Has the job at the Bernabeau been too much for the Special One?
This week Mourinho went out again in the semi final's of the Champions League with Madrid. He will win La Liga this season yet has he done a good job at Madrid?
The big news this week in Spain is of Guardiola stepping down from his role as coach of Barcelona. It seemed inevitable and the media attention it has received, while understandable is a little surprising considering this was going to happen all season. The timing of it has been questioned yet I believe the reason why it was done now is because the Champions League was the only priority, now they are out, it seems focus is all on next season. The timing however could not have suited one man in particular more than Pep’s rival, Jose Mourinho.
The 10th Crown
Ten years ago Real Madrid won the Champions League for the third time in five seasons, a remarkable achievement and an indication that this side was set to dominate world football. Yet it would be their last success in Europe. In the past six years it is in fact their rivals Barcelona who have taken the crown of "Kings of football"; winning the Champions League three times in the past six seasons. An amazing triumph for the Catalans, testament of their excellent youth academy and style of football, yet for Madrid success which has created anger and fury; for those Madridistas they are the King’s of Spain and they should believe it is they who should be regarded as the world’s best.
With Florentino Perez’s return in 2009 he decided that in order to overcome Barcelona the club needed to bring in a new era of the Galactico's; he spent big on Kaka, Ronaldo and Benzema and the following year brought in the world’s best coach to make these players a winning team. The “Special One” was an understandable decision based on his successes in the past decade; he had just won the most coveted prize again with a side in Inter who no-one believed could win it and Madrid’s recent managers were not bringing success to the Bernabeu; Schuster, Juande Ramos and Manuel Pelligrini could not overthrow the Blaugrana and so Mourinho’s remit was clear; put Madrid back on top.
This season Mourinho has staked everything on overcoming Barcelona, he convinced Perez to force Jorge Valdano out the club, arguing that it was this man who was holding the club back, whether true or not Mourinho wanted full control over the running of the club and amazingly Perez gave him what he wanted; a clear indication Madrid and their President would do anything to overcome their rivals. The league is almost tied up giving Madrid their first La Liga title since 2008, however does their success correspond with the expecations of the club and how rewarding of a success was it when their rivals concentration was on European football over domestic glory?
There has been no doubt of the quality of this Madrid side, a lot of money has been spent to assemble this group of players, their manager is the highest paid in world football and thus expectations are justifiably very high. However, they should have considered that this coach had certain methods and ways of behaving that his stewardship of the side would have an enormous effect on a club, especially one of the standing of Real Madrid.
Throughout his time at Madrid Mourinho has caused more problems than in any of his previous jobs; he made a decision before he arrived to antagonise the Barcelona fans and media with his theatrics in the Camp Nou and in his time at Madrid he has made a decision to antagonise the media, the refs and continue his campaign against Barcelona. His actions in the Clasico series last season indicated his belief that intimidation and accusation was the approach to beat this side. This season he caused major issues in the Super Cup when he decided to stick his finger in the eye of Barca assistant, and now future head coach Vilanova and he has made accusations that refs favour Barca and that there is a pro Barca conspiracy due to their relations with Unicef.
His actions have been beyond the normal instances of mind games, they have been callous and more personal than many psychological battles in football. His time as coach or as they say translator at Camp Nou appears to have left a mark on him, his actions are very personal. He defends his actions believing that they allow attention to be deflected off his team. He has done in it in all the other clubs he has managed; seeking to hide his own teams issues, results or flaws by taking the burden off his players. There always seems a reason why he acts certain ways, yet these continuous outbursts and actions clearly show there is something more to his psyche, although the fact has been that quite simply he cannot conquer Barcelona.
The problem at Madrid has been that his attempt to garner an “us against them” mentality has made the club the antithesis of Barca in people’s eyes, they have not impressed the global audience with their style, tactics and behaviour. It is this behaviour which has taken sourly by many players and fans at this club.
