Mourinho delivers perfect audition for Real job
EVEN by his own high standards Jose Mourinho's latest masterclass was something special. In the 116 games Pep Guardiola has taken charge of Barcelona, no team has ever beaten them by a two-goal margin ... until Tuesday night.
Mourinho has done what Alex Ferguson failed to do last season in the Champions League final and what Real Madrid coach Manuel Pellegrini has twice failed to do this season. Should he finish the job next week in Barcelona he will be better placed than ever before to replace either man, should the former bring forward his retirement or the latter fail to delay his sacking.
'Mourinho closer to the Bernabeu' was how the Madrid supporting press greeted his latest triumph. While in Barcelona they fell back on old excuses about how European referees had not protected them and how Xavi had played over 80 successful passes while Inter's top pass master Javier Zanetti could not even muster 30, in the Spanish capital they revelled in the fact that someone had proved their great rivals to be only human.
In the past Mourinho has been a turn-off for Real fans. Too brash and arrogant has been the criticism levelled at a coach who simply lacked the class and dignity to manage Madrid. Things have changed this season though. There is nothing dignified about spending £250m in the summer and then getting knocked out of the Spanish Cup by a team full of part-timers, as happened last November.
And there is nothing classy about selling two of your best players Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben to direct Champions League rivals and then watch as they get to the European Cup semi-final and you don't. Maybe it's time for a winner.
And if Mourinho's brash arrogance is directed at Barcelona, then Madrid supporters are starting to believe it would not be such a bad thing after all. His clash with Xavi in the tunnel -- reminding the Barca midfielder that if he was talking about a scandalous refereeing performance then maybe he was referring to last season's semi-final against Chelsea -- endeared him even more to the Real Madrid supporters who have previously had their doubts.
And phrases such as, "It wasn't a dream. What happened really happened." And "sometimes those who win all the time just don't know how to lose," will almost make watching the remainder of the tournament bearable for the long-since eliminated hosts of the final.
Winning over supporters sceptical about a style of football that, as Barcelona commentators yesterday somewhat comically complained "puts winning before everything else," is now no longer the biggest obstacle to Mourinho landing the Real job. Madrid's age-old attitude towards coaches is.
At the Bernabeu the coach puts the cones out, picks up a moderate wage, answers to the sporting director and is never given anything longer than a two-year contract. Some progress has been made in recent years and the days of a telephone call from the president to the coach regarding team-selection are probably gone, but Pellegrini earns just over €4m a year and will be out in June with just one-year's money if he fails to land the title.
Mourinho's earnings comfortably double those of the Chilean. The philosophy -- why spend money on a manager when it could be spent on a player -- would have to be ripped up if Madrid are to go for the former Porto and Chelsea boss.
Mourinho's appointment would also have to spell the end for Jorge Valdano. The current sporting director did most of the signing of players in the summer and is the first to a microphone whenever Madrid lose, openly criticising players and performances and giving limp votes of confidence to his coach.
"I never speak directly with the president, I just deal with Valdano and (Miguel) Pardeza," said Pellegrini this week in deferential reference to his 'boss' and to his boss' sidekick who is yet another link in the convoluted chain that runs down from the president to the fans that vote for him.
It is unthinkable that Pep Guardiola would admit to never speaking to Barcelona president Joan Laporta, and Mourinho would want all the go-betweens and unaccountable hangers-on to be swept aside making a way for the kind of direct line between chairman and manager that he enjoys at Inter with Massimo Moratti.
It would be a major change in how to run the club but maybe this year's expensive failures call for such a revolution. And one rather important person at the Bernabeu would certainly give it his full-backing. Cristiano Ronaldo said of his fellow countryman last week: "I know him very well and I like him a lot. I know his character and he is a winner. He has shown that he is one of the best in the world and perhaps that is why people like him so much."
The part about Mourinho being a winner resounded even more clearly when he added: "We get very frustrated when we don't win anything. A club like Madrid has to win something every year." Jorge Mendez, the agent who took Ronaldo to Real in the summer also takes care of Mourinho and establishing discreet lines of communication between the club and their next coach would not be difficult.
Mourinho has made no secret of his desire to win the title in all of Europe's top leagues. He won two at Chelsea and has already lifted one Scudetto in Italy, with a possible second to follow this season if Claudio Ranieri's challenge with Roma can be withstood.
Spain is the next beast to be tamed. The Barcelona job has already passed him by and secondary sides such as Valencia and Sevilla would have to strike oil beneath their pitches to suddenly be able to afford the salary and the transfer kitty he would demand. So Real remains his only serious option and with Pellegrini on course to win nothing, now could be the moment to make his move.
It's a certain good timing that doesn't appear to currently apply to the Old Trafford hot seat. Ferguson will decide when he leaves. And his successor will have the near impossible job of emulating him, made even more difficult by the debt burden currently limiting spending to around a 10th of Real Madrid's annual outlay.
Mourinho has never shied away from a challenge, but neither is he daft enough to fight a battle he would currently struggle to win -- triumph in the league at United. There would be the constant 'Fergie did that' -- win the Cup; 'Fergie did that' -- win the Champions League; 'Fergie did that' -- win all three in one season.
At Madrid, in contrast, the battle would be slightly easier and the ammunition to win it more plentiful. 'Just improve on six years of failing to reach the Champions League quarter-finals and do what you did on Tuesday -- be better than Barcelona.' (© Independent News Service)