Real Madrid’s ‘señor’ status at play as Mourinho takes control
In just one year, José Mourinho has secured the departure of Real Madrid sporting director Jorge Valdano and increased his control over the club enormously. But in handing the Portuguese so much power, Real Madrid is taking a big gamble.
By Rob Train
Spanish football is a peculiar beast when placed under a microscope, rather like a petri dish teeming with all the bacteria Fifa is currently trying to scrape from its gilded Zurich halls.
There is no fit-and-proper-persons test in La Liga, as Racing Santander is currently being left to rue. Match-fixing was made a criminal offence just six months ago. Clubs are traditionally controlled by wildly unreliable clans like the Gil family at Atlético Madrid and the Ruiz-Mateos’ at Rayo Vallecano – currently busily covering their own backsides as their Nueva Rumasa congolmerate goes under for the second time, leaving thousands of investors, and Rayo’s players, on the bread line.
If your club is within 50 miles of the sea, it is very likely to be run by a sketchy businessman in an expensive suit – usually a property or construction magnate – such as Joaquín Bilbao, the erstwhile owner of Xerez who resigned after a shoot-out in a brothel, or Enrique Ortiz, the major shareholder in Hércules who is implcated in a political corruption investigation involving garbage contracts and was caught on tape two seasons ago purchasing results.
All of which is a large part of the reason Real Madrid often peers down from its ivory tower, issues a soft “tut” and returns to the business of being considered what in Spain is called un club señor. One of the good guys. A shining beacon of all that is right and good in the sport. And, as much as the rest of La Liga hates to admit it, off the field at least, Real really isn’t that bad – if Florentino Pérez’s 2004 sale of 15 hectares of grass in the north of the capital to the city government for €290 million is brushed under the carpet, as it most certainly was.
Something Real did share with the rest of La Liga until very recently was the utilization of the sporting institution, a behemoth of a branch chart littered with more directors than a free lash-up at Cannes. The essential aim of the sporting institution is two-fold: to prevent any one person, the president aside of course, from holding too much power and to keep the head honcho at a good arm’s length from the actions of the coach. It has ever been thus, as intrinsic a Spanish trait as saying “it’s hot” during the brutal Iberian summer.
And then came José Mourinho. The Portuguese arrived in Madrid last summer and received a swift taste of things to come when Pedro León and Sergio Canales were foisted upon him at the behest of Real’s sporting director, Jorge Valdano. Mourinho’s opinion of the players was silently voiced in the amount of time they spent on the field last season. It was not the first time, of course, that Mourinho had had a player on his staff at someone else’s pleasure: Andriy Schevkenko was the beginning of the end for the Special One at Chelsea.
Underwhelming signings are one thing but the bad blood between Mourinho and Valdano is quite another. It started when the latter wrote his now-infamous “sh*t on a stick” diatribe against Mourinho and Rafa Benítez in Marca sports daily and at Real it spilled over into the Bernabéu boardroom as both jostled for supremacy, accusing the other of back-stabbing villainy at every turn. As early as January it became clear that the club was not big enough for both Mourinho and Valdano. In a league match against Almería, the Portuguese decided to leave Karim Benzema, who at that time was a stranger to the back of the net, on the bench. To Valdano, this was Mourinho’s petulant way of demanding a new striker before the January transfer window expired. To Mourinho, Valdano’s interference in team matters, broadcast live on national television, was inexcusable.
“The problem with the coach is he has created a split where there was not one before. We are following a self-destructive path over the simple matter of whether or not we bring in a striker for six months,” Valdano said, after suggesting Mourinho should reinstate Benzema to the starting 11.
Interference in team selection is nothing new at Real, as José Antonio Camacho would attest after he stormed out of the Bernabéu after a handful of matches in charge during his second spell. Mourinho apparently delivered a clear-cut ultimatum to Pérez at the end of the season – either Valdano is sacrificed, or he would up sticks back to the Premier League. Remarkably, Pérez relented, announcing last month that Valdano would leave the club after an association of more than two decades at the request of a coach who had been at Real just one year. Valdano looked a broken man during his farewell press conference. Denying there had been any confrontation at all, Valdano resignedly declared: “Florentino Pérez has clearly decided the winner of the fight.” Valdano himself foresaw this moment in that portentous Marca article, when he wrote that Mourinho has an inherent “desire to have everything under control.”
Leave it to José
Mourinho has been handed the keys to the city. Pérez has agreed to grant a broad range of powers to the Portuguese, including complete control of team affairs. “With a coach as strong as Mourinho it was necessary to adopt an organisation in line with the way English clubs operate,” said the Real president.
Mourinho has long held that his second season in charge of a side is his best, a claim certainly borne out by results at Chelsea, Porto and Inter. Pérez has taken a huge gamble in removing his safety barrier, but a necessary one in the quest to overhaul Barcelona in La Liga and obtain Real’s Holy Grail – a 10th European Cup.
By removing Mouirnho’s muzzle and dispatching his more measured mouthpiece, Valdano, Pérez has also placed the club’s señor status – already somewhat marred by Mourinho’s antics last season – in further jeopardy.
Giving Mourinho the reins could well be the finest decision Pérez has ever made. Or it could yet prove to be just enough rope with which to hang himself.
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Published: Jun 14 2011
Republication: Creative Commons, non-commercial
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