This style has been effective and it has brought success for sure; it worked so well for Porto, overcoming the odds to win the Champions League, for Chelsea he asserted the club at the top of English football with a mix of individual brilliance, collective sprit and undying belief. Inter Milan had been terrible in Europe, they were not regarded capable of winning anything, yet he took them there. His management history resembles his own coaching pathway; overcoming the odds, proving others wrong when all write you off.
However his behaviour has led to issues with his own players, who felt he was hindering the side, not helping them. The biggest issue came in the aftermath of El Clasico in November when he accused Ramos and Casillas of major errors in the loss at home. Before this game there was talk of issues in the camp, that certain players, those who believed very much part of the Madrid family, did not believe in Mourinho’s tactics, styles and behaviour. Those who were part of the Spanish national side particularly found his ways unprofessional and crass.
It led to a clear division in the side where the Portuguese contingent of Ronaldo, Carvalho, Pepe and Coentreo along with Marcelo and Di Maria became his “group”; they played more than anyone else regardless of performance because they bought into his way. Amazingly there were rumours only a few months back that he was thinking of selling the captain, Iker Casillas, their longest serving player with 450 games for Madrid. All because he has had not bought into the ways of his coach. It is fascinating to think that there was so much happening even when results were going well.
The reason why players, particularly the Spanish players and Casillas in particular, have found his behaviour so poor is that he has disrespected the values of this side. Real Madrid regard themselves as the King’s of Spain and believe they should not only be the most successful side but the side who people consider the best footballing side. Previous stars such as Di Stefano, Puskas, Raul and Zidane epitomised their wish to entertain the world with their flair, new signings like Kaka, Ronaldo and Benzema were meant to usher in a new era of Galactico’s and a new era of beautiful football to entertain the fans. However the mantel of the world’s best has continually being given to Barcelona. How sickening for Madrid fans.
It has been very difficult to compete with Barcelona; the problem has been that the gulf between Barca and Madrid was wider than perhaps even Mourinho anticipated and that first Clasico, the 5-0 win, showed Mourinho that in his mind this side could not compete playing the “Madrid way”. The resulting Clasico’s resulted in a change of tactic, one which changed the relationship between players and fans towards the “Special one”. His bully tactics did nothing to change results, instead all it did was reinforce the might of Barcelona and diminish the love of Madrid. A side which once played with such elegance, flair and poise, were now nothing more than bullies, defending for their lives and offering nothing in attack. £250 million worth of talent in Ronaldo, Benzema, Ozil, Kaka, Alonso and Di Maria were merely instructed to drop off, follow orders and defend.
He has put his trust in players like Pepe; a player famed for his aggression and disciplinary record over his talents as a footballer. Mourinho must be questioned for his trust in a man who many times in big games has he let his side down, yet Jose continues to play him. Loyalty is commendable yet when that loyalty becomes blind then the manager must be questioned.
Now obviously I know how well Madrid have played this season, that their goal tally does not indicate a side who play defensively, yet, for many and I am sure for the Madrid fans, if they could not claim to be better than Barcelona, in style, not just results, then they would not be satisfied. It is this problem which Mourinho has struggled with at Madrid compared to in his previous jobs, where success was all that mattered. Yet as Capello found out, there are higher expectations in this job than just success.
The 10th crown thrown away
The key for this season, even perhaps regardless of the style, was to win the Champions League, a win would be the 10th of Madrid’s history and would allow the fans to believe they had pushed Barca off the top. However Jose has not been able to do what he has done at Porto and Inter, they could not overcome their rivals last season in the semi-finals and now they have gone out again in the same round, what seemed a possibility has ended and with that appears to be the end of the Special One.
The attention has been on Barcelona this week and so Madrid have been sheltered from questions about their elimination. There many mistakes made by Mourinho in these ties. With Barcelona going out the night before the stage was set for Madrid to get to the final and put this team back at the top of European football. Yet, they failed, and with it goes everything Mourinho promised to Perez. How did they not go through?
