Jose Mourinho still doesn’t love Italian football but his relationship with Inter Milan and its supporters could hardly be better.
Mourinho jumped up and down and ran out to the middle of the pitch to celebrate when Inter advanced to the Champions League final despite a 1-0 loss at Barcelona on Wednesday.
The self-appointed ‘Special One’ then pointed his finger up at Inter’s fans in the stands at the Camp Nou.
“I thought I had reached the height of emotion with Chelsea’s fans, but Inter’s supporters are even better,” Mourinho said. “I’m in love with Inter and these fans, not Italian football - I respect it, but I don’t love it.”
Mourinho, who said qualifying Inter for the Champions League final was the greatest moment of his career, has been at odds with the local media and opposing coaches since arriving at the Milan club two years ago.
To avoid suspensions, he no longer addresses the media except before and after European matches - in accordance with UEFA requirements.
Last year, he had an exchange of words with Catania director Pietro Lo Monaco and then Juventus coach Claudio Ranieri, and he was recently fined 40,000 euros ($53,000) and banned from sitting on the bench for three games after he made a handcuff gesture when two of his players were sent off during a Serie A match against Sampdoria.
He was sent to the stands during Inter’s match at Cagliari earlier this season and received a one-game ban.
“It’s nice to see him showing some joy,” Inter president Massimo Moratti said. “A large part of this is due to him. He brought us here, now let’s see how he finishes it.”
Moratti has been on a personal mission for the European crown since taking over Inter in 1995. The club hasn’t won the competition since back-to-back victories in 1964 and 1965, when Moratti’s father Angelo was the president.
The wait has been even tougher in recent years when city rival AC Milan dominated Europe, with two victories and three finals between 2003 and 2007.
Moratti compared Mourinho to Inter’s coach in the 1960s - the Argentine Helenio Herrera.
“There’s 40 years between them but they’re very similar,” Moratti said. “Both great workers, both very finicky but also professional. And they both show a lot of charisma toward the players.
“I’ve got to thank Mourinho because he reminds me of when I was young,” Moratti added, recalling how he used to attend games at the San Siro with his father.
Mourinho guided FC Porto to the Champions League title in 2004, and only two coaches have won the European Cup with two different clubs: Ernst Happel with Feyenoord in 1970 and Hamburg in 1983, and Ottmar Hitzfeld with Borussia Dortmund in 1997 and Bayern Munich in 2001.
Mourinho also won two league titles in England with Chelsea but said getting Inter to this season’s Champions League final is the pinnacle for him.
“It’s the greatest moment of my career, better than my first league victory, better than the Champions League I won with Porto,” he said.
Inter will face Bayern Munich in the May 22 final in Madrid and the German club’s coach, Louis van Gaal, has already won the Champions League - with Ajax in 1995.
“He’s a top coach and Bayern’s a top club,” Mourinho said. “Bayern is an example to many clubs. Because the team didn’t start well, Louis was in a difficult situation but the club kept confidence in him and left him to work and he’s in the Champions League final.”
In the final, Inter will be without midfielder Thiago Motta, who was sent off against Barcelona, although Dejan Stankovic will be back from suspension. Bayern will be missing France winger Franck Ribery, who is also banned.
“It’s a pity Motta and Ribery cannot play the final,” Mourinho said.
Win or lose against Bayern, Mourinho is expecting more European exploits for Inter in the near future.
“This isn’t a team of kids that is going to have to wait another 15 years to reach the final,” he said. “These players will be remembered as the heroes of Barcelona, even by their grandchildren.”