| 9.6°C Dublin

Mourinho talking way towards Madrid exit as relationship with Perez reaches new low

It takes something special to knock Barcelona off the front of the Catalan sports newspapers. Something special or someone special.

Yesterday morning, a different face stared out from Barcelona's press kiosks. For the first time this year, neither 'Sport' nor 'El Mundo Deportivo' led on their team, Barca.

Instead, they led on Jose Mourinho. Barcelona's Copa del Rey defeat the night before helped but Madrid's manager helped even more. There's no news like Madrid's bad news.

"Earthquake!" screamed 'El Mundo Deportivo', turning 'terremoto' into 'terreMOUto'. The paper which last led on Mourinho to announce "Madrid is burning down!" quoted the Portuguese manager as saying: "I want to leave."

At 'Sport', the headline read: "Mourinho threatens to walk out." The bullet points ran: "Mourinho can't take the pressure; (Madrid president) Florentino (Perez) can no longer stand him; He admits: 'I want to leave'; He has lost his war with (director general Jorge) Valdano; Referees and the whole of Spain are against him."

Inside, it asked gleefully: "Going so soon, Jose?"

There was something inevitable and mischievous about the appearance of Mourinho's statement.

On Wednesday morning, the Madrid manager had given a prickly press conference. Towards the end, a journalist noted that he seemed "especially unhappy today". The question was obvious: "Why?" Because, Mourinho shot back: "I want to leave."

He meant leave the press conference, but the ambiguity was opportunity. And nor were the stories entirely an invention.

On Wednesday afternoon, a Spanish television channel, whose non-Catalan credentials are impeccable, announced that Mourinho, fed up, had decided he was leaving at the end of the season.

Soon, the capital's best-selling sports newspaper, the pro-Real Madrid daily 'AS', was running the story too. There was something in this. Those bullet points, while wilfully hammed up, expressed an essential truth.

A member of Mourinho's camp had spoken out -- angrily, apocalyptically. Perhaps unwisely. It was the perfect storm. It may also prove a passing one, prompted in a fit of pique. But its origins are genuine enough -- as is Mourinho's frustration. His anger is real, as are the doubts that assail him.

This was not the way that Mourinho imagined it. If it should end like his final season in Italy, no one will care. But that is the other ingredient: Madrid were beaten 5-0 by Barcelona. They trail their rivals by four points. The task that faces Mourinho, even with this side, is gargantuan.

That, in fact, is why they signed him. Having just completed his fourth successive season without any silverware as president, Perez changed the whole model of the club to sign Mourinho in return for the one thing the Portuguese can guarantee: success.

Mourinho was given more authority than any coach under Perez. On his unveiling, Valdano -- theoretically Mourinho's boss -- effectively bowed down before him, publicly apologising for an article in which he had likened Mourinho's football as Chelsea manager to "s*** on a stick".

It appeared the perfect expression of the sea change. The coach has had more protection from a docile, fearful, sycophantic media, too -- it is startling how little criticism he received after Madrid's Clasico defeat.

As for the public support, that has been eroded. Mourinho's constant and vociferous complaints about referees have worn some down. There are those who cling to the notion of Madrid as a gentleman of a club and Mourinho does not always fit that image. And outside of Madrid he has become a public enemy.

As Mourinho has been criticised, so he has grown annoyed by a lack of protection from within the club. But it is more than that; he believes the enemy is within. He has complained about leaks over the wage demands of centre-back Pepe. But the issue where the fallout is clearest surrounds the need, or not, for a new striker.

Mourinho insisted that he needed a No 9 in the summer but was told there was no money, to which he publicly noted: "If Karim Benzema or Gonzalo Higuain get injured, we better pray."

Higuain did get injured. Mourinho pushed more but encountered resistance. His public persistence, which has been both aggressive and pointed, has caused disquiet.

On Sunday night, he left Benzema on the bench -- a decision some saw as deliberately provocative and even politically motivated -- as Madrid had to settle for a 1-1 draw in Almeria. After the game, Valdano noted that Madrid "do have a No 9 -- and he was left on the bench." The fuse had been lit.

On Wednesday, Mourinho hit back. "I am too old now for sending little messages through the media," he said, sending a message through the media. "I'm not the one talking about a No 9."

Yesterday, Valdano insisted that he had "zero problems" with Mourinho, but the distance that separates them has become starkly apparent. The question now is whether the damage is irreversible.

Surprisingly for Mourinho, the club's president has backed his director general over his coach. Valdano is one obstacle Mourinho has not been able to remove: the coach may have pushed too hard.

Mourinho knows that Perez cannot afford another season without success. Nor can he afford Mourinho to walk: if even the "greatest coach in the world" can't win at Madrid, who can? Perez would be left unprotected. But nor will the president cede much more ground than he already has. A tense stalemate has been reached. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent