Champions League action in Istanbul Wednesday saw Barclays Premier League leaders Chelsea struggle to a 1-1 draw with perennial Turkish champion Galatasaray, leaving Chelsea in prime position to advance out of the Round of 16, as they play the second leg on their home grounds, Stamford Bridge in London.
But the match, in many ways, took a back seat to the showdown between two rival managers, both of whom previously managed Italian giant Inter Milan. Jose Mourinho, who guided Portuguese side F.C. Porto to a surprise Champions League title in 2004, now manages Chelsea.
Next to him on the touch line, Italian Roberto Mancini took over the reins at Galatasaray this season when he was sacked by Manchester City just one season after leading that club to its first English top flight title since 1968 — and only Man City’s third ever.
In the UEFA Champions League, however, Mancini has been less successful, never progressing past the quarter-final round. He made it there only once, with Inter in 2004. This year, the only way he will even get to the quarter-final round is to take his Galatasaray side to Stamford Bridge and either win or secure a draw in which the teams score at least two goals each.
The latter possibility puts Galatasary through to the Champions League quarter-finals on away goals — but neither scenario seems especially likely. In truth, Mancini’s best chance was to hand Mourinho and Chelsea a defeat in the Turkish capital.
The bitterness between Mancini and Mourinho goes well beyond their Champions League clash Wednesday, however. Ever since Mourinho took over as boss at Inter from the departing Mancini, the pair have been verbally one-upping each other, even though Wednesday was only the fifth time their lengthy careers that the two managers have faced each other in an actual game.
When Mourinho took Inter in 2010 not only to a Champions League trophy, but won the Scudetti and Copa Italia as well — making his Inter the first such triple-champion in Italian football history — Mancini was quick to deem Mourinho “lucky” to win the Champions League and claim that not only did he build the “foundations” of that dominant Inter Mila side, “I built the roof, too!”
But Mourinho reacted cooly to comparisons with his predecessor. “”I don’t see Mancini’s shadow over me,” the Portuguese said. “I’m indifferent to it”
When Mancini was at Manchester City and Mourinho at Real Madrid, the Italian suggested that his rival was “jealous” of him.
“We are not Real Madrid, who used to win every year for 100 years,” he said, measuring his achievements agianst Mourinho’s — again. “We are Manchester City. We didn’t win for 35 years then in two years we won three trophies”
The war of words between the two may never be decided, but the team that gets to Champions League final eight will definitely be decided on March 18 when the two managers — oh, and incidentally, their teams as well — meet again at Stamford Bridge.