Jose Mourinho: skating on thin ice?

December 24, 2012 in La Liga

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On the face of it, a management career total of 40 defeats spread over 400 games in senior competition isn’t that bad a record - the envy of many even. The problem comes when your name is Jose Mourinho and you are the self-anointed ‘Special One’ sitting in the Real Madrid hot seat and charged with trying to stop that runaway Catalan juggernaut. In fairness to the Portuguese, he hasn’t done a bad job, securing the 2011/12 Primera División title, Madrid’s 32nd, to maintain an impressive record of winning a championship in each of the countries in which he has coached. That was then, though, and this is now.


Seventeen matches into this season, Real Madrid trail Barcelona by a massive sixteen points, and, barring some kind of miracle, they can kiss goodbye to retaining their La Liga title. Their UEFA Champions League campaign hasn’t been that much better either; three wins in six saw the Merengues finish runners up behind Borussia Dortmund in a group that also contained Ajax and Manchester City. It’s domestically, though, where the mutterings of discontent are gathering momentum, and, for the first time in his 30-month Bernabeu tenure, 49-year old Mourinho is under mounting, and seemingly severe, pressure.

A 3-2 Madrid defeat at Malaga yesterday, the fourth of four in the league, all of which have come away from home, was notable not for the scoreline, which was something of a surprise in itself, but the fact World Cup winning goalkeeper Iker Casillas was relegated to the bench - whilst completely match fit - for the first time in getting on for ten years. Never one to shy away from difficult decisions, a defiant Mourinho justified his selection by sarcastically telling an expectant press, “You can invent what you want, but the decision was purely technical.” He continued, “Antonio Adán is playing better than Casillas at the moment.” That’s a maybe, but truth be told, Real Madrid CF hasn’t appeared a happy camp for weeks.

Cristiano Ronaldo raised a few eyebrows, and even more column inches at the time, by refusing to celebrate his two goals against Granada in September, citing “professional problems” for his apparent unhappiness. Countless teams down the years have suffered during games because of off-field tensions, and in this regard, Madrid appear little different. For a club with their high profile, Real Madrid might think they keep things in-house pretty well, but the reality is altogether clearer. A widely-reported training ground spat between Portuguese assistant coach Rui Faria and his fellow countryman, defender Fábio Coentrão, simply served only to emphasise the fact that there really is no smoke without fire.

Following another away defeat, this time at the hands of Celta Vigo in a Copa del Rey quarter final first leg ten days ago, Mourinho was scathing in his criticism, accusing certain players of ‘not trying in the cold and rain.’ Such public utterances hardly help the cause, particularly with the home match in a two-legged cup tie to follow and only a single goal separating the sides. All of that unnecessary nonsense occurred before a disappointing 2-2 home league draw to lowly Espanyol, who Madrid were widely expected to beat with ease. On that occasion Mourinho was at it again, suggesting “the team was a long way from its objectives” and for good measure adding, “the league looks impossible now.”

For his part, Real Madrid club president Florentino Pérez was effusive in his praise; “We have the best coach in the world, with an impressive track record,” Perez said. ”From here, Jose Mourinho, I give you my acknowledgement, my confidence in your work and my affection.” It is quite likely these will, as they often do, prove to be weasel words. When you work at Real Madrid CF, a vote of confidence from El Presidente is to be dreaded far more than at any ‘normal’ football club. As befits their designation, Madrid are the equivalent of Spanish footballing royalty, and for them it’s not the done thing to air one’s grievances publicly. At such an organisation, biting the tongue is de rigueur, a prerequisite of Real Madrid life ‘Mou’ is still grappling with. The damage may well be done.

Mourinho now has two weeks before his side play again, a fortnight in which he will need to use his considerable talents to repair the increasingly obvious fractures within his squad. Massaging millionaire egos goes with the territory; this time it’s different, though, because Mourinho himself appears to be part of the problem. Unquestionably, the mercurial Mou, as he once did at Chelsea, is skating on thin ice - whether it cracks beneath him depends entirely on the continuing patience, or otherwise, of Pérez. With hopes of a second successive Primera title fading – Barcelona are rapidly disappearing over the horizon – the future of the Special One may rest on the outcome of just three matches.

A mouthwatering Champions League round of 16 draw pitted Real Madrid against Manchester United, with the Spaniards further disadvantaged by having to play the second leg at Old Trafford. Sandwiched between those two massive games is the small matter of a visit to the Santiago Bernabeu by FC Barcelona for match day 26 of the Spanish championship. For sure, it will be too early for Barca to celebrate a title win on enemy territory – the ultimate embarrassment for Madrileños - but defeat or a poor performance in the second Clásico will ensure a European exit at the Theatre of Dreams just days later is unthinkable.

This, of course, presupposes Mourinho will still be in charge in early March, don’t bet against it!