Mourinho's season centres around the next eight days
Barcelona (1) v Real Madrid (1)Real Madrid and Jose Mourinho have eight days. Eight days to define a season and, quite possibly, a legacy; eight days around which to define an exit strategy too.
Tonight they face Barcelona away in the Copa del Rey at Camp Nou, having drawn 1-1 in the first leg; on Saturday they play Barcelona again in La Liga at home and next Tuesday they travel to Manchester United in the Champions League, again having drawn 1-1 at home in the first leg.
Barcelona, Barcelona, United. It is some journey, destination unknown. March 6th is Real Madrid’s birthday. By then, their season could have ended.
Trailing Barcelona by 16 points in a league championship that Mourinho has already declared “impossible”, they must get positive results at Camp Nou and Old Trafford in order to avoid elimination in the two remaining competitions.
Or, to put it another way, they could still be on course for a Copa del Rey final, having knocked out their bitterest rivals on route, and continuing their path towards a historic 10th European Cup.
Madrid’s task may not prove as huge as is presupposed either: two draws may be sufficient. Two 2-2s and they will go through.
That is far from impossible: Cristiano Ronaldo has scored in his past five visits to Camp Nou and three of Madrid’s last four results there would put them through: 2-2, 3-2, 1-2, 2-2.
For Mourinho this may be about more than just this season but his time in Spain.
He is a collector and he has collected one of the things he came for – a Spanish league title to go with championships in Portugal, England and Italy – and he did what Madrid most needed him to do, knock Barcelona off their perch.
He has not collected the other trophy he seeks – a third European Cup with a third team – but while he would have seen Madrid as a grand opportunity to do so, there will be other chances.
Yet Mourinho also knows that how he is remembered at Madrid probably depends on this week.
These have been difficult years for him in Spain and he clearly has not enjoyed his time as he did in England; he flirts with the Premier League at virtually every opportunity. Asked what he so liked about England a fortnight ago, he said: “Everything”.
Destination that suits
The only thing that can keep him in Madrid is an inability to broker a decent deal to depart or find a destination that suits him.
His options, usually supposed to be infinite, are rather few. What happens over the next eight days influences that.
Emotions apart, Mourinho has constructed his identity on concrete achievements, objective exhibits that broker little argument. Essentially his discourse is “I win”.
That leaves him in a difficult position when he does not, and whether he is regarded as the kind of huge success he was in England and Italy depends largely on these matches.
Because the league is beyond Madrid, there is a chance that the team Mourinho chooses for Saturday’s game in that competition will be conditioned by what went before and what comes next.
Alex Ferguson’s eye will be cast over the league meeting with Barcelona, for sure, but it will surely not be drawn towards it too greatly.
Mourinho will not reveal much. It may prove the most decaffeinated clasico anyone can remember. Tonight, the first of eight decisive days, certainly will not.Guardian Service