Massimo Pinca/Associated Press
Jose Mourinho and Zlatan Ibrahimovic are known to have a reasonably close personal bond, despite having only worked together for one season when the two were at Inter Milan in the 2008-09 season.
That bond will be put to the test in the quarter-finals of the Champions League when Mourinho's Chelsea face off against Ibrahimovic's Paris Saint-Germain.
In his autobiography (via the Daily Mail), Ibrahimovic spoke at length about his admiration for Mourinho and his methods:
Jose Mourinho is a big star. He’d been my manager at Inter. He’s nice.
That guy says whatever he wants. I like him. He’s the leader of his army. But he cares, too. He would text me all the time at Inter, wondering how I was doing. He’s the exact opposite of Pep Guardiola.
If Mourinho lights up a room, Guardiola draws the curtains. I guessed that Guardiola was trying to match up to him. Mourinho would become a guy I was basically willing to die for.
Ibrahimovic subsequently added:
There was one thing that really bothered me: no matter what I did, there was never any hint of a smile.
I was doing totally amazing things, but Mourinho had a face like a wet weekend. One time we were playing Bologna and I scored a goal that was absolutely insane. It was later voted goal of the year. Mourinho stood there stony-faced.
One way or another, I was going to make that man cheer. It happened, but only once we had won three titles and I was top goalscorer. Mourinho, the man with the face of stone, the man who never batted an eyelid, had woken up. He was like a madman. He was cheering like a schoolboy, jumping up and down, and I smiled: ‘So I got you going, after all. But it took some doing.’
Now Mourinho is in the opposition dugout, Ibrahimovic's desire will be to get a reaction from his old manager in a different way. We all know he has the individual talent to do that—he has shown it many times over the years—and this season he has become a brilliant contributor to his team.
PSG, too, look a formidable prospect—blessed with attacking quality like Ibrahimovic and Ezequiel Lavezzi but also defensively solidity in the guise of Thiago Silva. Arguably only a lingering bias against the quality of French clubs will see them enter the tie as marginal underdogs, something that will not please Mourinho.
In such circumstances, when faced with both a big game and an opponent of similar ability, Mourinho's typical reaction in the past has been to set out his side to frustrate, forcing an attritional battle that his side invariably ends up edging.
Ibrahimovic himself will be aware of this, having been on the losing Barcelona side when Mourinho's Inter pulled a similar trick in the Champions League in 2009.
It seems likely then that Mourinho will look to set up his Chelsea side to blunt Ibrahimovic's threat and keep PSG from scoring, while the French side will rely on their talisman to keep creating like he has all season.
It figures to be the one key battle that decides the tie.