Another game for Jose Mourinho, another rivalry that has turned personal. This time, though, it passed off with a reasonable level of bonhomie, as the Serie A coach who holds the greatest respect among his peers declared himself very much second-best to Mourinho's Inter Milan at the weekend. "Poor me," quipped Massimiliano Allegri after his Cagliari side had been well beaten at the San Siro by the champions. "Jose Mourinho has just enjoyed 3-0 worth of revenge on me!"
Allegri was referring to his position on top of this month's poll of coaches in Italy to elect who was their Manager of the Year. Allegri's work in hauling Cagliari up into the upper half of last season's Serie A table got him the vote, ahead of the Portuguese coach who led Inter to the scudetto in his first season. Mourinho had given off sufficient indications that he felt miffed not to win the award.
But he would also know he is not universally liked by his fellow professionals, largely because he so frequently snipes at them in the media. Allegri's magnanimous posture defused any instinct Mourinho might have had to try that trick. What also counts against Mourinho is that under his charge, Inter have not made conspicuous progress, at least in terms of concrete achievements. The 2009 title was no more than they had managed under Roberto Mancini in 2007 and 2008. And in Europe in 2009, they fell out of the Champions League at the last 16 stage, earlier than Mancini's Inter tended to do. Room for improvement, then. What the next few weeks will tell us is how Mourinho shapes up not just as a match-by-match tactician - and he was a good enough one to win the 2004 Champions League with Porto - but also as a strategist, a manager who sees longer term how to shape a squad for the better. Right now, he is looking very good in those terms.
In Italian football, the buying and selling of players is not entirely down to the coach. At Inter, however, the boss is seldom timid in volunteering his opinion and has been given a long leash on matters of recruitment. For his first campaign, he argued for strengthening the squad with wingers, Amantino Mancini, from Roma, and Ricardo Quaresma, from Porto. Neither succeeded, and the club have recorded big financial losses on those investments, being unable to sell either.
Quaresma spent a period on loan at Chelsea, while Mancini has joined neighbours AC Milan on loan. Better yields have come from Sulley Muntari, the Ghanaian midfielder who joined Inter in 2008 from Portsmouth, after Mourinho was unable to persuade Chelsea's Frank Lampard to follow him to the San Siro.But what has happened since paints the self-styled "Special One" in a far more perceptive light. Wesley Sneijder, who completed a two-match ban on Sunday, has been influential and added a missing dimension to Inter's attack. Gabriel Milito, signed from Genoa, struck his 14th goal of the season against Cagliari.
Samuel Eto'o, signed from Barcelona, helped set up the first goal. Thiago Motta, also signed from Genoa and once of Barcelona, gave steel to the midfield. Of the 13 players used against Cagliari, six were Mourinho signings, including two arrivals in the latest transfer window, Macdonald Mariga, the Kenyan midfielder hired from Parma, and Goran Pandev, the striker whose contractual dispute with Lazio was settled in December, effectively making the Macedonian a free agent, whom Inter gave a five-year deal.
The true test of these extra resources, however, will come when the Champions League resumes. @Email:email@example.com