Wednesday 13 December 2017

Mourinho's special way to lead Real redemption

James Lawton

James Lawton

The loss of face may have been beyond the worst imaginings of Jose Mourinho, but there is one certainty amid the rubble of Barcelona's five-goal destruction of his Real Madrid.

It is that he will use it to re-define his ability to inspire a group of players in a way that remains utterly unique -- and quite beyond the impact of any one defeat, however severe.

Mourinho once deflected one of his critics, who was in the middle of a theory about how things could go wrong in the early days of his Chelsea regime, with a startling declaration. Mourinho said: "Stop, I don't want to hear about the plot of your movie. I am making one of my own -- and I'm the star."

Now, you have to believe, another one is in production at Bernabeu Stadium.

The working title might be 'Redemption Road'. No doubt there will be moments when the coach will use the failure against Barca as a stick but only, we can be sure, if there is some suspicion that the proper lessons have not been learned.

For the moment at least, Mourinho will play his classic hand -- an ability to get players close to him and have them believe that their futures and his could not be more closely intertwined.

Certainly he can be guaranteed to give another illustration of how much ground separates his coaching style from that of the man who succeeded him at Internazionale in the wake of a stunning hat-trick of Champions League, Italian League and Italian Cup.

Rafa Benitez, fresh, if we can allow the expression, from losing the dressing-room at Liverpool, arrived in Milan blithely declaring his ambition to change the tactics that had brought such success under his predecessor.

That, of course, is every coach's right but no doubt it would have been wiser to await the revived development of what some of Benitez's critics believe to be his lost, or maybe abandoned, art.

Perhaps, first he could have let the players know that he understood they were coming down from extraordinary achievement and that if he wasn't the man who had led them to such high ground, he was a coach who knew where they had been and how they might stay there.

Instead, Benitez talked about modified and more creative tactics. He also discussed the tactical nature of Italian football and how sharply it contrasted with that of Spain (more technical) and England (more physical).

Mourinho, of course, was not slow to impose his own imperatives, the most vital one being that a team of Barcelona's Champions League credentials and superb midfield control had to be stopped in a specific and relentless way.

Mostly, vitally, he had to make the players believe in his power to motivate a team, to inspire them with more than a set of tactical options.

Benitez must have flinched under the public admission from Internazionale president Massimo Moratti that a few years ago he would probably have already fired his coach after a start to the season that has been little short of catastrophic -- a reality that was hardly dispelled by a 5-2 win over Parma that still left the reigning champions seven points adrift of fierce rivals Milan.

Nor could Benitez have been thrilled by a statement of near veneration for Mourinho from one of his own under-performing stars, Wesley Sneijder. The Dutchman said he was ready to die for his coach but the one he had mind, unfortunately for Benitez, was Mourinho.


Sneijder said: "Once Mourinho said, 'Wesley, go and take a break with your family, you seem tired'. Many other coaches just speak of training -- but he saw how I was struggling and he sent me to the beach. So I went to Ibiza for a few days and when I came back I was ready to die and kill for him."

Mourinho will be hoping -- and maybe expecting -- a similar reaction from some of his key players. Xabi Alonso, who was for so long a vital creative force for Liverpool before his relationship with Benitez, never warm, cooled to a terminal point, has already made a fervent statement of intent, saying: "We did not expect this against Barcelona, but we are not broken by it. We must just get strong from it and look towards the future."

Mourinho, whose regime had gone undefeated for 19 games, 15 wins and four draws, when Barcelona exacted such revenge on Mourinho for his brilliant tactical coup against them in last season's Champions League, has certainly returned to default position. It is to appeal to the character of his players, to put their pride as well as his own on the line.

The coach emerged on the morning after the spectacular defeat with the declaration: "We must behave like men. You cannot cry when you concede four or five goals. You must be anxious to return to work and win the next match. I cannot wait for Saturday's match with Valencia. I want it now."

For Real's general director, Jorge Valdano, the challenge is quite basic: it is simply a matter of getting strong again at a temporarily broken place.

"It's been a game that will help us understand football at the highest level and to continue maturing. Real Madrid is a team of men and situations like this test your manliness. We all know how to overcome this. We have good players, a competent coach and this cannot be decisive in only the 13th week of the season," said Valdano.

Competent coach? Mourinho might bridle at such faint praise for a Special One and some suspect a certain tension between two men of considerable ego.

However, there is nothing flawed about the sweep of Valdano's assessment. Whatever else he is or isn't, Mourinho has long been competent in football's most vital and demanding chore. He knows footballers, he knows that they bleed when they are cut and that sometimes it is necessary for them to know that you are on their side. You don't have to have them prepared to kill on your behalf, but maybe it helps if you suspect they might.

Irish Independent

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