Jose Mourinho's conversation with Zlatan led to his finest-ever season in management, Ibrahimovic ignored him
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Jose Mourinho holding a grudge is not breaking news. The self-proclaimed 'Special One' has made his fair share of enemies over a 22-year stint in management at the top level. He needs adversity to thrive. Sometimes, it doesn't come from his rivals. It comes from those who are closest to him.
Following a stint at Chelsea, which saw him win two Premier League titles and two League Cups, Mourinho took a year out of work before resurfacing with Serie A giants Inter Milan in 2008. His pragmatic, although successful, style of football saw Chelsea concede 15 goals in 38 games during his debut campaign. Replicating that at the San Siro would make him a hero.
He did manage to guide Inter to Serie A and Supercoppa Italia glory, although they were eliminated from the Champions League by eventual losing finalists Manchester United.
Five years prior, Mourinho had knocked Sir Alex Ferguson's men out of the competition with Porto en route to winning the Champions League. That result helped launch Mourinho into the spotlight, but a 2-0 defeat at Old Trafford on March 11, 2009, provided Mourinho with a chance to redesign, rebuild and reclaim his throne as the world's best coach.
His main man up front that year was Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The Sweden icon was a perfect build for Mourinho. Tall, strong, clinical, a presence that'll cause any central defender an absolute nightmare. Ibrahimovic scored a whopping 25 goals in 35 appearances in Serie A that year, and Mourinho even foiled his attempts to leave the pitch early. That kind of relationship doesn't exist in modern football.
Ibrahimovic was starting to have his head turned by what Pep Guardiola was building at Barcelona, however. With the emerging talents of Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi taking Europe by storm, Ibrahimovic decided it was time to test himself in Spain. Inter managed to negotiate a £59 million deal for Ibrahimovic while receiving Samuel Eto'o in exchange.
Ibrahimovic's last game for Inter was during their tour of the United States in the World Football Challenge. Mourinho's final chat with the striker before he flew to the Camp Nou came under the intense sunlight in Pasadena, California. To say he dropped some home truths would be an understatement.
Mourinho explained in an interview: "Before he left, I told him. We were in Los Angeles before a friendly game against Chelsea. It was the middle of July, something like that.
"Before the game, he was telling me he would prefer not to play because the next day he was going to travel to Catalonia to join Barcelona.
"I knew already from Mr Moratti [Massimo Moratti, former Inter owner] what was going on, the amount involved, Eto'o was coming as a change to us."
Mourinho wanted to get one final dig in at Ibrahimovic in the heat of the moment. He'd seen Barcelona win the Champions League and wanted to add Europe's elite competition to his growing trophy cabinet. Playing on his fear of missing out on the one medal to elude him at this point, Mourinho delivered his parting blow.
He continued, with a cheeky grin: "I told him, you are making the wrong move. Because you think you're going there to win the Champions League and we are going to win the Champions League."
What happened? Well, Mourinho added Diego Milito and Wesley Sneijder to his squad to make an attacking trio worthy of winning any competition.
Ibrahimovic completed his switch to Barcelona and clashed with Guardiola, who refused to budge on his borderline obsession with Messi. We think he ended up being in the right in that particular instance.
Mourinho managed to channel that siege mentality and get the best out of his 'misfit' attackers. Eto'o felt unwanted at Barcelona, despite scoring in the Champions League final. Sneijder was surplus to requirements at Real Madrid, who were still in their Galacticos era. Milito finished second behind Ibrahimovic in the previous year's Golden Boot race, scoring 24 goals for Genoa. He had a point to prove.
Inter would win the league again under Mourinho, plus the Coppa Italia. More importantly, they ended up winning the Champions League. Ironically, they came up against Ibrahimovic and his new Barcelona teammates in the semi-finals. Inter delivered a defensive masterclass to seal passage to the final against Bayern Munich, which they eventually won.
An emotional Mourinho left Inter for Real Madrid at the end of that season. He's previously described it as the hardest decision of his career.
Ibrahimovic, meanwhile, returned to Italy with AC Milan a year later. He and Mourinho eventually reunited at Manchester United in 2016, winning the Carabao Cup and Europa League. You have to wonder if they've ever discussed this entire saga at length. Neither man would admit they were in the wrong, though. It's not their style.