Like him or loathe him, you just have to respect him.
In fact, if it was anyone other than Jose Mourinho himself who penned the nickname the “Special One,” we would probably be quite happy to use it.
After the glory of Champions League victory with Porto in 2004, successive Premier League titles with Chelsea, and now a clean sweep of domestic honors in Italy, Mourinho stands on the brink of taking his Internazionale team to their first Champions League title since 1965.
However, his rival in Saturday final in Madrid’s Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, Bayern Munich coach Louis van Gaal, is no stranger himself to great victories and even greater accolades. Indeed, some media in Europe are even referring to the forthcoming final as “God versus Son of God.”
The biblical references may be more apt than usual, in that after taking over at the German club last summer the Dutch coach van Gaal promptly secluded himself in a monastery for a full month, not only mastering the language but also presumably focusing his mind on adding to his already impressive list of achievements.
Van Gaal has led four teams in three countries to 18 major trophies, including the Champions League with Ajax in 1995. Like Mourinho’s Inter, his Bayern team has won the domestic double this season, leading to the unique situation where both clubs are now chasing the hugely prestigious treble.
And while Inter Milan were widely acclaimed for eliminating reigning champions and hotly-tipped favorites Barcelona in the semis, Bayern Munich were quietly demolishing Lyon 4–0 on aggregate. Even French media reported a gulf in class rarely seen at this level.
What is even more impressive in this age of astronomical fees for signing players, no less than eight of the Bayern players involved in this famous semifinal victory were acquired for free.
Both managers share the passionate belief that it is the tactical prowess of the manager who is king in modern soccer. But their styles are very different. Expect the fluent, attacking, almost “total football” of van Gaal to come up against the inner strength and precise positional awareness of Mourinho’s Inter.
With so much emphasis on the clash between these two hugely successful and eminently charismatic managers, it is possible to forget about the actual players who will be taking to the pitch on Saturday.
Both clubs miss a key player through suspension, winger Franck Ribery for Bayern and midfielder Thiago Motta for the Inter.
Key battles at both ends will be Bayern’s attacking winger Arjen Robben against Inter’s veteran defender Javier Zanetti, and Martin Demichelis versus Diego Milito when Internazionale move forward.
In midfield, hard men Mark Van Bommel and Esteban Cambiasso will fight it out.
In what is one of the most eagerly anticipated Champions League finals in years, the sparks are sure to fly. Either van Gaal or Mourinho will end the night as only the third coach in history to win the trophy with two different clubs.
And regardless of the outcome, once the dust settles expect further drama to unfold as Real Madrid seeks to sign the “Special One.”