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Old comrades vie for immortality

May 20, 2010

Van Gaal and Mourinho as manager and assistant at Barcelona

This Saturday night at Madrid’s Bernabéu stadium two of European football’s great clubs – Bayern Munich and Inter Milan – will slug it out for the Champions League crown.

Both have savoured the ultimate glory in the past and this final represents a return to form for two of the competition’s under-performers in the last few years.

Bayern lifted the last of their four titles in 2001 while you have to go all the way back to 1964 and 1965 for Inter’s two victories.

A win would for either would cap a remarkable season – both have won their domestic double already – with the perfect finale of a first treble.

But it’s not just the prospective glory of the two clubs at stake. Both managers in Saturday’s showpiece have the chance to join a select band of men to guide different clubs to victory in Europe’s top competition.

Only two coaches, Austrian legend Ernst Happel with Feyenoord and Hamburg, and Sir Alex Ferguson’s nemesis Ottmar Hitzfeld with Borussia Dortmund and Bayern, have gone all the way with different clubs, and whoever prevails on Saturday will join that prestigious list.

In Jose Mourinho’s relatively short career as a top-level manager – just 10 years – he has won Europe’s top prize with unfancied Porto and accumulated domestic titles in England and Italy like policy concessions in a coalition government.

But despite all that achievement, the Special One has repeatedly come up short when it really matters in what he regards as the world’s most important football competition. And yes, he does include the World Cup.

Van Gaal won the Champions League in 1995 with an outrageously talented Ajax side but never scaled those heights again at Barcelona where he enjoyed two spells as coach.

Now, at Bayern, he has reinvigorated ‘FC Hollywood’ after they lost their way under the eccentric stewardship of Jürgen Klinsmann and given them a much needed new lease of life.

Intriguingly, Mourinho worked as assistant to Van Gaal at Barca, where the Special One claims he learned everything he needed to know about organisation and defence.

Van Gaal favours attacking football at Bayern and his side have already accounted for Manchester United. But without the influential Franck Ribery – missing through suspension – they may lack the firepower to break down the mean and moody Inter back line.

Mourinho – and his self-enforced siege mentality – has whipped his Inter team and their fans into a footballing frenzy. Expect the Special One to waltz off into the Madrid night with a second European cup and a new job in the same city.

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