Monday 21 August 2017

Mourinho filled with Real dread

Jose Mourinho. Photo: Getty Images
Jose Mourinho. Photo: Getty Images

Pete Jenson

After the whirlwind comes the deep depression. Jose Mourinho swept imperiously into Real Madrid two months ago, but failure to get what he wanted in the transfer market has left him dreading being paired with an English team in today's Champions League draw.

Real Madrid have been unbeaten but unimpressive throughout their pre-season programme with Mourinho's demands for a centre-forward falling on deaf ears and an injury crisis ravaging their defence.

Today they could be paired with Manchester United, Chelsea or holders Internazionale and Mourinho is paying for the failings of previous seasons. Their repeated recent collapses at the last-16 stage of the tournament means they are not seeded for the first time in Champions League history.

"It's possible that we will have to play against Chelsea or Manchester United in the first match and I have not had three consecutive days on the training ground with all my players," said Mourinho, lamenting the recent round of international friendlies.

He is without three central defenders and fears a similar injury crisis in attack after his request for a new striker was rejected by the club's sporting director Jorge Valdano and president Florentino Perez.

"We need to be lucky and not have anything happen to our two strikers, Karim Benzema or Gonzalo Higuain," he said.

"In an emergency I can play Cristiano Ronaldo through the middle but you lose so much from his game when he plays there. He is not a centre-forward."

Real have signed six players but with Spain internationals Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos, Alvaro Arbeloa and Xabi Alonso, and German World Cup stars and new signings Mesut Ozil and Sami Khedira also late back into pre-season training, preparations have not been ideal.

"Manchester United, Chelsea and Inter are already-made teams," said Mourinho of today's potential rivals. He is well aware that Chelsea rely on the foundations he laid and that Inter have barely changed the team he built and took to the treble last season. Now those teams could block his path in the Champions League.

"Clubs like Manchester United, Chelsea and Inter are well established and just needed to bring in one or two players this summer," he said.

"Barca are also the finished product. They play with their eyes closed. They have been together so long that they come back from their holidays and after three days of training they are ready. That is not the case for Madrid.

"A team needs to adapt to a new coach, to six new players and to another way of working. What you will see against Mallorca on Sunday (in their first league game of the season) will not be the finished article."

Mourinho reflects on the final pre-season performance of his fledgling side, when the club's six new signings were paraded at the Bernabeu on Tuesday.

He has not only inherited a team that is not Champions League seeded, he also inherits one that has had its budget slashed. Last year £250m was spent on new players, this season just £90m has gone on recruits. Mourinho wanted to move on Kaka this summer to give him some transfer market leg-room, but the injury that has ruled him out until November has put paid to that.

Another of last season's big signings has also met with his disapproval. He was heard telling Benzema, "You turn up at 10.0, half asleep and you are still asleep at 11.0," in a training session recently. Mourinho believes the young Frenchman is far from the finished article.

Neither Benzema nor Kaka fit the Mourinho mould, but with one injured and the other Perez's prized signing from last season, he has been unable to bring in another forward.

He would like to have signed Wolfsburg's Bosnian striker Edin Dzeko but the chances of that are now non-existent, according to the club.

Madrid's squad is already one man over the permitted 25. Unless left-back Royston Drenthe can be loaned out and midfielder Mahamadou Diarra sold there will be no new faces, and even if there was room for some, the arrival of another striker who would limit Benzema's opportunities has been frowned upon.

"Put Higuain and Benezema in the same body and you have the complete centre-forward," said Mourinho, ramming home the point that he feels he lacks someone that can do for him what Didier Drogba did at Chelsea.

Valdano has stated publicly that playing Ronaldo through the middle when needs must solves the problem. Mourinho wants his compatriot coming from deeper to terrorise defences rather than waiting for the ball to reach him, and the disagreement with Valdano will doubtless resurface.

For a while, Mourinho has some breathing space. Real Madrid don't play Barcelona until the last weekend in November and if today's draw brings the worst and Madrid are paired with a Premier League team or with the holders Inter, last season will serve as an inspiration. At Inter, Mourinho played Barcelona twice in the group stage, drawing 0-0 in the second game having been outplayed in a 2-0 defeat at the Nou Camp. That team looked a long way off Pep Guardiola's invincibles.

But when the Champions League semi-finals came around a stronger Inter knocked out Barca and went on to win the tournament. Even at the most impatient club in the world Mourinho has enough credit to be given time. (© Independent News Service)

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