Sunday 4 December 2016

Special One drags mighty Real towards the gutter

Published 21/08/2011 | 05:00

A team-mate of mine prepared to take a throw-in during a local derby game with our fiercest rivals. It was scoreless at that point, but tempers had been lost many times. The referee was dishing out yet another lecture to a player for something he had just said, causing the official to miss one of the most memorable incidents of my entire career.

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While my mate waited for the referee to give the signal to resume play, one of the coaches of our opponents walked up and head-butted him. The rival coach was doubling up as the linesman, a feature of schoolboy football everywhere. I was playing for Belvedere under 17s at the time.

The second leg of the 2011 Spanish Super Cup final, played on Wednesday, will forever be remembered for the input of Real Madrid head coach Jose Mourinho. During a heated row involving several players and staff from both clubs in the final minutes, he gouged Barcelona assistant coach Tito Vilanova in the eye with his finger. Indifferent to the television cameras present, he backed away smirking immediately afterwards, clearly pleased with himself for what he had just done.

It is not uncommon for players to adopt a more physical approach when facing a team of superior ability. If you can't outplay them, outfight them. Intimidate them, foul them, insult them and cheat. If it remains a duel based on football alone, you'll lose, so ensure it never comes down to that. I've been involved in many such games. That's all well and good for us mere mortals, but it now appears to be the Real Madrid way every time they come up against Barcelona. It now seems that the head coach wants to get stuck in too.

I would assume it is a source of great frustration within that particular dressing room to be reduced to hacking opponents when the opportunity presents itself. Marcelo's wild lunge on Cesc Fabregas was what sparked the brawl but the behaviour of Mourinho was despicable. Even his post-match comments were absurd. No responsibility was accepted for his actions. No apology was forthcoming. No measured voice appealing for calm.

Instead he attempted to highlight Barcelona's removal of ball-boys during the second half of the game "which is something typical of small teams when experiencing difficulties". Incredible stuff from Mourinho, but it's the usual tripe which has become the hallmark of much of what he says these days.

Barcelona head coach Pep Guardiola seemed to understand the situation a little better when he cautioned "we must be careful, because one day we will cause harm, not on the field but off, and we're all a little responsible for this." I'm sure he has utter contempt for Mourinho's methods and despises him personally, but thankfully he seems to appreciate the influence and responsibility his own role encompasses.

He chose to heap praise on his own players for yet another trophy-winning performance, describing them as "eternal, mythical, unrepeatable, honest, who like to train and play football." Their legacy will be one of authentic footballing genius, perhaps greater than any that have gone before. The way he's going, Jose Mourinho's is shaping up to be something entirely different.

Barcelona defender Gerard Pique accused him after the game of "destroying Spanish football", but it's the collective response to his antics which will ultimately decide. Failure

to respond in a meaningful way would not only reveal the Spanish FA to be impotent and cowardly, but suggest any demise of Spanish football would be as much their doing rather than anything that comes from Mourinho.

But that's exactly what is going to happen. Because the incident did not appear in the referee's match report, he will most likely escape censure of any kind from them. The board at Real will do nothing either. There may be greater pressure on him to win trophies in order to justify their patience in him, but that has always been their way.

The games between these sides are now known for all the unsavoury elements so prevalent in football today rather than the brilliance and class of both squads. It beggars belief that Mourinho would lower himself to actions which wouldn't be tolerated on the council pitches I played on as a kid, but he has always done things his own way.

On Friday, Barcelona will most likely add the European Super Cup to the 11 trophies they have already lifted under coach Pep Guardiola since he took charge in 2008. Surely it's now time we all acknowledge the true 'Special One'.

rsadlier@independent.ie

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