Firstly, they were very abject in the first leg yet appeared to have got something from he game at 1-1, however, naive defending from Coentrao meant Bayern took a 2-1 lead to the Bernabeau. For me, Madrid were still in control, the result in the Clasico on the weekend would surely have galvanised belief, yet what was for certain was that the key to Madrid winning was to start fast and attack from the off. And they did, Bayern were all over the place in the first 10 minutes and after 15 minutes the game was 2-0.
Yet Mourinho, as he does too often, became too cautious; the decision after Ronaldo scored the second to drop off was a mistake. At the point the second goal went in, Madrid had the game tied up, Bayern looked shocked by what happened and were there for the taking. Yet instead of going for more Mourinho decided to let them have the ball, allowed them to settle, calm down and build up the play. This was a major tactical error, if Madrid had pushed and pressed more they could have scored again, killing the possibility of extra time and forcing Bayern to come at them.
It was clear that the longer the game went on, the more Madrid would tire because of the game from the weekend when a full strength side was used, against a Bayern side who put everything into this tie, resting players in a league game which had no significance. A game which promised many more goals became more stagnant and it was only in extra time when Madrid believed their only chance to go through was to win that period, and they played like it. That mentality is great if you score, yet if you go into the shootout with the belief that you won’t win it, then you more than probably won’t.
It was fitting that Jose vacated the pitch immediately after the last penalty and his expressions on each penalty seemed to indicate that his players had let him down. The truth was, he had let them down with his defensive mentality, showing a distrust in his players, as so often in the "big" games he preferred the opposition to have the ball over his own side, quite amazing when you think of the quality that Madrid possess and clearly an indication of he views his own team.
Under achieving performance
When Madrid look back on this season will they be happy with what they have achieved? In my opinion no, as good as both sides have been this season, the key for both of Spain’s giants was success in the Champions League. It says a lot about the standard of La Liga when the priority of their top sides is not the domestic league and perhaps it reinforces the argument that a European Superleague is becoming more of a possibility and a necessity. Even though Madrid have scored more goals in the league than ever before, even though they will win this league for the first time since 2008, the season has been a failure. And the man to blame is Jose Mourinho.
With the quality of players Mourinho has in paper he should have been more successful. Yet he has been the cause of his own downfall; his endless disputes, complaints and arguments with the media and his own players have not galvanised a team but divided it. He asked for full control in order to be successful, and although a La Liga title shows progress, he has done more damage to this club than good.
He has shown that he has his limits as a coach, has shown that the pressure of such a high profile job has taken its toll on him; the Madrid job has uncloaked the failings of coach who is very good at being the underdog, very good at bringing together a team no-one likes, yet on this occasion he underestimated what Madrid are, they are not Chelsea or a team in Milan’s shadow, they are the might of Spain, the King’s club and they have a way of doing things. Mourinho has failed the history of the club, failed the fans and the players too.
Barcelona are a side which perhaps may not reach the heights they did in the past few years, a new coach may change their fortunes and so the battle of El Clasico is a mixture of one side improving and one showing signs of decline. Perhaps if he stays he could go and win that 10th crown for Madrid and cement his place in history, perhaps he could take over Barcelona. However, watching Jose vacate down the steps at the end of the game indicated to me that he failed in his mission this season, that the league, as Capello found is not good enough and that when he was on his knees in that shootout he was praying in order to keep his job alive.
In his press conference after the semi final he said that “If the club want I will stay”, this tells me that he knows his time may be up, he has been given the control he desired yet come up short again, yet most importantly has dragged the white of Madrid through the dirt. He does not have the class or dignity to manage such a big club, where history and honour are key traits which he cares little for. He will leave Madrid this summer without the 10th crown hanging on his shoulders and with the knowledge that he found the pressures of the job too difficult and quite simply misunderstood who the King’s of Spain really are.