The banner at the Bernabeu proved as prophetic as it was provocative. 'Mou', it declared, 'tu dedo nos senala el camino'. Mourinho, your finger shows us the way. As it turned out, it did. What no one expected was those being shown the way to be Barcelona, not Real Madrid.
ung across the front of the second tier, the banner showed support for the Madrid manager in the aftermath of the Spanish Super Cup back in August.
That night, Mourinho sneaked up behind Pep Guardiola's assistant coach, reached round and poked him in the eye. After the game, the Madrid manager was asked about what he had done to Tito Vilanova. "Pito Vilanova?" he asked. "As for Pito Vilanova, or whatever his name is, I don't know what he is called, I have got nothing to say."
By changing the first letter, Mourinho had turned Tito into Pito, Spanish slang for penis. It may or may not have been deliberate, but he was certainly trying to belittle the Barcelona assistant. Asked again about the incident, he replied: "Pito Vilanova? Tito Vilanova, yes," came the correction. "I don't know who this person is."
He knows now. Vilanova is the new manager of Barcelona.
On Friday afternoon, Guardiola announced his departure after four years and 13 trophies. There was a hint of melodrama to the build-up to the announcement; you could be forgiven for thinking someone had died, not just decided he did not want to coach any more. But the announcement was expertly handled; it was remarkable how quickly pessimism turned to optimism with a single phrase.
"We are in a position to announce the name of the new coach," Sandro Rosell, the president, said. "It will be Tito Vilanova."
It was striking just how universally the decision was welcomed. The players declared the new manager the right man for the job. "We all wanted Pep to continue," Barca's captain Carles Puyol said. "Once he had decided to go for the reasons he gave, which we understand and respect, the best news was that Tito Vilanova would be staying. Tito understands the philosophy perfectly."
Guardiola insisted Barca were in "good hands" and there are suggestions that he has been instrumental in encouraging the club to opt for his friend.
"Tito," said the sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta, "represents work, ideas and analysis."
Under Guardiola, Vilanova's role has been fundamental. Sergio Busquets described him as "like the manager but calmer"; Andres Iniesta says he is "like a book, he teaches you so much"; and Puyol described him as "discreet and hard-working".
Guardiola dedicated the Coach of the Year award he received at the FIFA gala this year to him, delivering part of his speech in Catalan to the friend who had undergone a procedure to remove a tumour from his mouth. The sense of optimism at his appointment on Friday was enhanced by the simple fact that Vilanova has made a full recovery.
Barcelona had turned a crisis into a succession. "Guardiola was Shankly," one Catalan journalist noted, "let's hope Tito is Paisley." Guardiola would not continue but his philosophy would. Vilanova has been an even more bullish advocate of the Barcelona approach. "For us, winning alone is not enough," he told El Pais's Lu Martin in 2009. "We have an ideal of youth team players and attacking football, as Barcelona's culture demands."
Thierry Henry once called Vilanova "Pep's twin brother". The two first met as players hoping to make it at the club's La Masia academy in 1984.
Together, they were coached by Charly Rexach, the former player who later became Johan Cruyff's assistant and who signed the contract on a napkin that made Lionel Messi a Barcelona player. Vilanova was two years older than Guardiola and never made it to the first team, playing just one friendly.
Impatience was the reason: Vilanova had decided he would only play two seasons for Barca B. When promotion to the senior team didn't come, he left. It was 1990. Two years later, Guardiola was part of the Barcelona side that won the European Cup. Vilanova may never have made it at the Camp Nou, but he later regretted the decision.
A creative midfielder, his style suited Barcelona; it suited his other clubs, Celta Vigo chief among them, a little less. Barcelona never left him. He returned to coach the youth team at cadete level. Ten years ago, his team won everything going. His standout players? Gerard Pique, Cesc Fabregas and Messi.
Guardiola was offered the job as coach of Barcelona B in 2008. He immediately called Vilanova, who was technical secretary at Terrasa at the time, to join him. The following year, the first-team job became available.
"Are we ready for this?" Guardiola asked Vilanova.
"Well," Vilanova said, "you are."
Now, the roles have been reversed. The response is exactly the same.
Sunday Indo Sport