Champions League: that'll do nicely

Why Mourinho will take the UEFA Champions League
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Contro tutto e tutti. “Against everything and everybody.” FC Internazionale di Milano (Inter Milan to you and me) have a new motto. Last weekend, when Inter wrapped up their 18th league title, it was the buzz phrase of choice, repeated like a mantra in press interviews by club president Massimo Moratti, captain Javier Zanetti and resident nutter Marco Materazzi. A siege mentality, a feeling of us against the world, has taken hold of the club over the past couple of years and it’s all, of course, down to just one man: Jose Mourinho.

Mourinho, more than anyone, has completely changed the personality of the club. Of the three big northern stripey teams, Inter were always the romantic losers, often the butt of jokes and jibes in the press and the curvas. They were the team of the arty, left-leaning intellectuals, loved by Mexican zapatistas and air-kissing fashion designers.

Then along came the Calciopoli scandals and, just as crucially, a global recession that Moratti’s millions managed to survive relatively unscathed (unlike Berlusconi’s Fininvest empire and Juve’s cheque-signers Fiat). The Nerazzurri have never looked back, gorging themselves on silverware and firming up a squad now set to claim European glory. Over the past few years Inter have become decidedly antipatico, unlovable and, as Chelsea and Barcelona both now know, buggers to beat.

Mourinho’s arrival, his prickly press conferences and regular outbursts (against Roma boss Claudio Ranieri, against Juventus, against Italian football, but mostly against Italy itself), duly took all this up a notch or two. Inter versus Bayern has a pleasing retro ring to it and, if Inter should lift the cup with the big ears (as Italians like to call it), much will be made of Moratti’s achievement in matching the success of his father Angelo, who oversaw the creation of the European-conqueringgrande Inter side of the 1960s.

Moratti’s one of the nice guys, with a neat line in self-depreciation and fondness for immaculate tailoring. Few but the most rabid Juve fan will want to deny him his triumph, if it comes. But tomorrow night, like every Inter game over the past 18 months or so, will only be about Jose. When the Portuguese heads off to Real Madrid, he’ll leave behind a club that’s finally reclaiming its place among the Euro-elite, that’s being taken seriously again at domestic and international level. Inter has lost a little of its soul, but is now bristling with the arrogance of champions, chest-pumped and ready to take on all comers. Against everything and everybody.