Mourinho still the mouth that roars

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Follow Martin Rogers on Twitter at @mrogersyahoo

One of the most unusual rivalries in sports – one which was waged from different continents, across different sports and lit up a wildly-popular celebrity Twitter page – may be coming to an amicable end.

Inter Milan head coach Jose Mourinho took a break from firing off a series of controversial and bombastic comments ahead of this Saturday's Champions League final against Bayern Munich to patch up his odd rift with Phoenix Suns basketball star Steve Nash.

Inter coach Jose Mourinho offered apologetic words to Phoenix Suns basketball star Steve Nash.
(Getty Images)

''It is nothing,'' said Mourinho. ''I hear he is a good man. There is no problem. I didn't like what he said, but he is a great player and he can have his opinion.''

Mourinho, whose brilliance as a tactician is matched by his penchant for peculiarity, initially took great offense when he was informed of a critical tweet from Nash, a huge soccer fan who has spent his down-time during the NBA playoffs by following the closing stages of the European soccer season.

The tweet in question came after Inter won its semifinal against hot favorite Barcelona with a rearguard fighting effort after key defender Thiago Motta was sent off and Barcelona was forced to play with 10 men.

''Inter's XI for final: Butt, Yashin, Banks, Zoff, Maier, Tomaszewski, Zubizarreta, Schmeichel, Clemens, Higuita, Chilavert,'' wrote Nash.

Nash's list was the names of 11 legendary goalkeepers, indicating Inter had adopted an ultra-defensive set-up that was not easy on the eye against Barca, and would do so again against Bayern.

Mourinho, who won the Champions League with Porto in 2003 and led Chelsea to two English Premier League titles, is touchy on the subject of his team's defensive strength and allegations that they lack creativity.

''When I read comments by many real football people, they understood how well we played that game and how much credit the players deserve,'' Mourinho said last weekend in an interview with London's Sunday Times. ''When I read some comments from some, I don't want to say stupid people … For example, I read a comment from one of the best basketball players in the NBA, Steve Nash. He was saying that Inter could play that game with 10 goalkeepers. Fortunately, he plays basketball. He understands nothing about football.

''A football team is made of balance – I don't believe in a crazy attacking team, I don't believe in a crazy defensive team. My Porto had balance, my Chelsea had balance, and we have balance in this team. Football is about balance.''

Victory would cement Mourinho's reputation as they greatest current coach in the game, and there is every chance he will be recruited this summer to take over Spanish giant Real Madrid.

However, his brief yet bizarre spat with Nash revealed he still carries the level of insecurity which has often been precisely what makes Mourinho so intriguing to watch. At every step there is his need to justify and explain himself, with results that are sometimes explosive, sometimes hilarious.

As part of the lead-up to the final, Mourinho sparked great debate in European soccer circles by insisting the Champions League is ''more important'' than the World Cup, now just three weeks away in South Africa.

With the greatest show in soccer generating unprecedented hype, Mourinho's comments were guaranteed to get the public juices flowing – just as they always do whenever Mourinho opens his mouth with the intention to shock.

''This game is the most important in the world,'' said Mourinho. ''It is even bigger than the World Cup because the teams in it are at a higher level than national teams, who can't buy the best players. If you hold it to be important, you have to transmit that to the players.''

Even though Inter and Bayern were not expected to be in the final, there is no doubt that this match-up pits the best of the best at club level, at least right now. Mourinho has molded Inter into a superb unit, just as counterpart Louis van Gaal has instilled a steely resolve at Bayern.

Neither side can be accused of having an easy path to the title game at Madrid's Santiago Bernabeu stadium. Inter brushed past Chelsea in the last 16 and muscled by Barca in the semis. Bayern had to overcome 2008 winner Manchester United on its way to the final.

The final comes with storylines aplenty, especially the "Double Dutch" showdown between exquisitely talented Netherlands internationals Arjen Robben (Bayern) and Wesley Sneijder (Inter), who are likely to play key roles for their teams.

Yet you just can't overcome the sense that this night is going to be all about Mourinho, the man in the suit who never fails to entertain, and will surely do so again during a match that sets the table for one of the most anticipated soccer summers in history.