Jose Mourinho under pressure for dropping Casillas

Real Madrid President Florentino Perez’s confounded expression

upon hearing that veteran goalkeeper Iker Casillas had been dropped

for Saturday’s game against Malaga showed just how far coach Jose

Mourinho has gone in his quest to exert control over the club.

And it may be that Mourinho has finally gone too far.

After waves of criticism from fans and players alike as Madrid

slumped to a 3-2 loss in the game, the question arises whether

Perez has reached the limits of his support for the often

successful, yet equally abrasive, Mourinho.

”Mourinho has his particular way of dealing with his squad,”

said former Madrid player and coach Jorge Valdano. ”But this was

him doubling down. It was an exhibition of power. It was him

imposing his decision on a club legend.”

Mourinho did not announce his decision to drop Casillas, highly

respected both in Spain and abroad for his decade of quality

service in Madrid’s net, for the little-used Adan Garrido until

minutes before the game.

The move backfired in the second half when Malaga scored on the

inexperienced Adan three times to deal Madrid another loss that

left it flagging 16 points adrift of Spanish leader Barcelona and

its league title defense hopes shattered.

Mourinho said that he had picked Adan because he was ”in better

form” than Casillas.

That argument was far from convincing to fans and players past

and present.

A fan poll published on Monday by Spanish sports daily Marca

indicates that most of Madrid’s fans want Mourinho out. Eighty-two

percent of the almost 100,000 participants in the online poll voted

yes to the question ”Should Real Madrid fire Mourinho?”

”Iker doesn’t need to be punished to play better,” said former

Madrid goalkeeper Cesar Sanchez, an old teammate of Casillas.

”This only brings to a boil the atmosphere of conflict that Madrid

already has.”

Madrid defender Sergio Ramos said after the match that he was

”surprised” by the decision.

Casillas told La Sexta television on Sunday that he felt fine

and that Mourinho hadn’t told him why he had been benched.

”I’m not used to being a backup,” Casillas said. ”But the

team is above any player. I have to keep training and try to win

back my place in the starting lineup.”

Since arriving at Madrid three seasons ago, Mourinho has won a

Spanish league title in 2012 and a Copa del Rey a year earlier.

But he has also ruffled the feathers of more than one of

Madrid’s purist fans, as well as dispatching several perceived

enemies within the club.

Casillas, the captain of Madrid and Spain’s world and two-time

European championship national team, was always seen as

untouchable.

The 31-year-old goalkeeper is the most revered member of

Madrid’s current squad. Many fans see him as the last link to the

winning days of the ”Galaticos” of David Beckham, Ronaldo and

Zinedine Zidane and to the prior golden era of beloved forward Raul

Gonzalez and Vicente del Bosque, the club’s ultimate ”gentleman”

coach.

Two weeks ago, Perez called Casillas ”a legendary captain of

Real Madrid.”

”He is one of the great captains in the history of this club,”

Perez said. ”He shows that above and beyond winning titles, he

knows how to interpret this institution.”

And therein lies the potential problem for Mourinho.

Perez had not been informed of Casillas’ exclusion when a

journalist for Canal Plus television showed him the lineup minutes

before the game. The 65-year-old club president, who in his 10

years has made Madrid one of the world’s richest teams, raised his

glasses as if to get a better look at the player list and then,

apparently stunned, just turned away.

Perez has been Mourinho’s biggest backer.

He has defended the Portuguese coach every time he has been

questioned by the sector of Madrid’s fans who interpret that his

aggressive style goes against the club’s proud tradition of always

behaving in a ”noble” manner. Perez didn’t flinch even when

Mourinho poked Barcelona’s then assistant and now head coach, Tito

Vilanova, in the eye during a melee between the archrivals.

Last week, with Mourinho under increasing pressure to turn

things around in the league, Perez told a meeting of club members

that Mourinho had his ”confidence” and ”affection.”

Mourinho is known for wanting to control how much information

from his dressing room reaches the media, and he has had no problem

taking on other personalities within the club.

In 2011, Valdano, then the club’s spokesman, left after his

conflict with Mourinho went public with the coach openly

discrediting him.

Mourinho belittled player Pedro Leon before he was shipped back

to Getafe. He has even ostracized former Ballon d’Or winner Kaka,

for whom Madrid paid ?65 million (then $92 million) in 2009, to an

almost permanent role on the substitutes’ bench.

This season, he benched defender Ramos after a supposed dispute,

and he has used various press conferences to criticize the running

of Madrid’s B-team by coach Alberto Toril.

And through all of this Perez has been there to grant him his

wishes, including a contract extension last summer that ties

Mourinho to Madrid until the end of the 2016 season.

Mourinho, a former Chelsea, Inter Milan and FC Porto manager,

has enjoyed the unquestioning support of Madrid’s most radical

fans, which even applauded his eyepoke of Vilanova with a large

sign at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium that read: ”Your finger

points the way forward.”

But that could all change after the Casillas benching. And if

Mourinho losses Madrid’s die-hard fans it may be only a question of

time before his last defender also abandons him.

Columnist Tomas Roncero, who writes for sports daily AS and

represents the most vehement section of Madrid’s fans, wrote on

Sunday that ”Mou threw down the gauntlet without weighing the

consequences.”

”(Casillas) is the triumphant symbol of Spain that has

dominated the European and World Cups since 2008. Mou can’t

understand this sensibility because it’s not his national team, but

he should be able to evaluate it,” he said. ”For a decade now, 70

percent of the children who are Real Madrid fans wear the Iker

shirt. He is an idol, a mirror, a hope, a hero.”