x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Mourinho not lost for words for long

The press missed Jose Mourinho, because like him or loathe him, there is usually something to report when Mourinho opens his mouth.

Even in his silences, Jose Mourinho can cause offence. The Inter Milan head coach had refused to talk to the Italian media for a week between his sending-off 10 days ago in the match against Cagliari, and the teeth-clenched interviews he gave after his club's first Serie A defeat of the season on Saturday night. The press missed him, because like him or loathe him, there is usually something to report when Mourinho opens his mouth. So the press turn on him more readily when he withdraws his favours.

Mourinho has been in a bad mood, which is nothing new. He had been dismissed against the Sardinians for over-exercising his right of reply to a match official. Nothing new in that, either. But the emptiness of the silence-after-the-strop seemed especially long because Mourinho's invectives have been so vivid and regular in the short season so far. First there was his spat with the entire People's Republic of China, whom he reminded of their limited achievements in international football during a ? ahem, "goodwill" trip to Beijing for the Italian Super Cup, which Inter lost to Lazio.

Then he verbally attacked Marcello Lippi, the national coach, after Lippi suggested Juventus might win the title. When he then reminded Alberto Zaccheroni that "Zac" had overseen a humiliating 5-1 home defeat for Inter in the Champions League a few years back, Zaccheroni was genuinely non-plussed. All Zac had done to offend Mourinho was write an analysis of Inter's game-plan in a newspaper. If Mourinho was going to take that as an invitation to personal sniping, Zaccheroni ventured, the Portuguese should live in a world of "Mussolini-style" censorship.

Now, the good thing for reporters is that Mourinho does not much enjoy self-censorship, because his public utterances are too important to his off-the-field strategies of bullying and winding up opponents and referees. And also to his vanity. He announced after Saturday's 1-0 defeat against Sampdoria, now the clear league leaders, that he was only sharing his thoughts with the media "because the [TV] contracts say I have to".

He might have observed the letter of that obligation with some bland, brief platitudes, but being Mourinho, and this being a lost match for the defending champions, he soon got involved in yet another bout of name-calling, via the media, with a rival head coach. The Judy to his Punch was the Sampdoria coach Gigi Del Neri, whose adventures in professional football have been many, and whose career has danced from time to time into the direct path of the self-styled "Special One".

Del Neri made his name guiding Chievo to Serie A status. He was then chosen to succeed the young, brash Mourinho at Porto just after that club had won the 2004 Champions League. Del Neri lost the job after just over two weeks of friction with senior Porto players. Sure enough, Mourinho taunted Del Neri with that fact at the weekend. Asked if Del Neri had become Mourinho's nemesis in Italian football now that Sampdoria had followed up the victory of Del Neri's Atalanta last season against Inter, Mourinho was baited. "How can he be my bete noir when he was sacked after 15 days of trying to follow me at Porto?," Inter's coach fumed.

To which Del Neri replied: "Perhaps Mourinho should keep silent for longer next time." He then explained how, yes, he was indeed Inter's bete noir. "We did as we did at Atalanta last season," said Del Neri, "and make them worry about their defence." The rest of Serie A will take note. The table has a quirky look, with Samp up top and the champions looking beatable. All promising for the season ahead.