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Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Foot And Mouth

Sometimes, in certain situations, with certain people, you just have to sit back, take your hat off and admire. I caught myself doing exactly that today when I read Jose Mourinho’s comments in the build up to tonight’s Champions League clash at the Nou Camp. He’s at it again. Every word that passes this man’s lips are studied. Here’s a snippet from the professional flame fanner: "It is not a dream for Barca, it is obsession. The obsession is reaching the final in Madrid. It's one thing to follow a dream, it's another to have an obsession. For Barca it is an obsession.” Mourinho knows full well that he throwing cats among pigeons with such a comment. He has made a career out of it. That and being a bloody good manager. And then he reaches for another bag of cats: "The only thing I told my players was that I wanted them to support the work of the referee and if the Barcelona players want to do the same, it will be easy for the referee." Classic Jose. A clear dig at the perceived theatrics of the Barca players designed not only to infuriate them but to sow the slightest seed of doubt in the referee’s mind. And off he goes, pigeons everywhere, knowing his work is done.

Meanwhile, one man uncharacteristically not in English headlines this week has been the maestro, Lionel Messi. Another man whose unique skills deserve to be admired. Whereas Mourinho seeks to dominate proceedings off the pitch, it is the Argentine whom, along with Xavi, is the one most likely to carve open even the most obstinate Inter defence. They will be marked men of course, and in the form of Lucio, Walter Samuel and Esteban Cambiasso, their task may well prove thankless once more. But remembering the build up to the Arsenal game, the one in which Messi left all and sundry with jaws dropped down to their feet, the mercurial one was hardly mentioned. Four goals later and he was being revered as a talent to compare with Maradona. Again, I speak in English terms here. In Spain, they already knew the boy’s worth. But it is a very English phenomenon to only entertain thoughts of a player’s greatness if they pull a big performance out against Premier League opposition.

Back to tonight, and in essence, we see a tête-à-tête between Mourinho and Messi to determine who is to be the most revered come the season’s end. It is Mourinho’s great skill that he consistently manages to be more talked about than his players. This is a product of his vanity but at the same time a product of his canniness to appreciate that with the heat on him, his charges can bask in relative obscurity and therefore operate in a less tense atmosphere. If he wins the European Cup this year with Inter, Mourinho will join such illustrious company as Sir Alex Ferguson, Brian Clough and Arrigo Sacchi, to have won it twice.

Messi, on the other hand, has the perfect platform to prove his greatness credentials against Inter. At 3-1 down, against a side so well-drilled, he will have his work cut out. He will have to create space against a side that doesn’t give any. He will be kicked. His shirt will be pulled. But a Messi-inspired Barca win, taking them back the final, would go a long way to silencing any detractors there may be out there to his claims to greatness. Of course, there are plenty of others who could have a say in tonight’s events, but you just get the feeling that the battle will come down to a straight fight between two of the season’s irresistible forces: one man’s mouth against another’s twinkling feet. Adam Bushby

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