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Mourinho’s mad magic loses its lustre

With reports of team discord and Barcelona back to their rampant best, Real Madrid’s coach is facing one of the stiffest challenges of his career.


Feeling the strain? Mourinho's Madrid lost to Levante last weekend. Photo:

José Mourinho has always insisted that his antics, provocations and pre-match hyperbole are an unselfish gambit, aimed at drawing attention away from his players. Let’s take him at his word, and examine not the state of Real Madrid, but the state of their coach.

Mourinho’s appearance has always seemed to speak volumes about his state of mind. When he started at Chelsea, he dressed like George Clooney, kept physically trim and his haircuts were frequently more fashionable than those of his players. When his relationship with the London club’s owner, Roman Abramovich, started to deteriorate and the team’s performances declined, not only did Mourinho start to look tetchy and disgruntled, his physical appearance also suffered.

So when his Real Madrid side were heading for a 1-0 loss at Levante last weekend, it was his appearance as much as the scoreline that made one wonder if everything is as it should be in Mourinho’s head. His hair looked particularly grey in the Levante floodlights, bags were visible under his eyes and his Real-issue tracksuit betrayed a slightly sagging physique.

It was a surprising sight so early in the season, Mourinho’s second in Madrid and the one on which so much expectation has been heaped.

But the state of the Portuguese’s pectorals and complexion aren’t going to worry Real Madrid fans. And nor should a 1-0 away loss early in the season – even to Levante. As they calibrate their mouth-wateringly talented squads for the league campaign, both Barcelona and Madrid can expect the odd stumble (Barça dropped a point against Real Sociedad the previous week) before they resume their vice-like grip on the division.

But recent reports of dressing room unrest in the Bernabéu are more worrying for the man from Setúbal. If anything has characterised his teams over the years, it is unity and a passion for their manager.

“Mourinho […] identifies with his team more than any other manager.” That’s the opinion of Desmond Morris, author of The Naked Ape, The Human Zoo and long-time football fan, quoted in Patrick Barclay’s biography of the coach. “He is passionately involved with them. In his imagination, he is out there with them. He really is the twelfth man. As for keeping a distance, he doesn’t feel a need to do it.” Morris adds: “He is more like an elder brother. Or the leader of the gang.”

That gang seems to be less than united lately.

The increasing number of Portuguese and Portuguese speaking players in the dressing room (with the agent they share with Mourinho, Jorge Mendes, a background presence) dilutes the homegrown, old-school Madrid influence that goalkeeper Iker Casillas once wielded behind the scenes, along with the likes of former Madrid striker Raúl González.

And some of those who are in neither the Portuguese nor the “Spanish” camp, such as midfielder Sami Khedira, are not happy, according to El País newspaper.

Also, reports that Mourinho has fallen out with Casillas have been rife, following the goalkeeper’s absence from the team list for a recent friendly, and the coach’s consideration of Xabi Alonso to replace him as team captain. This apparent rift was caused by Casillas’s decision to telephone Barcelona players and clear the air after a particularly bad-spirited Real-Barça clásico opened the season.

Mourinho’s most obvious challenge is to overthrow the all-conquering Barcelona of Pep Guardiola. His provocative and often disgraceful behaviour before, during and after recent clásico games highlights the pressure on him to do just that.

“ is trying to destroy Spanish football,” complained Gérard Piqué after the most recent Real-Barça controversy.

No, he isn’t, he’s just trying to destroy Barcelona (who bounced back from their Real Sociedad stumble with an 8-0 hammering of Osasuna). But Mourinho’s problem is that in picking a fight with the Catalan club, he is also picking a fight with Spain’s selección. Ten years ago, when support for La Roja was thin at best and the players themselves felt much more loyalty to their clubs than their country, his divide-and-conquer scheming would have worked more easily. But Spain, who rely so heavily on Barcelona players, are world and European champions and their current unity has been hard-earned.

Football dressing rooms are mysterious, unfathomable places and if anyone knows how to bring them together, it’s Mourinho. But aside from the on-field threat from Barcelona, if all the talk of an upset goalkeeper, Portuguese cliques and La Roja’s determination to weather the Real-Barça storm is true, he is facing the biggest challenge of his career.

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Published: Sep 20 2011
Category: Sports, Featured, Spain News
Republication: Creative Commons, non-commercial
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1 Comment for “Mourinho’s mad magic loses its lustre”

  1. Firstly, I would like to congratulate Mr. Guy Hedgecoe and thank him for writing such a great article, “Mourinho’s mad magic loses its lustre” published on September 20, 2011, that not only states the obvious but also reveals Mourinho’s true personality: one that is not admirable. As stated in this article, the coach of the Real Madrid team does not know how to handle a loss. He tends to blame his lack of ability to coach in a clean manner on the other team or his fans, like in last week’s game against Levante. Overall, I agree that he has problems with his team, as he now does not get along with his team captain (Casillas). The team has however won several matches, but I believe this is due to the skills of the players and some of Mourinho’s professional experience.

    Although the famous EL CLASICO always triggers violence between both teams,
    since Mou has began coaching, the “merengues” have come across as a hostile team who only willing to play dirty. Even one of my close friends, who supports the Real Madrid team, is not a big fan of the coach himself as he considers him to be a disgrace. Blaming the referee is only one of Mourinho’s clever techniques to defend his badness. His post-matches interviews are not consistent with his aggressive behaviour during the game. On several occasions he has been dismissed from the game due to his behaviour for example in the game of the two enemies (Barcelona – Real Madrid) he was expelled because he argued against the referee because Pepe (Real Madrid defender) got a red card.

    I think we all can agree that he is not one of the finest coaches in the world. His
    personal grudge against ‘Pep’ Guardiola only reinforces the fact that his only motive as coach of the Real Madrid team is to bring down the Catalan Club, which, I believe will never happen. I pledge to all not to support the Real Madrid team, known by me as the worst team of the world!

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