Spirit of ‘Madridismo’ let down by both Mourinho and Perez

‘He fell out with the Spanish players who are the favourites of the crowd and he jammed his finger into Tito Vilanova’s eye. ’


‘People don’t come up to me and say ‘Congratulations on winning the league.’ They say something that is more flattering and even - dare I say it – enduring. They say, ‘Thank you for restoring the spirit of Madridismo.’”

So the Real Madrid president Florentino Perez told John Carlin in a conversation recounted in Carlin’s 2004 book White Angels: Beckham, Real Madrid, and the New Football .

Perez granted Carlin generous access during the writing of the book, and one suspects he was pleased with the result. Carlin portrays Perez as the heir to the spirit of the sixteenth-century conquistadores Cortes and Pizarro, and even finds a moment to admire “the sense of entitlement with which Perez slipped into the back of sleek, chauffeur-driven cars oblivious to the presence of the bodyguards who held doors open for him.”

Perez explained “the spirit of Madridismo” to Carlin. It meant winning, of course, but beyond that, it meant adhering to a particular identity, it meant attacking football, “an artistic spectacle with a touch of magic”. It meant values like “courage, leadership, desire, solidarity among the players and respect for your rivals”; it meant above all “ señorío ” – meaning a kind of lordly dignity, a majestic and aristocratic bearing.

Admittedly, Perez is a man with little time for reflection. As Madrid’s marketing guru Jose Angel Sanchez told Carlin: “He is a man of action. He is busy consciously making history.” While you are occupied with the making of history, self-analysis takes a back seat.

Still, you didn’t need to have followed the story of Perez and Real Madrid very closely to recognise that the spirit of Madridismo he had described sounded like the opposite of everything his Real Madrid had come to represent.

Two-tier squad
Perez talked about Madrid’s unique identity, but he had sealed his own ascent to the club presidency by signing Barcelona’s best player, Luis Figo. He talked about solidarity, but he had built a two-tier squad in which the superstars were allowed to live by different rules from the rest. He talked about respect for rivals, but he had presided over an era in which Real Madrid ruthlessly exploited their dominant position to take more and more of the revenues of the Spanish game for themselves. He talked about “ señorío ”, but he had sacked the popular coach Vicente Del Bosque two days after he won the Spanish league title in 2003, simply because he had failed to win the Champions League as well.

Perhaps the neglect of those higher values would not seem so unfortunate had Perez’s Madrid been able to deliver on the most basic requirement of Madridismo: victory. Now in his second stint in the top job, Perez has been the president of Madrid for a total of ten seasons. In the seven seasons he’s served since he sacked Del Bosque, Madrid have won just one league title – a stunning feat in a two-team league.

The truth is that under Perez, the only consistent principle Real Madrid have displayed is a morbid compulsion to grab the most fashionable stars from more successful clubs. As they welcome the trendiest new players they discard others who, maddeningly, go on to win the Champions League elsewhere – in 2010 it was Wesley Sneijder with Inter, in 2012 it was Juan Mata with Chelsea, maybe in 2013 it will be Arjen Robben with Bayern.

It was this principle that persuaded Perez in 2010 to appoint Jose Mourinho, a man who has never pretended to stand for any ideal more elevated than his own personal glory.

We know now that the appointment has been a failure. Mourinho did give Perez his only league title since del Bosque, but he did it playing counter-attacking football that runs contrary to the stated ideals of the club, he fell out with the Spanish players who are the favourites of the crowd and he jammed his finger into Tito Vilanova’s eye.

Worst of all, when Barcelona’s collapse in Munich finally seemed to have opened the door to that elusive tenth European title, Mourinho’s team got thrashed by a German club that operates on a third of Madrid’s budget.

Like Babe Ruth indicating in advance precisely where he was going to hit a home run, or Muhammad Ali predicting the round in which he would knock out his opponent, Mourinho’s style has always been to first talk the talk, then walk the walk. It’s a high-risk strategy that makes his victories more exciting and his failures more excruciating. By ostracising Iker Casillas from December onwards, by abandoning even the pretence of diplomacy towards the press, Mourinho staked everything on winning the Champions League this year. Dortmund was the lowest point of his career.

The aftermath has seen Mourinho at his least appealing, renewing his attack on Casillas, who wasn’t even on the field in Dortmund, and defending his record using the kind of statistical sophistry that a really successful manager would not have had to hide behind.

Mourinho may not be as loved in England as he apparently believes he is, but his probable return to the Premier League should mean that next year’s title race lasts a bit longer than the one we’ve just seen.

His departure will be celebrated by the Madrid players, press and supporters who believe that he has betrayed the spirit of Madridismo. And yet as long as Perez remains as president, the outlook for Madridismo looks bleak.

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