I wonder why i suddenly decided to write about the UEFA Champions League encounter that took place between Inter Milan and Barcelona, almost two years ago. Then i realized that i have often bored my students and Satabdi by recounting the story of that evening, trying to inspire them but ending up increasing their boredom threshold in the process. But that evening was magic, emotionally draining and the feeling was that of a gladiator coming out of the theater..bloody, battered and victorious.
The stage was set. Nou Camp..one of the most hostile footballing arenas in the world and the mood was set with all the pre-match talk in the Catalan Media about how the Barca faithfuls would make Inter Milan hate football in the span of the 90 minutes. Inter were up against it, a team which many considered to be the best of all times, two midfield generals able to thread the ball through the needle's eye and a certain Lionel Messi..ballerina on grass. Inter had a bunch of workmanlike group of footballers, the glamor, the media attention all absent. Just the Herculean faith of their owner, Massimo Moratti and the self titled "Special One", Jose Mourinho.
And here is where it all started. The footballing fraternity remembers Mourinho starting his managerial career under the supervision of the late Sir Bobby Robson right there in Barcelona. Mourinho worked as a translator and sometimes as assistant coach and is said to have been highly disappointed and insulted when the Barca hierarchy didn't appoint him as the coach once Robson had left. The Barca fraternity had always sneeringly called Mourinho "the translator",something which didn't go down too well with him. And here he was, almost one and a half decades later, with the chance of experiencing the greatest emotion of all...Revenge.
I was aware of all the complexities and the hype surrounding the match. Curiously, i was going through a particular crisis in my personal life and had decided to watch the match just to divert my attention from the storm that was brewing in my own life. Sports has always been the greatest healer for me, and sometimes caused the deepest wounds...friends who know me for a while would understand how i had almost slipped into depression after Chelsea lost to Manchester United in the final of the same championship 2 years ago.
But this match was different. Inter Milan were up against it, and Mourinho by the sidelines was like a cat on a hot tin roof. Abuses poured, every time Inter touched the ball, boos rang out. It was a cauldron where a crowd in the excess of around 40,000 kept baying for blood. I must remind the readers that it was here that Figo was greeted with a pig's head when he returned as a Real Madrid player after his infamous transfer to the bitter rivals. And this evening was no different. Inter were beginning to feel the heat, and someone going through a rough phase in his life, thousands of miles away, watching the match in the comforts of the living room was getting sucked into it.
To make matters worse, midway through the first half, Inter were reduced to ten men. A red card.. and the Catalan country had erupted. It was a given that teams do not stand with all personals intact against the pace of Barcelona. And here was their greatest enemy, with their strength diminished. I was almost angry to tears. replays had shown that the foul wasn't a grievous one, and that the referee had come under immense pressure from the crowd to produce that card. I was fuming and suddenly i realized that this is how bound and helpless i had been feeling for the past few months,as if the entire world had conspired to defeat me. I knew this would be a mammoth task, almost a miracle to come out a winner from this hell-hole. And then the cameras captured Mourinho, in all his glory and arrogance, smirking at the crowd and applauding sarcastically for getting the man sent off. In a moment, he was directing traffic from the sidelines, marshaling his men and regrouping his troupes. I saw that he believed that this could be won. And if this could be conquered, so could be LIFE...
The second half begun in much the same way. Wave after Wave of Barcelona attack raided the Inter territory, and Inter were defending with all they had and with more. Mourinho was still his usual self, and as the minutes ticked by, i began to believe. A curious thing was noticed by everyone watching-- every time Inter had the possession of the Ball, they gave it back to the Barcelona half. It is only later that all of us realized what was happening. Inter were a man short, and it was impossible to play Barca with the latter's speed and pace. So better give them the possession and wait with all 10men to defend, and in this way they wouldn't be in the danger of facing a counter-attack with men short in their own territory.
The seconds ticked by.. And i remember, pacing up and down, literally praying. Every time Barca threatened, my heart was in my mouth. The players were tired, but still they hung on. Fighting for every inch of the grass, winning every tackle. Mourinho seemed to have passed on the message to defend with life. In the 82nd Min, Barca scored. But those aware of the away goal rules, would know that since Inter had a 2 goal cushion from the first leg, Barca had to score again to win. 8 mins were left on the clock. Inter were a man down, the entire stadium wanted them to lose. But still Mourinho believed, his men did..I DID.
What happened after the final whistle blew is etched forever in my memory. Mourinho had run the length to the pitch, pointing to the Barca hierarchy Box. Those images have been played over and over on Youtube and remains one of the most watched football videos ever. But thousands of miles away, i didn't have nowhere to run, or to point, or mutter. With hazy eyes, my fisted palms kept punching the air, again and again and again....My grandmother (who was alive then), woke up to find me in a frenzy..my flashing eyes and my floating hair...In that trance I realized that this was more than a football match to me. A Movie from the home theater of God, asking me not to give up. To fight, To believe...To win..Even the "translator" may have been lost for words that night...