Inter Milan-Manchester United Preview: Jose Mourinho's Bluff (Part Two)
As I read Jose Mourinho's typical, attention grabbing comments yesterday, I was struck by a bout of deja vu.
Mourinho hit the headlines by declaring that his Inter Milan side were so hamstrung by injuries that he was seriously considering playing a striker in defence.
Inter Milan will be without Nicolas Burdisso, Marco Materazzi, Christian Chivu, and Walter Samuel for their crucial trip to Old Trafford tomorrow night, and Mourinho told the assembled media he might throw an inexperienced striker into the void.
Mario Balotelli was the player the "special one" claimed could play the role of makeshift centreback against one of the most potent attacks in world football.
Balotelli, who is just 18, only broke into the first-team midway through last season and has made 27 appearances thus far in his fledgling career.
Hardly the pedigree of a player who is ready to shift from his accustomed position of striker to fill in at the heart of defence.
Playing out of position is difficult at any level, but doing so in the Champions League, away at a team that have not lost in any competition since the beginning of January, is an extraordinary challenge.
Yet, Mourinho's statement came with a poker face of sincerity as he dared any member of the media brave enough to call his bluff.
No one did.
The reason Mourinho's "desperate man" act didn't wash with me is because we have seen it all before.
The first time I saw Mourinho pull this particular rabbit out of the hat was in May 2007.
As Chelsea prepared for the FA Cup final with Manchester United, a weary looking Mourinho told reporters he was going to have to pick his reserve goalkeeper as a striker for the game.
The stunned press pack could not believe their ears.
Here was the manager of one of the wealthiest clubs in the world, telling everyone that he was so low on resources that he would have to put Hilario, a mediocre goalkeeper, on the bench as a reserve forward.
Mourinho reasoned that Hilario was "not bad as a forward" and his team only had 15 players fit for the final.
In the end, Hilario's striking prowess was not called upon, as Mourinho suddenly found not one, but three strikers for the showpiece final.
Didier Drogba, Arjen Robben, and Salomon Kalou all featured as Chelsea narrowly won a poor match 1-0.
Mourinho wasn't only able to field 16 players, he put out a very strong Chelsea team who were certainly not short of attacking talent.
With this in mind, the latest appearance of Mourinho the impoverished rings hollow.
Sir Alex Ferguson will be as aware as anyone that this is all just part of Mourinho's repertoire of mind games and mischief making.
He thrives on being underestimated and is hoping to throw off his great rival ahead of a game in which his Inter Milan side are very much second favourites to progress.
Ferguson will pay no attention to Mourinho's chatter and will expect nothing less than a stern test from his foe tomorrow night.
The only time the Scot underestimated Mourinho was during his first season in England, and he learnt his lesson quickly after watching Chelsea dominate the Premier League.
Don't expect to see Mario Balotelli trying to mark Wayne Rooney or Cristiano Ronaldo out of the game at the "Theatre of Dreams" tomorrow night, chances are Mourinho might just find a more experienced player to fill the void.
Don't underestimate his Inter side either, that's just what he wants you to do.
They will provide stern resistance to Manchester United's quest for total domination and the game will only be decided by one goal either way.
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