had Ibrahimovic who could mark him and he was on Ronaldo at the time.''
United had other opportunities. Rooney dropped deep to steer a pass into the path of the advancing John O'Shea. Julio Cesar came out quickly to block the Irishman's low shot. The Brazilian also excelled with a second-half double save to deny Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov before producing arguably his finest stop from Ronaldo's free kick.
It may have appeared a negative ploy when Mourinho fielded a solitary striker, but his side fashioned the opportunities, before failing to take any. Ibrahimovic headed Maicon's free kick against the bar, drilled just wide from a tougher angle and then failed to convert Sulley Muntari's cross.
It is a blot on his CV that the Swede is still yet to score in the Champions League's knockout phases. He almost provided a goal, however, with a wonderfully inviting curling pass that Dejan Stankovic lifted over the bar.
It left Ferguson praising the visitors. ''We've played a team probably at its maximum potential,'' he said. ''To get through that was a big plus for us because I think we will be better in the next round.''
Inter cannot be. Instead Mourinho endorsed United's chances of winning five trophies. Forget special, that would be sensational.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Wayne Rooney
His cross for the second goal was perhaps his most eye-catching contribution in a typically tireless display, but it was even more revealing of Rooney's attitude when, after being switched to the left flank, he chased back with the overlapping Maicon.
MANCHESTER UNITED VERDICT: It is a sign of their supremacy at the moment that United did not need to be at their best. Although Vidic and Rio Ferdinand were defiant, their clean sheet owed much to Inter's wastefulness in front of goal, while Paul Scholes and Michael Carrick conceded possession with unusual regularity. Nevertheless, Giggs produced another fine performance and United's quest for the quintuple continues.
INTER MILAN VERDICT: A side lacking the imagination and invention of their hosts must be lamenting the lax marking that gave United the lead. Adriano enlivened them, but the failures of the wingers signed in the summer, Mancini and Ricardo Quaresma, to force their way into the side may account for their inability to score in either leg.
ON THE WANE: Decline is an unseemly business. Patrick Vieira used to fight some titanic battles with United in his Arsenal days. It was sad to see Roy Keane's old adversary removed at half-time after an ineffectual 45 minutes just as, 24 hours earlier, it was poignant to see an outstanding defender like Fabio Cannavaro removed for his own protection. At least Luis Figo, another veteran, provided glimpses of quality.