Mourinho's days in Madrid look numbered irrespective of how Real fare

Sat, Feb 9, 2013, 00:00

Early last December, Real Madrid hosted city rivals Atlético de Madrid in a league game at the Bernabéu stadium. Forty minutes before kick-off, Real Madrid’s manager José Mourinho got ready to walk out of the tunnel for a pre-arranged date with the club’s fans. Annoyed at their jeering of his name earlier that the week during a Spanish Cup tie, he challenged them to come out on Saturday at 9.20pm and boo him before the game instead of during it.

His players derided him. “Are you ready to go? Have you got your make-up on? Is it the premiere of a new version of Jesus Christ Superstar?”

He scuttled out. The stadium, however, was practically empty. The fans in it were indifferent. Mourinho stood on the edge of the pitch for a while, looked around, and then disappeared back down the tunnel.

The club’s president, Florentino Pérez looked on in disgust from the directors’ box.

“Mourinho’s cutting his own throat,” was his assessment.

The following morning Marca, Spain’s main sports newspaper ran with a headline: “Divorce in sight” on its front page, alluding to the breakdown in the relationship between Pérez and his manager.

Pérez is a construction magnate and one of Spain’s most powerful men. He is disdainful of football coaches. He never deigned to speak to Manuel Pellegrini, Mourinho’s predecessor, beyond August in the Chilean’s sole season in charge.

Real Madrid has a history of treating its managers with contempt. Vicente del Bosque, who has led Spain to World Cup and European Championship triumphs, was fired the day after securing a league title. He found out the news from a journalist in a television studio before going on air.

Very curious

Bayern Munich manager Jupp Heynckes was guillotined after delivering Real Madrid a Champions League trophy in 1998.

“It is very curious and hard to explain that Jupp Heynckes won a Champions League title after 32 years and still had to leave the club, but the club is like that,” says Manolo Sanchís, captain of that European Cup-winning team and an analyst on Televisión Española.

“It’s a very demanding club. It is very hard to live for a long time with a club as complicated as this one. It is a machine so big, so powerful and so merciless that sometimes in its way it often ends up trampling an occasional life.”

Pérez has dismissed six coaches in three seasons. Mourinho is in his third season in charge, which is an indication of the power the Portuguese has acquired.

Only Fabio Capello in his first reign as manager of Real Madrid in the 1996/’97 season wielded as much authority, but he lacked Mourinho’s shamelessness in style.

“Capello had a lot of similarities with Mourinho,” says Santiago Segurola, Spain’s foremost football writer, “but he also had something that made him more human. He was a manager who looked for fewer excuses than Mourinho, who didn’t need to corrupt everything that surrounds football.”

Pérez, in a desperate bid to unseat a rampant Barcelona side, turned a blind eye to Mourinho’s belligerent antics in his first season in charge, epitomised by the eye-gouging of Tito Vilanova, now Barcelona manager, in the Spanish Supercup final of August 2011.

The president’s tolerance was repaid with the delivery of the league title the following season, but things have gone haywire since the summer.

Mourinho has lost the dressing room, something that came vividly to light in mid-December. After a pre-game press conference, Mourinho and five apparatchiks hauled Anton Meana, a journalist for Marca’s radio station, into a room and berated him for claiming that goalkeeping coach Silvino Louro was spying on the players for Mourinho. “In football, I’m top; in journalism, you’re shit,” concluded Mourinho.

Marca published details of the 25-minute exchange the following day, including Mourinho’s alienation with “three black sheep” among the players’ ranks. The fact Mourinho was admitting to a split in the Real Madrid squad led commentators to believe that he’d engineered the whole shakedown episode with the radio journalist.

A schism

It’s striking that morale has deteriorated so much among his squad, with a schism between the Spanish camp and the Portuguese-speaking cohort, among them Pepe, Fabio Coentrão, Cristiano Ronaldo, Ricardo Carvalho, all of whom are attached to über football agent Jorge Mendes, as is Mourinho.

At his previous clubs, loyalty was never an issue for Mourinho; he always fostered an unbreakable esprit de corps, embodied in his farewell exchange with Inter Milan’s grizzled enforcer Marco Materazzi in an underground car park in May 2010 – the pair sobbed into each other’s shoulders like a mother seeing her son off to war at a naval port.

