Only Jose Mourinho could find a way to attribute to the International Champions Cup final between Chelsea and Real Madrid to his own handiwork.
Mourinho – at least according to the man himself – set the stage for this enticing conclusion to the eight-team tournament (live, FOX Soccer, Wednesday, 9 p.m. ET) because he fulfilled his basic duties as Madrid manager before moving back to Stamford Bridge in June.
“Real Madrid is playing this competition and is doing the preseason here because I organized (it) for them,” Mourinho said after Chelsea arranged this final with a 2-0 victory over AC Milan on Sunday in East Rutherford, N.J. “And because I’m a professional, I did it even knowing that I was not doing the preseason with them. After that, I did the preseason with my new club and we know that it is very possible that we meet in the final phase of the competition. So they won their matches, we won our matches and we are there.”
The encounter between the two sides offers Mourinho a chance to engage in the sort of devilish machinations and mental gymnastics he usually reserves for notable domestic fixtures or significant European nights. It is never too early to steal a march on a potential UEFA Champions League rival, though the utility of such mind games against a club well versed in these practices ahead of a friendly remains somewhat uncertain.
Mourinho persists in the endeavor nonetheless in a bid to unsettle his former comrades. Cristiano Ronaldo brushed aside a recent jab about Mourinho’s spell with “the real Ronaldo” at Barcelona and resisted the urge to descend further into the mire.
”There are things in life that aren’t worth commenting on and this is one of them, for obvious reasons,” Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo said this week when asked about seeing Mourinho’s new club. ”I always come away with the good things about managers. I don’t bite the hand that feeds me and I don’t talk about people that speak badly of me. I come away with the positive things. We’re going to be facing Chelsea, not their manager.”
Madrid officials – perhaps not the most esteemed figures in Mourinho’s eyes after his acrimonious departure and his tumultuous spell in charge – fielded yet another charge of placing politics over playing concerns. And the "Special One" just pulled the strings on all of it as he tried to divine an advantage somewhere else down the line.
Every little bit helps with Chelsea more of a work in progress in comparison to Madrid’s relatively finished product. Carlo Ancelotti continues to integrate new figures into his alluring mix (he’d make room for Gareth Bale somehow, one might imagine) and tinker with potential deployments (moving Ronaldo a bit closer to goal, for example), but his work remains relatively modest at this juncture. He manages a strong squad primed to maintain the usual duopoly at home (Madrid would prefer to see the current order reversed, of course) and mount a genuine charge for the Champions League glory Mourinho could not deliver.
Madrid’s polish stands in somewhat stark contrast to Chelsea’s evolving model. A few of the old campaigners remain to provide links to the past (and Frank Lampard, in particular, still has a role to play in the present), but the future involves a host of fresher faces – including promising Dutch import Marco van Ginkel – and a more ambitious deportment within Mourinho’s professed 4-2-1-3 setup. He possesses the requisite tools to play more expansively with Eden Hazard, Juan Mata, and Oscar all capable of providing the necessary ingenuity for a group of strikers that could still include Wayne Rooney at some point before the transfer window closes.
The exact composition of the side for this renewal of acquaintances with Madrid remains in some doubt, though. Mourinho isn’t likely to tip his hand ahead of the start of the Barclays Premier League season, but he will strive to replicate the comfortable victories achieved against both Milan clubs in the first two matches of this tournament.
“I will do the same as I did (against Milan),” Mourinho said. “I will make my changes, I will play one team one half and another team another half, basically, so we are not that with that pressure, with that obsession to get a result.”
A triumph in this game – quite like the verbal jousting preceding it – might allow Mourinho to steal a march on his white-clad rivals and offer a distraction from the work still to do. Madrid appears further along on its quest to triumph in Europe, while Chelsea still faces the unnerving assignment of overcoming both Manchester clubs before shifting its focus to its continental duties.
The conundrum presents a difficult task worthy of Mourinho’s well-established nous. And, if his work this week provides any insight into the matter, he remains entirely capable of shifting the focus onto himself until he can devise the solutions necessary to achieve on-field success.
FOX Soccer’s Leander Schaerlaeckens contributed to this report.