Mourinho's struggles with Madridismo
Real Madrid sit five points clear in La Liga. Last weekend, the club completed the first half of the Spanish league season with a club record number of points (49) and goals (67). They qualified from their Champions League group with a 100 percent record and the best goal average of any side in Europe’s premier club competition. After their 4-1 victory over an in-form Athletic Bilbao on Sunday, José Mourinho’s side have won 23 of their last 25 games in all competitions.
Given these feats, it is perhaps not surprising that some Madrid fans in the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu’s Fondo Sur began to chant Mourinho’s name towards the end of Sunday’s game. What happened next was more curious. A sea of whistles from the other three sides of the ground quickly drowned out the chant. Three times the small group of Madrid’s most loyal ultras tried to hail their hero, and each time the rest of the Bernabéu would not let them.
Barcelona held off Real Madrid to reach the Copa del Rey final.
Eric Abdial's late goal gave Barcelona a lead after the first leg of the Copa del Rey.
Pepe quickly issues apology for stomp on Lionel Messi's hand.
Richard Farley looks at the reputation-defining effects of the Clasicos.
In pretty much any other stadium in the world, Mourinho’s statistics and his side’s form would be being trumpeted by everyone. The problem for the majority of Madrid fans is that the two games not won in that 25 match run were both against Barcelona - both were losses. For a club which views itself as the greatest sporting institution in the world, this is a huge blow to their collective pride.
Barcelona-Madrid is huge in Spain, for cultural, political and sporting reasons. For many Blancos supporters, the idea of their team playing defensively and looking to contain the Catalans, as if Madrid was a small club coming to ‘park the bus’ against a far superior rival, is beyond the pale. Thus Mourinho’s phenomenal achievements against everyone else do not count for much if his side is still outshone by Barcelona. The two clubs meet again Wednesday in the second leg of their Copa del Rey quarterfinal tilt, and many Madrid supporters fear further embarrassment.
Mourinho also now has a problem with his own players; or, some of them, at least. On the morning of the Bilbao game, Madrid-based sports daily Marca ran a cover story detailing a shouting-match between the coach and Real defender Sergio Ramos at a training session last week. Ramos had told reporters in the mixed zone after last Wednesday’s 1-2 Copa first-leg home defeat to Barcelona that, "[the players] follow the coach's tactics. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't."
According to Marca, Mourinho saw this as a breach of dressing-room unity and went on to blame Ramos for Barca’s first goal. The defender responded that Mourinho did not understand the game as he had never played it himself, a direct low blow. Club captain Iker Casillas also got drawn into the discussion. The story also reported that the coach’s defense of Pepe - not officially sanctioned for his ugly stamp on the hand of Barca’s Lionel Messi last week - did not impress everyone in a dressing room that has become divided between Spanish and Portuguese speakers. Mourinho shares an agent with Pepe. The insinuation is he plays favorites.
In his press conference after last Wednesday’s Barca defeat Mourinho defended his tactical decisions and said he was under no obligation to follow the supporters’ wishes. “I understand madridismo, but I do not listen to it,” he said then. After Sunday’s game he said whistling fans did not worry him.
“Zidane has been whistled here,” he said. “The Brazilian Ronaldo has been whistled here. Golden Boot winner Cristiano Ronaldo has been whistled here. Why not me too?”
However, Mourinho's demeanor suggested he was feeling hurt. He knew that Marca - usually careful not to upset Madrid president Florentino Pérez – would probably not have published the training-ground bust-up story without clearing it first. In the Bernabéu press room, the coach said he got on fine with his boardroom superiors, but later that evening Spanish TV show Punto Pelota claimed to have it on very good authority that Mourinho would leave Madrid in June, having become disillusioned with constant unfair media criticism and a lack of support from within the club. Tuesday's sports daily AS responded by reminding readers that this was not the first time Mourinho had threatened to turn his back on Madrid.
Ramos did not train on Monday (“for personal reasons” said Realmadrid.com), when he was reportedly summoned to Peréz's office to discuss the situation. The Spanish international was back out with his colleagues for Tuesday’s preparatory session, after which Mourinho took his usual press conference and pointedly did not deny that he planned to leave this summer.
For an increasing number of people in Madrid - among the media certainly, and it seems in the dressing room and boardroom too - he can go whenever he wants. Marca had been generally supportive even as the Portuguese was blaming defeats to Barcelona on a global conspiracy or reacting to them by physically assaulting Catalan coaching staff, but their position appears to have shifted. AS editor Alfredo Relaño, a good barometer of the feeling among Madrid’s establishment fans, used his column on Tuesday to compare Mourinho to Francesco Schettino, the captain who faces criminal charges after abandoning the sinking Italian cruise-ship Costa Concordia last week. The league table on the page facing Relaño’s editorial showed Madrid five points clear in the Primera División standings. Even by Spanish media standards, this was pretty surreal stuff.
For the neutral observer, it can seem that everyone involved lacks a certain sense of perspective. Back in December, we reported on Madrid fans and journalists demanding an attacking team for the first competitive Clásico of the season. Mourinho tried that and Barcelona won easily. He went more defensive last week and lost again. It is understandable that these regular defeats are difficult for pretty much everybody involved with the club – including Mourinho, Ramos, Pérez, Relaño and the thousands of well-dressed whistlers in the Bernabéu’s more expensive seats – but nobody is taking them very well.
There is still the chance that Mourinho and his players can manage a very unlikely turn-around in the second-leg and everyone can go back to pretending to be friends. The unrealistic expectations which fueled this week's soap opera have made that much less likely to happen.
Dermot Corrigan is a freelance Irish sportswriter who lives in Madrid and writes about soccer for several publications, including FOXSoccer.com, Sport 360°, When Saturday Comes and Iberosphere. Contact him on Twitter @dermotmcorrigan.