ABU DHABI // Inter Milan coach Jose Mourinho is not expecting his side to defeat Al Hilal, the Saudi Arabian side, in Riyadh tomorrow, after revealing he has subjected his players to a series of punishing training sessions at Zayed Sports City this week. The Serie A champions are in the capital for warm-weather training as part of the club's association with Abu Dhabi Sports Council. They will complete their Middle East break with a game against the Asian Champions League outfit.
"We will lose," vowed Mourinho, speaking at the Shangra-La Hotel in the capital yesterday. "I'm not kidding. My players will arrive tired and exhausted for the game. They had no training before we came here. We're not preparing for this game; we are preparing for the rest of the season. "My players have heavy legs and will be slow but we'll play seriously and give something to the fans; we respect Middle East fans. We have some information on Al Hilal. They are a creative, skilful and fast side and some players have European experience. The stadium will be full with a great atmosphere and it will be nice to go play."
Despite admitting his players' fitness levels are below his expectations, Mourinho has enjoyed his experience of Abu Dhabi. "The conditions and training pitch are good and the temperature is perfect for work," said Mourinho. "The Al Hilal match is coming at the right moment for my players and is a good motivation for them. They'll be playing in a new reality in an intensive match but no one will play more than 45 minutes."
With Inter set to face Chelsea in the last 16 of the Champions League, Mourinho was at Stamford Bridge earlier this week to see the Blues edge a tight London derby against Fulham 2-1. Mourinho, however, insists the trip was not a scouting mission. "With all the feeling and emotions, it was a strange feeling going back to Stamford Bridge," he said. "I didn't go to see the players or the team because I already know them. I just didn't want our game to be the first time I went back.
"Next time I go, I go cool. No feelings and no emotions. Chelsea are a team like any other team." After using the millions of Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich's millions to win two consecutive league titles when he assumed the club's managerial reigns in 2005, the Special One's stock in England is still high. He is thought to be a leading candidate to replace Sir Alex Ferguson when the Scot eventually calls time on his Manchester United career, while Manchester City are reported to have enquired about his services before moving for Roberto Mancini, who Mourinho replaced at Inter.
Mourinho yesterday reiterated he intends to see out his contract with Inter, but acknowledged a future return to England is certain. "People like to change my words and the reality of my ideas and opinions, but I am very happy at Inter and will finish my contract," said Mourinho. "I was very happy during my time in England and I always thought I would go back. Whether that is in 2012 or 2020 I don't know, but, one day, I will."
Until then, Mourinho is tasked with bringing European silverware to Inter's unbalanced trophy cabinet. While only time will tell if Inter's winter break in the UAE will help bring European titles to complement domestic dominance, Mourinho is well aware more than fitness and form will be needed to secure Champions League glory, a feat he achieved with Porto in 2004. "The best team always wins domestic championships, because there are over 30 matches in 11 months of competition," he said. "But the Champions League is a competition of details.
"If things like injuries, suspensions or even refereeing decisions go in your favour, you win. If they don't, you lose. You need a little bit of luck." Fortune may rest heavily on Mourinho's mind when his squad welcome Chelsea to the San Siro on February 24, but luck, however, does not play a part in the plan of the Sports Council general secretary, Mohammed al Mahmoud's. The government entity's flagship sporting associations, such as the Inter connection, continue to bear fruit and are driving Abu Dhabi's push to be recognised as a global sporting destination. Al Mahmoud is pleased with the progress.
"Realising our agenda in not happening because of luck," he said. "We are hosting international sporting events and growing our various sporting fields to achieve our goals. "After Formula One and the Club World Cup, we are hosting Inter Milan in the same week of the Capitala World Tennis Championships, while in January we have the Golf Championship. "It is a clear plan to host events and make Abu Dhabi a leading sports destination."