'Mister Mourinho, you remain one of us' - Why Inter still can't take their eyes off 'ignoble' Roma boss

Jose Mourinho Roma Inter Coppa Italia 2021-22Getty

When Jose Mourinho returned to San Siro to face Inter for the first time, the Curva Nord welcomed him "home" by singing his name to the tune of 'Can't take my eyes off you'.

It's always felt like such an appropriate choice of song for one of the game's most compelling characters.

Love him or loathe him, Mourinho has always made for great TV.

Depending on which direction your moral compass is pointing, the Portuguese is either an anti-establishment anti-hero never afraid to speak his mind, or a shamelessly outspoken narcissist who deflects attention away from his failings and failures as a manager with unfounded, controversial claims.

Whatever the truth, Mourinho has proven himself adept at upsetting the narrative, which is what makes his next meeting with Inter so intriguing.

The Nerazzurri's season threatened to go off the rails after a morale-sapping Derby della Madonnina defeat to AC Milan in February.

However, Wednesday's 3-0 triumph over their city rivals in the Coppa Italia showed that Simone Inzaghi's side are very much back on track.

Indeed, looking at their remaining Serie A fixtures, alongside those of fellow title challengers Milan and Napoli, the way now seems clear for Inter to retain their Scudetto.

Of course, defeat on Saturday would signal yet another shift in momentum in this enthralling three-horse race.

Jose Mourinho Roma Inter Coppa Italia 2021-22 GFX

There are those that believe that Mourinho will make for an ideal guest, that he will make all the right noises about trying to win the game, and probably partake in his customary post-match rant about referees, without really wanting to disrupt Inter's title charge.

However, this is also a big game for Roma, who have not yet given up on qualifying for next season's Champions League.

They trail fourth-placed Juventus by five points with five games remaining. Overhauling the Bianconeri will be difficult, but not impossible.

After all, Massimiliano Allegri's desperately dour side still have to face two relegation-threatened sides in Venezia and Genoa, the always awkward Sassuolo, Maurizio Sarri's unpredictable Lazio and bitter rivals Fiorentina – and negotiate a massive Coppa Italia final with Inter in between.

Roma are also a side that nobody wants to face right now, in every sense.

Mourinho arguably has a point when he says that the Giallorossi don't get the credit they deserve for some of the fine football they play.

They undeniably boast some of the league's most exciting attacking talents, in Tammy Abraham, Lorenzo Pellegrini, Jordan Veretout and the enigmatic Nicolo Zaniolo.

Unfortunately, though, what happens on the touchline in Roma games is often of greater interest to the media - and that is down to Mourinho and his coaching staff.

The Portuguese has been waging a verbal war on match officials all season along, but the situation has escalated in the past two weeks, taking a decidedly dark turn.

Roma goalkeeping coach Nuno Santos was involved in a physical altercation with Bodo/Glimt coach Kjetil Knutsen which resulted in both men being suspended by UEFA.

While both men claimed self-defence, the Norwegian club were outraged by the decision, with Knutsen admitting that he even considered quitting football altogether.

"What happened is so far from my values, those of the club and of Norwegian football," he told an.no. "In these situations, you need to find the strength in yourself and react in the best possible way.

"The most important thing for me is being able to look yourself in the mirror. If I couldn’t do that anymore, I would really have to consider if this was worth it."

Knutsen added: "[Mourinho's] type of attitude is shocking. His values and his way of coaching are so far from what I represent.

"It’s incredibly disappointing to see such behaviour from a coach with so many titles and who has been part of the sport for such a long time."

Nobody else who has followed Mourinho's career was in the least bit surprised, of course.

He has plenty of previous, so there was little shock when he found himself at the centre of another ugly episode just a few days later, when another member of Mourinho's coaching team disgraced himself by mocking Salernitana over their likely relegation from Serie A.

Mourinho apologised and yet even then couldn't resist a snide comment of his own, with the 59-year-old electing to take yet another shot at Bodo-Glimt.

“I tell the truth, not like some clubs or the police," he told reporters. "Someone on my bench told the Salernitana staff they were going to Serie B. I went to apologise for the lad who said that.

"We are civilised people, what happens on the field ends there. Nobody will be waiting outside 45 minutes later to punch someone in the face."

However, Salernitana director Walter Sabatini wasted little time in tackling Mourinho's claim that he and his staff were "civilised", accusing them of "ignoble behaviour".

“With every refereeing decision, everyone pours onto the pitch from the bench, it’s unjustifiable," he fumed in an interview with DAZN. "We can lose to Roma, but not like this."

Sabatini then pre-empted Mourinho's typical response to such accusations by sarcastically adding, "I know full well as soon as he hears this he will say I’ve never won anything and therefore cannot speak.

"But the fact remains I am really p*ssed off. I love my club, we want to stay in Serie A and have every right to respectful treatment.

“I have not won 25 trophies, but I am a serious person and deserve respect nonetheless. But I see arrogance."

He's not the only one. In Roma's very next league outing, against Napoli, Mourinho accused the officials of conspiring against his side. An unsurprised Luciano Spalletti simply refused to respond.

It will be fascinating, then, to see if Mourinho and his staff prove just as combative at San Siro.

It seems unlikely, of course. This is a mutual love likely to stand the test of time.

When he visited Milan earlier this season, he met with Inter fans, who presented him with a plaque which read, "To Mister Jose Mourinho. Your professional career will take you anywhere, but you are and will remain one of us."

When he returned for that 2-0 Coppa Italia final loss in February, meanwhile, Inter trio Steven Zhang, Beppe Marotta and Javier Zanetti gave him a silver, crystal-covered model of San Siro.

"I can only thank them," Mourinho said, "and never disguise the fact my rapport with Inter is eternal."

This unbreakable bond is, of course, rooted in the treble-winning campaign of 2009-10.

In the eyes of Inter fans, then, Mourinho really can do no wrong.

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A touchline dust-up or a post-match war of words might test that loyalty at San Siro on Saturday but, in truth, the Nerazzurri will probably forever remain in Mourinho's thrall.

The care little for the controversy he continues to court. If anything, they love him for it.

More than a decade after his departure, Inter still can't take their eyes off him.