Inter Milan coach Jose Mourinho on Tuesday questioned CSKA Moscow’s right to still be in the Champions League ahead of their quarter-final, first leg clash at the San Siro on Wednesday.
CSKA defenders Aleksei Berezutski and Sergei Ignashevich were both previsionally suspended after they tested positive for a banned substance following their group match away to Manchester United in November.
They were later found to have taken a cold medicine that had not been reported by the club’s doctors and they were retroactively given one-game bans (which they had already served).
They were let off harsher punishment as UEFA accepted that club doctors had made a technical mistake.
But Mourinho questioned the legitimacy of the club’s continued participation in the competition.
“There’s something grey about CSKA’s progress in the Champions League. If two players go to an anti-doping control and a substance is found that’s not allowed in the Champions League, there’s something grey,” he said.
The controversial former Chelsea boss was speaking to the press for the first time since the last round of this comeptition.
He has boycotted the Italian media for the last six league matches since he was banned for three games after making a handcuffs gesture to TV cameras against Sampdoria in February.
It was the fourth time he had received a touchline ban since arriving in Italy but Mourinho explained his silence was merely to allow him to do his job.
“My press silence is doing me good because it allows me to sit on the bench and that’s important for me,” he explained.
“I’ve always said that a coach does not win a match from the bench but it allows him to stay close to his players and that’s where I want to be.
“Not speaking about Italy or the Italian league allows me to sit on the bench, and no I don’t want to risk that,” he said in answer to a question about whether or not he would end his boycott.
And Mourinho added fuel to the fire of speculation that this will be his last season in Italy by admitting he retains an affinity for English football.
“I miss English football and English football misses me, there’s no doubt about that, but right now I’m thinking only about Inter,” he added.
“At Inter I’m very busy with the league, the Italian Cup and the Champions League. These occupy all my thoughts, preparing games and analysing them.”
Looking ahead to Wednesday’s game, Mourinho said he expected the Russians to keep things tight and lamented the fact that the second leg will be played in the Russian capital on an artificial pitch.
“If people think CSKA are not a team at the same level as a Barcelona or a Chelsea, they are nonetheless a very difficult team,” he said.
“I expect a closed game, very defensive, which will need the highest level of concentration.
“I would have much prefered to play the first game in Moscow. The synthetic pitch will also be difficult for us in the second leg.”
Inter also have some selection difficulties with Thiago Motta and Lucio suspended but even so there will be no return to the team for teenage forward Mario Balotelli, frozen out for the last six games due to discipline issues.
But Cameroon forward Samuel Eto’o insisted he will not be missed.
“Mario is one of us, he’s 19 and I like him a lot. But in this situation we have to think about the group.
“I like him a lot but he knows what he has to do to be welcomed back into the group. Tomorrow we won’t miss him.”
It is believed Balotelli must apologise to Mourinho and the rest of the squad before he will be selected again, something he evidently has not done.
CSKA coach Leonid Slutsky insisted that Inter are the favourites.
“They’re one of the best teams in Europe and are the favourites, also for the Italian championship,” he said.
“I saw their game against AS Roma (a 2-1 defeat on Saturday) and they seemed to me to be a very strong team.
“We are aware of their quality and the number of attacking players at Mourinho’s disposal but we’re here to do our best.”