José Mourinho believes any of England’s top clubs would win the Champions League if they had Lionel Messiin their ranks. The Chelsea manager watched appreciatively as Messi inspired Barcelona to a 3-0 Champions League semi-final first-leg win at home to Bayern Munich on Wednesday.
The richness of the Barcelona success, together with the absence of Premier League teams from the last four of Europe’s elite competition, has stoked the discussion about whether England’s best are falling further behind at the highest level. Mourinho, though, said that there was no gap, only Messi.
“I think this guy makes the gap by himself,” Mourinho said. “You have doubts that Man City with Messi can win the Champions League? Or Arsenal with Messi can win the Champions League? Or Chealse with Messi can win the Champions League? Or Man United with Messi can win the Champions League? Don’t you think? I think.”
Mourinho said that any Tom, Dick or Harry – and, in his native Portuguese idiom, Anthony – would manage in a Champions League final with Messi. “One thing is a team; another thing is a team with Messi. It is a different story,” he said.
“He played a Champions League final with [Pep] Guardiola, he is normally going to play in this season’s Champions League final with Luis Enrique and if, one day, he plays for Anthony, Anthony will go to a Champions League final with him. When people analyse teams, you have to remember that this boy makes everything different.”
Guardiola, who is now the Bayern manager, had said on the eve of Wednesday’s tie there was “no defensive system that can stop Messi, and no coach either”.
Mourinho disagreed, and he pointed out that he and his old team, Internazionale, had managed to do so in each leg of their Champions League semi-final win over Barcelona in 2010.
Mourinho has faced Messi many times – the Argentina forward’s first game for the Barcelona first-team was a friendly against Mourinho’s Porto in November 2003. But Mourinho admitted that making life difficult for Messi was the best thing that could realistically be hoped for.
“Every time I played against Messi, I spent hours studying and trying to stop him,” Mourinho said. “Many times, we were successful. Other times, we were not successful. With Inter, we stopped him in both matches [of the semi-final].
“The best way to do it is man-to-man because that is better than involving everyone. When you go man-to-man, you go with similar power – although man-to-man with him is an impossible job. Every time I was thinking about how best collectively – I am not saying stop him – to give him a difficult match. I think this is the correct word. It is not about stopping him but giving him a difficult match. That is the best you do against him.”
Mourinho said he could never see Messi leaving Barcelona, that he would remain a one-club man. “My personal opinion – no chance to leave,” Mourinho said. “Just a personal opinion. Such a big club, such a powerful club. They can’t lose that player, that player belongs to them, belongs to their people. I don’t believe [he would leave]. In football, you never know, but I don’t believe it.”