When two tribes go to war
BOOK/BARCELONA v REAL MADRID:When Barcelona threatened to surge ahead of their arch rivals, Real Madrid employed Jose Mourinho as manager, ushering in a new era of polemic and bitterness between the clubs, writes RICHARD FITZPATRICK
THE 2009-2010 league race in Spain went down to the last weekend of fixtures. Real Madrid set a points’ record; that is until their Catalan rivals’ tally was added up. Barcelona amassed 99 points, three more than Real Madrid, in a race that Pep Guardiola, Barca’s manager that season, called ‘f***ing barbaric’.
To seek redress, Real Madrids president Florentino Pérez announced that his next major off-season trade would be José Mourinho – “the galáctico on the bench”.
The Portuguese man was wheeled in, lured from Inter Milan who he’d just led to the Champions League crown. He cost Real Madrid more than his compatriot and star player Cristiano Ronaldo’s transfer fee – over €100 million, between salary for himself and his entourage and the pay-off to his predecessor, Manuel Pellegrini.
Pérez, who heads up Grupo ACS, a global construction giant, is one of the most powerful men in Spain – on an equal footing with the country’s prime minister and the chairman of Santander bank. He has a withering disdain for football managers, having fired seven in four seasons before Mourinho’s appointment. In Pellegrini’s sole season in charge, Pérez never spoke to him after August.
Mourinho, of course, never stops talking.
Some suggest he’s a master of mind games; that his facility for winding up opponents and the grandees from football’s ruling elite is some kind of premeditated plan to distract attention – and pressure – from his players. He cultivates the conceit himself.
“I prefer,” he has remarked, “to be, before the game and after the game, the man where all the rifles are pointed”.
Nonsense. He just loves the sound of his own voice. He’s a rogue. In Spain, they say he’s bocazas, big-mouthed.
SEVERAL MONTHS later, Real Madrid played Sevilla at the Bernabeu the last game before Christmas 2010. Real Madrid won 1-0. The win kept them on Barcelona’s tail going into the two-week league break over the holidays. This would annoy those who wished ill fortune on Mourinho’s team.
“Tonight’s victory will be very frustrating,” he said, “for those who wanted us to fall four or five points behind Barcelona. This makes us stronger. Everything was set up for us to drop points, but we didn’t.”
As an aesthetic experience, however, the match displeased him. It was not the beautiful game. He wouldn’t have paid money to see it, he said; if he’d been sitting at home, he would have turned over the channel to watch a game from the Vietnamese league.
The referee issued 12 yellow cards. Nine Real Madrid players were booked. Ricardo Carvalho, their centre half, and a player from Sevilla were sent off.
In the press conference afterwards, Mourinho brandished a list of ‘13 serious errors’ the referee had committed. The charge sheet was carefully written up on Real Madrid-headed notepaper, but unfortunately he couldn’t share the details.
“If I talk about them, I won’t be at the next game,” he said.
Instead, Mourinho made a public plea to the 17 men who sat on Real Madrid’s board to intervene. Directors enjoy a kind of diplomatic immunity in football, which allows them, in Mourinho’s rulebook, to lambast refs without fear of censure.
“This is a club,” he pointed out, “with a structure, and I want them to defend my team, not only me.”
He needed to talk to his president, he said. Someone asked him if it would help to talk to Jorge Valdano, the presidents right-hand man.
“If I can talk to the number one, why would I talk to anyone else?” he replied. Did this imply a spilt in the club’s management ranks? “Why can’t we have a division of opinion?” he said rhetorically.
Mourinho and Valdano had been on an uneasy footing from the off. Ten days before Mourinho was appointed to his post, Valdano said Mourinho wasn’t the best coach in the world. He didn’t think much of him as a player either. When he famously criticised the style of football played by Mourinho’s teams in a 2007 newspaper article (like watching “shit hanging from a stick”), he said the reason lay in Mourinho’s frustrated youth. Mourinho failed to make it as a professional footballer. He’d been forced to channel his vanity into coaching.