The breakdown with Iker Casillas, Real Madrid and Spain’s captain, is starkest.

Casillas is an icon at the club, an inviolable character, dubbed “Saint Iker” by the masses for his gravitas and goalkeeping heroics. His relationship with a gorgeous TV reporter Sara Carbonero is a more refined Spanish version of the Beckhams. His sense of duty, of señorío, the impulse to behave like a señor, as a gentleman, is lost on Mourinho.

“I bite my tongue in public for the good of the institution,” Casillas said after hearing Mourinho blame the players in public for a losing performance to Real Betis in November.

“You should do the same! And if you have something to say, say it to our faces.”

Mourinho, apparently, turned away and smirked, saying he wasn’t talking about anyone in particular, but in general. For Real Madrid’s final league game before Christmas against Malaga, he dropped Casillas. He said it was “a technical decision”. Real Madrid lost 3-2.

In the first league game back in January, Casillas was again omitted from the team’s starting line-up, but came on as a substitute five minutes into the match when his replacement, Antonio Adán was sent off.

A few weeks later, having regained his starting place, he broke a bone in his thumb, which has sidelined him for a couple of months, although he was at the centre of more controversy when Marca published a story a couple of weeks ago, claiming himself and Sergio Ramos presented Pérez and José Ángel Sánchez, the club’s general manager, with an end-of-season ultimatum: if Mourinho stays, we go.

Ramos has long been estranged from Mourinho. During a training-ground spat last season following a 2-1 defeat to Barcelona at the Bernabéu in the Spanish Cup, he mocked Mourinho for never having played professional football.

Medieval court

Earlier this season, he, too, was dropped. It came shortly after he wore a Mesut Özil jersey under his own out of solidarity for his German team-mate, who had been ignominiously substituted at half-time. Marca reported the gesture with a “Ramos defies Mourinho” headline.

The intrigue in the club is the stuff of a medieval court. Pérez denied the players’ ultimatum story, staging a rare, impromptu press conference to angrily denounce the allegations, and is threatening legal action.

Marca stands over its story; meanwhile commentators in Spain suggest Sánchez, who has been a supporter of Mourinho, might have been the mole.

Pérez, exhausted with Mourinho’s need to have the club on a permanent war footing, is in a bind. He faces club presidential elections in the summer. The clamour to get rid of Mourinho, whose contract runs until June 2016, grows. A mid-season severance package would cost about €20 million.

Real Madrid trail Barcelona in the league by 16 points. Mourinho already conceded the league title in December.

Only the Champions League title, the club’s great obsession, offers salvation. A win, which would be Real Madrid’s 10th, would enable Pérez and Mourinho to part amicably in June.

Manchester United, who Real Madrid play on Wednesday night at the Bernabéu, stand in the way.

Mourinho puts his habit of moving regularly from club to club down to the fact he has the “soul of a Portuguese navigator”. He’s been touted as a replacement for Alex Ferguson when the Scot eventually takes his hands off the tiller at Manchester United. Who knows?

What’s more of a certainty is that if Real Madrid lose the tie, he’ll be walking the plank.

Richard Fitzpatrick is the author of El Clásico: Barcelona v Real Madrid, Football’s Greatest Rivalry, which is published by Bloomsbury.

Marca and the Spanish sports press

Marca is one of four sports newspapers in Spain. Sport and Mundo Deportivo are based in Barcelona, Marca and AS in Madrid. They unashamedly row in behind the two club giants of Spanish football – Barça and Real Madrid; they’re like fanzines (although they have some of the best football writers in Spain on their staff).

Sport is blatant about its allegiance. Its motto is Sempre ambel Barça – Always with

Marca is one of the biggest selling newspapers in Spain; it shifts 400,000 copies a day, and has 200 staff – across print, internet, radio and TV - exclusively focused on football. It was founded in 1938 during the dog days of the Spanish Civil War with an agenda to promote Franco’s vision of muscular nationalism.

Though supportive of Real Madrid, they can be very critical about management issues, and quite vindictive in skewering personalities.

Marca, for example, hunted Real Madrid manager Manuel Pellegrini, José Mourinho’s predecessor, out of town.

Initially, it built Mourinho as a hero when he arrived in Spain, but that has changed radically  over the last 12 months.

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