Jose Mourinho had lit a long enough fuse ahead of this evening's Juventus versus Inter Milan fixture that anything he said in the 24 hours before the match would neither douse the expected fireworks or especially inflame them. The Inter head coach has publicly wondered about his counterpart Ciro Ferrara's inexperience already this season.
He has criticised Juventus's perceived robustness of style and attacked the behaviour of their supporters. So Mourinho evidently regards Juve as a rival to devote a good deal of his studied psychological tricks to. Juventus, it may be remembered, were getting up Mourinho's nose even before the league season began in Italy. He launched a scathing, disproportionate verbal attack on national coach, and former Juve guru, Marcello Lippi back in August after Lippi tipped Juventus as likely 2009/10 champions.
Lippi's clairvoyance looks a little askew after a week in which Juventus lost twice by two goals - against Bordeaux and Cagliari - and trail Inter by eight points in the domestic table. But Juve can still make any Inter manager edgy. Inter fans still recall, and talk about, the incident 11 years ago, when Juventus and Inter were separated by a single point at the top of the table and met with four matches of the season left.
Brazilian striker Ronaldo was in his prime and appeared to have won Inter a penalty when he was fouled by Mark Iuliano. The referee Piero Ceccarini ignored the foul and within a minute had given Juve the penalty that effectively took them, rather than Inter, to the 1998 title. The Old Lady effectively pipped Inter again four years later, when with Inter leading the league going to the last afternoon, they leapfrogged their rivals after the Milan side surprisingly capitulated at Lazio.
When the authorities awarded the 2005/06 league title to Inter - Juve finished top, but were stripped of it because of a scandal involving managers and referee organisations - a new chapter was added to the saga of the enmity. Juve fans taunt their rivals with the "cardboard scudetto" of that year, and claim that the three successive Inter league championships since have been won by default, given that Juve were out of Serie A for the first, and still rebuilding during the 2008 and 2009 challenges. The players who survive at Juve from 2006 still sting from that, a scudetto that was taken from them. Or at least Alexandra Del Piero, Gianluigi Buffon and David Trezeguet do. They think they won the 2005/06 league, or at least that Inter did not.
Quite what Patrick Vieira thinks, he keeps to himself. He left Juve when they went down to join Inter. Vieira, mostly a substitute under Mourinho, will get a frosty reception in Turin tonight. So may Mario Balotelli, whom some Juve fans racially abused in Turin last season. That is an ugly side to the sharp edge around the derby d'Italia. Juve would do better to try to out-think Mourinho's men with wit and stylishness on the pitch.
@Email:firstname.lastname@example.org Juventus v Inter, 11.45pm, Aljazeera Sport +1