Magic Mourinho begins Madrid mind games

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In football, managers can often be classed as dull, boring and generally uninspiring.

One man who doesn’t fit into any of those categories is Jose Mourinho, who has breathed new life into football after bursting onto the scene with FC Porto back in 2002.

After UEFA Cup and Champions League success in consecutive seasons, Roman Abramovich made ‘the special one’ an offer he simply couldn’t refuse. Mourinho subsequently shook-up English football during his three-and-a-half years at Stamford Bridge.

"Please don't call me arrogant, but I'm European champion and I think I'm a special one,” he announced to the English media on arrival in 2004.

His success was immediate, guiding the Blues to back-to-back titles. After leaving in 2007, he took charge at Inter Milan the following year and subsequently guided them to Serie ‘A’ glory and European success. After two years at the San Siro, a move to Real Madrid then followed.

La Liga success is in his sights this season, with Los Blancos poised to overhaul Barcelona as domestic champions after Pep Guardiola’s men won three consecutive crowns.

But you sense it’s glory in Europe, overthrowing the Blaugrana again – as he did with Inter – that would provide greatest satisfaction to Mourinho.

And it’s the manner of this rivalry, or more the desire of the Portuguese tactician to get the better of his great adversary, which makes his continuing mind game methods all the more intriguing.

His latest repost came after last night’s 5-2 win over Apoel Nicosia at the Santiago Bernabeu, which moves the two Spanish giants to within one aggregate win each of a meeting in the final.

And, whilst Chelsea stand in the way of Barca in their semi-final, Mourinho was in no doubt that, whatever happens, they will make the final.

"It could be Bayern or Barcelona, I just don't think it will be Real Madrid v Chelsea and we know why," he said post-match.

"Barcelona aren't the favourites, they are super-favourites."

Mourinho was referring to his belief that UEFA favour the Catalan giants over other clubs in Europe – a point strengthened after AC Milan were penalised for an off-the-ball shirt-pull with a penalty in their quarter-final at the Nou Camp on Tuesday night.

Chelsea and Arsenal have also felt mis-treated against Barca in the past, as did Madrid when they lost a semi-final, first leg to their rivals last season.

“I don't know if it's to give publicity to Unicef or their power at UEFA. I don't know if people just like them. I don't know and I don't understand. Where does all this power come from? No-one else has a chance really,” he stated almost a year ago.

“Why don't they let other teams play against them? If Barcelona are honest, they know this is happening.”

It’s the latest piece of gamesmanship from Mourinho, who has become a specialist when it comes to getting under the skin of opponents in an effort to give his own side an advantage.

He branded Arsene Wenger a ‘voyeur’ in 2005, and gave Liverpool fans the silent treatment in a Carling Cup final after Steven Gerrard’s own goal at the Millennium Stadium. His sliding celebration at Barcelona – on the knees after a Champions League equaliser – also went down like a led balloon with their supporters.

Based in Spain, Mourinho has picked his moments well to try and rile Guardiola, who has shown a calm and decisive nature throughout in an effort to steer clear of controversy.

However, the 41-year-old appears to be growing tired of the ‘digs’ and has hit back at the critics – mainly Mourinho and his former players like Zlatan Ibrahimovic – over his club’s record in Europe.

“If Mr Ibrahimovic or Mourinho think we don’t deserve our qualification and that we are winning thanks to referees, I’ll say to them that we are going to play a semi-final for the fifth time in a row. And that actually means something," responded Pep.

Whilst his comments are far from a counter-attack on Mourinho, it’s quite clear that Guardiola is becoming more-and-more annoyed and aggravated with the situation.

This is a man who prefers the talking to be done on the pitch, but in a world with ‘the special one’, life isn’t that simple. The press thrives on quips and quotes from managers, and the Madrid boss isn’t afraid to stir things up with a sound bite.

With the two side on a Champions League final collision course, these mind games are only going to intensify as Madrid try anything to get a psychological edge.

And, whilst Guardiola might not like it, it's gold for the football public.

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