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What’s eating José Mourinho?

Real Madrid’s Portuguese coach seems to be having a very public falling out with his employers. Is this a marriage made in hell?


Will ambition alone be enough to keep Mourinho in Madrid? Photo: RTVE.

“I’m too old to receive messages through newspapers. These little messages don’t reach me. I make the team. The decisions are mine.”

We’re used to hearing José Mourinho fire broadsides at his opponents. We’re less used to hear him do it at his own employers. But his above remarks, made on January 19, were clearly aimed at Real Madrid’s Sporting Director Jorge Valdano. Valdano sparked the Portuguese’s ire after a 1-1 draw with Almería when responding to a television journalist’s question about Madrid’s possible signing of a new “number 9” -or striker- in the coming days, something Mourinho has expressly requested of the club. “We had a number 9 on the bench,” said Valdano, in reference to Karim Benzema, whom Mourinho sidelined for the game.

The tensions over whether or not Madrid signs a new striker to cover for the injured Gonzalo Higuaín are not the only point of conflict. Before Christmas, Mourinho publicly complained about a lack of support from the club in “attacking the referee” after games. The former Chelsea boss was referring to what he saw as Real Madrid’s obligation to support his inevitable complaints about refereeing decisions. He held up to the press a page listing 13 supposed errors by the referee in a Madrid-Sevilla game. All 13 points were visible to television cameras and most turned out to be minor mistakes or not even erroneous.

In his January 19 press conference, Mourinho was asked why he was so clearly upset. “Because I want to leave…” he said, without clarifying whether he meant the press conference or the club. Sport daily As expects him to depart by the summer, a rumour the coach himself hardly quelled, after his side eliminated Atlético Madrid from the Copa del Rey on January 20, by saying “I want to stay – until the end of the season.”

So what’s up with José? He’s no stranger to aggravation, the stinging barb, or the wildly exaggerated complaint. But usually his hostility is aimed outside his own tent, to fortify the it’s-us-against-them mentality he likes to cultivate at whichever club he is coaching.

Even during his short stay at Inter Milan, he made clear that his unhappiness was due to the country he was living in rather than the club, with which he seemed to have a healthy relationship. The obvious exception was his falling out with Roman Abramovich at Chelsea, but that was after he had won a hatful of titles with the London side.  Right now, he is only six months into his first season with Real Madrid and already things seem to be going sour, even though the team is just four points behind Barcelona in the league (despite an historic 5-0 hammering in the clásico) and still in the Champions League.

Going on his record, Mourinho’s current rumblings of discontent could be a calculated gambit or genuine fury. The answer is probably a mixture of both.

The Benzema conundrum

When he was hired last summer, club president Florentino Pérez seemed willing to change Real Madrid’s policy of treating coaches as powerless pawns, with little say in anything other than the nature of training sessions. Mourinho has already had a major hand in new signings and has brought many of his own personnel to Madrid, exerting an unprecedented influence on the Bernabéu. Pérez and Valdano seemed to accept this, and yet they have resisted Mourinho’s quite reasonable calls for a spare “number 9”.  Having given him a free hand, they have now chosen the halfway point in the season to draw a line in the sand. This may have something to do with the fact that Mourinho seems to have major doubts about the obvious first-choice striker in Higuaín’s absence: Benzema, a player that Pérez admired so much he visited him in France to persuade him to play for Madrid.

So Mourinho is angry, but he also seems to be playing at politics and trying to strengthen his position. He knows he is seen as a last throw of the dice for a club that has underperformed for almost a decade and that his departure would make Pérez and Valdano look foolish.  After all, whom would Real Madrid turn to if they let go of the Best Coach in the World?

And yet, one of the Portuguese’s reasons for coming to Madrid was to complete his “Mou-Slam”: win league titles in England, Italy and Spain, something no other coach has managed. Real Madrid is his only serious chance of Spanish glory, as he is now officially Barcelona’s public enemy number one, so personal ambition alone might be enough to keep him at the Bernabéu – at least until he wins a major trophy.

In the meantime, those who run Real Madrid have to decide whether they are willing to give Mourinho what he wants, or tolerate further angry sniping from the man who was supposed to be their saviour.

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Published: Jan 21 2011
Category: Sports, Featured
Republication: Creative Commons, non-commercial
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1 Comment for “What’s eating José Mourinho?”

  1. Great article! Very accurate. Prerez is an idiot though I once loved him. He and Valdano remind me of Jerry Jones of the Cowboys who decide what is best for the team and then they dump it in the coaches lap and expect the coach to do something with it. Not that Mourinho doesnt have a good team but why can't they be mor like other successful clubs that give the coach a budget and he picks whom he wants?

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