After Real Madrid were dumped out of the Champions League by bitter rivals Barcelona, football purists will be hoping for a better display in the future than that offered by the La Liga superpowers in their recent semi-final, as one of the more infamous figures from their encounter, Jose Mourinho, reflects upon the implications of his side’s recent struggles.
The infamous first-leg was preceded by Mourinho in full flow. The Madrid boss played down claims that his rivals were the greatest club in the game, conceding they were a great side, but stopping short of admitting they are unrivalled. In a game where neither side warranted much credit for how it was played, with Mourinho accused of negative tactics and his opponents criticised for their on-field theatrics, Barcelona emerged 2-0 victors with a late Lionel Messi brace, the second goal a rare moment of class in an otherwise unsavoury clash which saw three dismissals, including that of the Madrid Coach.
Sent to the stands in a farcical first-leg at the Santiago Bernabeu, Mourinho faced a touchline ban for the second. Two goals down, and a man missing from the dugout, the Portuguese tactician attempted to influence the game before it had begun, utilising the full Mourinho repertoire in attempt to derail the continental Pep Guardiola’s Catalan giants. Not content with his criticising the officials, he also questioned Barcelona’s continental success, particularly the work of his counterpart. Mourinho said: “Guardiola is a fantastic football coach, but has won the Champions League to be ashamed of what happens after a scandal in Stamford Bridge (in 2009), and this year if you win you will again be following what happens in a scandal at the Bernabeu.” Guardiola’s response, insisting he would not be drawn into a public slanging match, appeared to be a rare dropping of the Spaniard’s guard – some would say rattled by Mourinho’s comments.
However, while Guardiola’s comments took the headlines, the focus between matches was very much on the Barcelona Coach rather than the players, a classic Mourinho trick, taking the media glare away from his players and creating a siege mentality among the squad, drawn together by the outside criticism of their trusted leader. While Mourinho attempted to rally the troops, facing a difficult task without the presence of their manager, he attempted his final trick by not attending the second leg, triggering memories of a previous ban whilst Chelsea manager in 2005. His final attempt at a distraction was futile, a 1-1 draw enough to see Barcelona comfortably through to the final.
In a season where Barcelona look set to seal the domestic title and find themselves the favourites for European glory, for the first time, Mourinho finds himself distinctly second-best. Various tactical approaches, on-and-off-field have failed to see his side eclipse their rivals. Despite their Copa Del Rey final victory over Barcelona, Mourinho’s failure to secure the major trophies the club and its supporters crave, and his five-match European ban running into next season’s campaign, will do little to dismiss rumours of an abrupt departure after just a year at the helm.