Belfast Telegraph

Home Sport Football European

Mourinho turns heat up on Barcelona boss

By Pete Jenson

Quoting Albert Einstein, accusing Pep Guardiola of criticising referees even when they get decisions right, and then calming euphoria among his own supporters by saying he had “no magic potion” to stop Barcelona: Jose Mourinho was on top form as he prepared for tonight's Champions League semi-final first leg.

Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola, meanwhile, was left counting fit players as, for the first of the biggest two games of the season so far, he was left with just two fully fit defenders.

“Einstein wasn't stupid,” said Mourinho. “He said that the one force greater than atomic power was will-power.

“We have worked tremendously hard to reach this position. I don't have a magic potion to stop Barcelona.

“I am the same coach who lost 5-0 to them last November, but we have worked extremely hard.”

It was Mourinho at his positive and aggressive best, with the former Chelsea, Porto and Internazionale coach perhaps sensing that his Barcelona counterpart is not too far away from having a ‘Kevin Keegan moment'.

The two have engaged in an on-off psychological war all season and after the weekend's league matches there were signs that, much as Sir Alex Ferguson did to the more inexperienced Keegan in 1996, Mourinho is beginning to grind his opponent down.

“Mourinho will be happy,” said Guardiola at the weekend when asked about plans to award tonight's game to countryman Pedro Proenca.

Finally Uefa decided not to go with the Portuguese referee and selected Wolfgang Stark.

The Real Madrid coach used the controversy to launch his most direct attack on Guardiola, who had earlier criticised the decision to rule out a Barcelona goal in last week's Spanish Cup final despite replays showing scorer Pedro was indeed offside.

Mourinho said: “We seem to be starting a new era. Until now we have two groups of coaches.

“One very small group who never talk about referees and one much bigger group of which I am part, that talks about referees when it feels that a wrong decision has been made.

“But now we have a third group with only Guardiola in it, of coaches who criticise a referee for getting a decision right.

“I have never seen anything like it. Maybe it is because in his first season he lived through the scandal of Stamford Bridge and perhaps from that time on he is not happy when referees get it right.

“He played against one less in the match with Inter last season and then again in the match against Arsenal. Now in the cup final when the referee has a very difficult decision to make, and he gets it right, he criticises it.”

Mourinho has played Barcelona ten times and only on four occasions seen his team reach the end of the game with 11 men.

Asked if he thought Guardiola was more a friend of the referee than himself, Mourinho said he only had one referee who was his friend, Mark Halsey, who, Mourinho added, “will be retired before I go back to England so it will not be a problem to be friends with him.”

For much of the season Mourinho's match-official rants have been seen as a tactic to mask his team's shortcomings.

Guardiola now needs a decoy as he plays his third Champions League semi-final in three years and his second against Mourinho, but with a threadbare squad boasting only two fit defenders — Gerard Pique and Dani Alves.

Carles Puyol has come through his last two training sessions without any reaction to a hamstring injury picked up in the league match against Real Madrid and could start perhaps at left-back.

If that is the case, Javier Mascherano will continue in the centre of defence alongside Pique, who admitted what a massive influence Puyol is alongside him.

“I told him how much I've missed him during the game he came back in,” said Pique.

“And he started shouting back at me to shut-up and concentrate. That is what he is like.”

Puyol's authority, aerial ability, and understanding with his Spain team-mate have all been sorely missed, none more so than in the cup final that Barcelona lost to Cristiano Ronaldo's first goal in open play against them last week.

Ronaldo re-enters his personal duel with Leo Messi full of confidence while Messi is still looking for his first goal in a Champions League semi-final.

He has scored 50 goals so far this season, however, and looks like outscoring 42-goal Ronaldo, although it is the latter who Madrid fans now believe will have the one extra game to play at Wembley in May.

Guardiola said: “They are the favourites now; I keep reading that they are already in the final.”

But Mourinho did his best yesterday to prevent any of that typical Madrid over-confidence affecting his players.

“There are no favourites in semi-finals” he said.

“Maybe after the first leg we can talk about one team having a slight advantage but before the first-leg, no way.”

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph