Only real entertainers good enough for Madrid
Simply winning will not be sufficient for Jose Mourinho
For every Brian Clough who is run out of town on day 44, there is a manager who remakes a club in his image. Arsenal were a chess team until Arsene Wenger showed up. Cultures are rewritten. But then you watch Jose Mourinho in the great courthouse of the Bernabeu and ask: who wins this one, the man or the institution?
Mourinho's fellow top-tier managers observed his move to Spain with pity and admiration -- mostly admiration, because they saw a colleague with a pristine record gamble it all on an alien tradition. Madrid spat out Fabio Capello in the year he won them the domestic title and Vicente del Bosque 12 months after he had gathered the second of two Champions League crowns.
The coach has not been born who can escape the noose of public opinion in a place where the punters demand to be entertained.
This is true of Barcelona, too, but in a more cuddly, neurotic way. When a manager bores the Real crowd an ice storm blows in. Wenger never succumbed to Madrid's flirtations because he knew he would be a hostage to this volatility. The president would interfere in team selection. Players would be bought without his say-so. There could be no greenhouse for the slow cultivation of lads found in France or Africa.
No one can accuse Mourinho of hugging the shore in his voyage around Europe. He is out there on the wild seas. He says he always knew he would manage Real one day. He made it sound like a reckoning. Going into yesterday's trip to Levante his team were top of La Liga, after a 3-0 win over Espanyol, and had beaten Ajax comfortably in their opening Champions League game.
A 1-0 victory over Osasuna, though, introduced the coach's ears to disapproval. The shower scene in Hitchcock's Psycho is more soothing than the whistling at Madrid. It transmits real disdain. It says: "We pay to be enraptured and you give us this?" On his ego-Olympus, Mourinho is not used to people peering down their noses at him. Indignation will surely seize him but for now he jogs along with the script.
Alex Ferguson said last week: "The Real Madrid job is the hardest challenge in Jose's career. I've spoken to Jose a couple of times and he's not managing a normal football club. Sometimes he's managing a circus, sometimes a fantastic outfit in terms of the quality of the football they can produce and the kind of players they always want. But it's a very difficult club to manage."
Mourinho is a defensive coach who renders his teams woefully hard to score against by erecting a screen that lifts only to permit lethal counterattacks. Possession is not his religion. To say he reduces the game to mathematics is reductionist. Yet the man and the institution are stylistically incompatible, so someone needs to change, After the Osasuna game, he said: "I win a lot. People get tired of watching my style of football and wait for me to do badly. But there are also people who admire my work and who like what I do. Many people at the Uefa coaches' congress expressed that they liked the way I won the Champions League and they considered that I did an excellent job with Inter. I don't work to be compared to others.
"I do what I do and I am confident that the results obtained are the best argument to defend myself. There are times when I don't like what is being said and I can imagine that there would be people that think a match wasn't good and that it was too defensive if we took 35 shots on goal and it ended 0-0."
All through a stellar career "winning" has been his insurance against the romantics who cheer for a Barcelona or Arsenal to destroy his structures.
At Madrid, winning is never enough. If it were, Capello would still be there. Mourinho knows this. He saw it as a member of Barcelona's backroom staff. He thinks five moves ahead. Every word, every tweak to the side, is calculated. Now we will see whether bending to an overarching culture will diminish or enhance his standing as a brilliant strategist.
In the transfer window, Real recruited a Mourinho loyalist (and therefore dressing-room spy?), Ricardo Carvalho, plus the most exciting young playmaker in world football, Mesut Ozil, as well as the racy Argentinian winger Angel Di Maria and Sami Khedira, Germany's new defensive midfield star. These were not the moves of one determined to build a white wall round the Real net.
Restoring Cristiano Ronaldo to the form of his best years at Manchester United is Mourinho's biggest individual challenge and one on which he will be judged by the whistlers and hanky-wavers. "The construction of your team must be carried out in accordance with the culture of that place. I will respect the cultural aspect at Madrid," he promised. "I have an obsession to play attacking and attractive football at Madrid."
To thine own self be true. But does he have more than one self?