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Real Madrid winning run leaves Mourinho smiling

La Liga's most controversial coach has been remarkably reserved of late, reflecting the strong form of his players. But with a tough run of games to come in the next few weeks, Mourinho's new-found calm will be tested.


Real Madrid's Sergio Ramos. Mourinho has allowed his players to let their hair down lately.

José Mourinho has changed. The brash, bombastic, fight-picking, opposition-baiting, eye-poking manager, who was worshipped by fans at Porto, Chelsea, Inter and now Real Madrid while being reviled by almost everyone else (including his own colleagues), has been replaced by a more reserved and gentlemanly figure who calmly oversees affairs and stays out of trouble. That was the argument put forward by journalist Tomas Roncero in the Tuesday edition of Madrid sports newspaper AS anyway.

“Mourinho has made a radical change in his attitude,” Roncero wrote. “For the better. Since he signed his contract with Madrid for four seasons at the Bernabeu on 31st May 2009, to the Mourinho of 15th November 2011, there is a significant evolution in his behaviour that only can be seen as positive and encouraging.”

The implication in the story is that this change in behaviour has been brought about by prolonged exposure to an institution as cultured, honourable and respectable as Real Madrid Club de Fútbol. The club’s self-image as a bastion of the traditional ‘castizo’ idea of the Spanish capital – honourable, principled and reserved – has rubbed the rough edges off its previously combustible and perhaps even uncouth manager. The piece quotes the manager himself as subscribing (at least a bit) to this theory.

“The influence has been reciprocal,” he says. “I can’t say how Madrid has changed me, but a club always makes its mark on you…”

It does certainly seem that a kind of content calm has settled over the Bernabéu. Madrid’s 7-1 victory over Osasuna in the last La Liga game before the current international break was the club’s 10th in a row in all competitions, and pushed them three points ahead of main rivals Barcelona in the Primera División table. Los merengues have also sailed serenely through their Champions League group, qualifying for the last-16 with two games still remaining.

There are a number of apparent reasons behind the team’s superb run of form. Spanish defender Sergio Ramos has established himself as the team’s ball-playing centre-half, Brazilian schemer Kaká has returned to fitness and form and Mourinho’s rotation of his two centre-forwards – Frenchman Karim Benzema and Argentinean Gonzalo Higuaín – is bringing the best out of both. A relatively easy run of fixtures has also helped, while the potentially tricky fixtures – such as Málaga and Real Sociedad away – were negotiated without any problems. Cristiano Ronaldo’s four hat-tricks already this season have been more than useful too.

The mood in the dressing room also seems buoyant, with the controversies and complaints that marked the defeat to Barcelona in the pre-season Supercopa and the early La Liga loss at Levante long forgotten. Madrid’s players are now generally all smiles on the pitch and have been enjoying themselves off it too – with recent well publicised team-building excursions including a barbecue and go-karting trip. The reported schism between the Spanish contingent within the squad and the Portuguese-speakers represented by Mourinho’s agent Jorge Mendes has seemingly faded away. ‘Mou’ has also looked happy, and there has been a distinct absence of the touchline scrapes, media slanging matches and criticism of match officials which onlookers had come to expect from the Portuguese.

It could be that good results on the pitch breed contentment off it and it’s less likely for Mourinho to complain when there’s little to complain about, but the general point stands that it’s been an unusually quiet few months for the Madrid manager. As Barcelona have struggled with injuries and form (and also been hit by a public spat between its current and previous president), a consensus has been growing that his team are well set for both the Spanish title and the Champions League.

The above picture is perhaps overly simplistic, however. A similar feeling that Madrid were on the cusp of something big was abroad this time last season, when Madrid hammered Athletic Bilbao 5-1 at the Bernabéu and sat proudly atop the La Liga table. That feeling did not survive a depressing 5-0 defeat to Barcelona at the Camp Nou a few weeks later.

Mourinho and Madrid now face their first really testing run of fixtures of the current season. They travel to third-placed Valencia on Saturday and then face city rivals Atlético in the Madrid derby. Should the sunny mood survive those clashes, a season-defining meeting with Barcelona at the Bernabéu awaits on December 10. If Mourinho is still smiling and on his best behaviour after that game then we will know for sure that a positive change really has taken place.

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Published: Nov 17 2011
Category: Sports, Spain News
Republication: Creative Commons, non-commercial
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