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On soccer

Mourinho is the real deal

By Frank Dell’Apa
Globe Staff / June 1, 2010

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Few current MLSers have been part of a European championship team, and the Revolution have two — forward Edgaras Jankauskas (Porto) and coach Steve Nicol, who won the title as a player.

And Jankauskas and Nicol give major credit to Inter coach Jose Mourinho for the Nerazzurri’s Champions League win last week.

Jankauskas has known Mourinho since playing for him in Porto through 2004, their latest meeting when Inter was preparing for the season in Boston last year. Inter’s first game in preparation for the season was at Gillette Stadium, a 2-0 victory over Milan July 26, both goals by Diego Milito. There was something of a preview in that result, as Milito bookended the season by scoring twice in a 2-0 win over Bayern Munich in the Champions Cup final. Milito’s move past Milan’s Oguchi Onyewu to finish with his left foot in Foxborough was topped by his Maradona-esque drag past Bayern’s Daniel Van Buyten in Madrid.

After the final, Mourinho accepted an offer from Real Madrid, which will pay a 15 million euro buyout clause to Inter.

“It’s a step ahead, he always wants challenges,’’ Jankauskas said of Mourinho’s move. “He’s done everything. What can he do? He can’t do better — the job has been done and he moves on, it doesn’t surprise me.’’

Jankauskas is familiar with Mourinho’s methods, having competed against his teams and then under his guidance.

“I can’t say I’m calling him every week but when I see him — the last time I saw him was here in Boston — we talk and wish good luck to each other,’’ Jankauskas said. “I had no doubt he was going to do well. He’s a great coach, first of all, he’s always going to big clubs. And big clubs always have more possibilities than small clubs. He can choose the players, he can buy whoever he wants, so those important pieces he has the ability to be the best.

“For him, to be second is not good. He always wants to be first, which is good, and that’s why he took the Madrid job. It’s a big challenge and I think that’s the last step. He can’t move back, he can’t stay — you need to take challenges — and he’s won it all in Italy and England. Spain, I think, is No. 1 in soccer, so he must be there. I think he will end up in Barcelona, some day. Who knows?’’

Nicol performed for Liverpool when it defeated Roma in the ’84 Champions Cup final in Rome and lost to Juventus the next year in Brussels. Nicol said Inter was seldom in difficulty against Bayern Munich.

“It was kind of predictable, I thought,’’ Nicol said. “[Inter] was always going to be solid and not give too much away, and then take advantage of what they could. The fact they go ahead is absolutely right up their street. Then Bayern has a chance when it’s 1-nil, which could have changed it. You still couldn’t see [Inter] collapsing. Even had it gone to 1-1, I’d still have put my money on [Inter].’’

Nicol is not totally sold on Inter’s style of play, expressing more respect than admiration.

“I don’t dislike them,’’ he said. “Mourinho is a bit arrogant, but you’ve got to like him.’’

Nicol was speaking on the eve of the 25th anniversary of Liverpool’s 1-0 loss to Juventus in the Champions Cup final, the game played as 39 spectators died at Heysel Stadium May 29, 1985. Nicol has survived some tragic events, and this usually helps him keep events in perspective. The Heysel disaster, caused by a combination of hostile fans, poor crowd control, and an inadequate stadium (a wall separating supporter groups collapsed) led to reforms in how European soccer is administered. Later that year, Nicol and his Scotland teammates had just qualified for the World Cup when manager Jock Stein collapsed and died of a heart attack. And, four years later, Nicol was performing for Liverpool at Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield when overcrowding and lack of crowd control led to the deaths of 96 spectators.

In fact, on the day of the Heysel anniversary, Revolution goalkeeper Preston Burpo sustained a broken fibula and tibia in a collision, the up-close view of the break leaving at least one player so upset he had to be substituted.

“Unfortunately, I’ve seen a couple,’’ Nicol said of similar injuries. “Not too many — but it’s part of the game. As far as the challenge was concerned, I have no problem with that — [New York’s Dane Richards] was going for the ball and these things happen.’’

As for the Revolution’s 3-2 win over the Red Bulls Saturday, Nicol said: “We’re at home and we certainly need the points. We got them under a strange circumstance, that’s for sure. But, nonetheless, we’ll take them.’’

Nicol has experienced much stranger and more devastating events in the game. He has also been involved in some of the most rewarding successes the game has to offer. And the combination, plus Nicol’s ability to filter those experiences, helps qualify him as a guiding light for the sport in this country.

Frank Dell’Apa can be reached at f_dellapa@globe.com.

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