Jose Mourinho:“The only thing I can see from outside is that there is a hole in the squad. They have a group of stars and they have a group of young boys who are not ready to cope with that pressure and that quality. What is missing is what I call low-profile players. For example, in my team I love to have Geremi on the bench because he’s a low-profile player who is ready to help, ready to fight for the team, ready to do the job I want him to do. And you look to Milan, it’s the same story. They have a group of second-line players to give support.”
Seven years ago in an interview with World Soccer then Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho criticised Real Madrid for an unbalanced squad that lacked depth.
In 2011, after one year in charge of Los Merengues, the Portuguese tactician is close to finalising an outstanding first and second string Real Madrid side, one that owes as much to his approach to squad management as it does to Florentino Perez’ considerable resources.
The Galactico era was founded on the belief that a combination of world-class signings and home-grown talents – “Zidanes y Pavons” – would provide the correct balance to compete for domestic and European success. Ultimately that philosophy proved flawed as indulged superstars and inexperienced youth team graduates failed to provide the right balance of competitive energy and ability.
Tellingly however, rather than dipping into Real Madrid Castilla, Mourinho’s signings this summer demonstrate that he prefers to have more experienced and capable back-up players at his disposal.
That does not mean that the 48-year-old is neglecting developing players, as his purchase of emerging talents such as Nuri Sahin and Raphael Varane indicates, but that he is after players of a certain level to fit into his system. This system is one of having two players per position across the team, with players capable of rotation and still offering the same performance and attributes demanded.
This week, one man who perfectly typifies the rotational role at Real is Alvaro Arbeloa, and he spoke of his impressions of Mourinho’s two-team dynamic in pre-season: ”I have not seen [all the new signings], but it has to be one of the best squads in the history of Real Madrid.
“Practically we have two players per position and we will play games every four days. We know the requirements and the best thing that can happen is to have this template.”
It is a model – “a group of second-line players to give support” – which Mourinho harnessed at both Chelsea and Inter. Where he could call on either of England’s first and second-choice left-backs in Ashley Cole and Wayne Bridge, he can now choose from either Marcelo or Fabio Coentrao. Where he had two line-leaders in Samuel Eto’o and Diego Milito in Italy, he can now pick either Gonzalo Higuain or Karim Benzema. In some instances, such as with Marcelo and Coentrao, he may play both and trust in their versatility to fit the distinct roles set out in his 4-2-3-1 formation.
Indeed, both left-backs are just as comfortable in the opponent’s half, as demonstrated regularly by the Brazilian last term, and by Coentrao in his first appearance of pre-season, where he registered three shots on goal and an assist against LA Galaxy. Such options are a far cry from the first Galacticos era when Mourinho lamented a lack of “low-profile players” which led to what he regarded as “a hole in the squad.”
Real Madrid and Barcelona meet yet again in the Supercopa de Espana next month and it will be an early opportunity to find out whether his new signings have closed the gap between the two sides. Given Barcelona’s current pre-eminence that may well be unlikely, but the strengthened squad depth will have a growing impact as the season wears on and injuries take their toll.
Probable Real Madrid first XI:
Ramos – Pepe – Carvalho – Marcelo
Khedira – Alonso
Di Maria – Ozil – Ronaldo
Probable Real Madrid second XI:
Arbeloa – Albiol – Varane – Coentrao
Diarra – Sahin
Leon – Kaka – Altintop