No Italian team of late has been mentioned in the same breath as Real Madrid, Barcelona or Bayern Munich. Though the sun was shining brightly on Italian football in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, Inter Milan’s historic treble (2009-10) stands out in what was an average decade for the Italian clubs.
The ludicrous treble came on the back of some ingenious performances masterminded by none other than the special one, Mourinho. Mourinho’s squad was well rounded and so capable that they could let the likes of Vieira leave the club in January. Inter became the first ever Italian to team to win the treble and they are also the last Italian team to have won the Champions League. They had some memorable wins on their way to treble including a 4-0 thrashing of their city rivals and champions league defensive master class against Barcelona.
In the historic campaign, it is no surprise that Mourinho’s side conceded the fewest number of goals in the league. The myth that Mourinho is a defensive coach was proven wrong as the Portuguese’s team scored league high 75 goals. It is also notable that in the previous campaign as well, Inter scored the most number of goals (70) and conceded the fewest in the league.
Mourinho’s sides often rely on counter attacks to score the goal and he was capable of making the players believe in his system.
Inter’s success was built on two formations majorly with his side playing 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-1-2 depending on the opposition. Mourinho found a successful defensive partnership between Lucio and Walter Samuel who played deep as centre backs relying on the hardworking midfield. Former Brazilian number 1, Julio Cesar guarded the goal for the Nerazzurri.
One of the defining aspects of this side was Mourinho’s ability to field an eleven to neutralise the opposition threat. The Portuguese played club captain Zanetti in the left back role to provide the defensive solidarity with the more expensive Maicon on the right. Mourinho could rely on the services of Argentinean midfield maestro Cambiasso to shield the defence and to pick up inch-perfect passes to set up counter attacks.
Mourinho’s strikers are expected to defend and the Portuguese was a master in convincing his forwards to play specific roles for the team. Pandev and Eto, playing on the flanks almost played as defensive wingers when required, allowing the team to change between 4-2-3-1 and 4-4-1-1 depending upon the game situation and opposition. Stankovic playing with Cambiasso moved forward to support the counter attacks. Inter relied on the ability of Cambiasso to play accurate long balls and on Sneijder’s precise passing skills from number 10 position. Milito was the right foil showing predatory finish abilities and making clever runs to open up spaces for the Dutch number 10.
Mourinho was not afraid to sacrifice team’s attacking flair as and when required. A fine example would be the Champions League second leg against Barcelona at the Camp Nou. The Portuguese coach fielded Chivo, a left back in left midfield to counter the threat of Messi. Though the game will be remembered for Mourinho’s overzealous celebration, it should also rightly reflect the special one’s tactical adaptability. He also played a man marking system in the round of 16 against Chelsea, to counter the English side’s strengths, sacrificing the Nerazzurri’s attacking intensity. The last match of the season was the crown jewel for the Nerazzurri, playing brilliant counter-attacking football to defeat German Champions 0-2, with a brace from Milito.
Despite the scrutiny the special one receives for his brand of football, his Inter side were arguably the best Italian team in almost over a decade. He assembled this side with some super transfer business, signing Lucio for 5 million and Sneijder for 15 million Euros. He also brought in Eto, Pandev and Milito to suit his system of play. They were sharp, clinical and organized. And deservedly Champions.
Mourinho did ruffle a few feathers, including his controversial statements on Ranieri, but Italian football was always going to miss this special one – The special one. He left for a new adventure in Spain and that story is for another day.