The impossible job: has Jose coped in the Real hot seat so far?

by Charlie Coffey

Friday, September 17th, 2010

Three games played: none conceded. Typical Mourinho. Two league games played: One goal scored. Hardly vintage Real Madrid. Even last night’s 2-0 win against Ajax in the Bernabeu did not satisfy the fans’ gluttonous hunger for goals. Starved of silver for the past two seasons, Madridistas will be quick to bay for blood. Jose Mourinho may have protested that he was not Harry Potter, but for his own sake his star-studded side must soon begin to weave the magic of which its constituent parts are capable.

At the final whistle of the disappointing 0-0 draw at Real Mallorca in the opening game of Mourinho’s La Liga adventure, frustrated Real fans whistled in protest. Only at Madrid would this be such an issue. The fans have helped to build a culture of impatience that has seen the club throw money at a revolving-door policy with little in the way of solid foundations. Barcelona have shown that measured evolution prevails over constant revolution. A goal-less draw away from home is not the end of the world, especially in the first match of the season when the newly-assembled squad had had less than ten training sessions together, as Mourinho pleaded in his defence after the game.

For the fans, though, the facts were what mattered: Madrid were already two points behind archrivals Barcelona, who only dropped 15 during the whole of last season. Then, against all odds, newly promoted Hercules proved it is a myth that Barcelona are unbeatable by their remarkable 2-0 win over them on matchday two. Madrid now lead Barca by a point. The draw in Mallorca may prove useful after all. For Real to win the league in Mourinho’s first season would be a special achievement, but he is the Special One, and beside the more obvious tactical prowess and man-management skills and despite the opening-day draw, Mourinho is extremely adaptable. His persona and achievements in the game demand respect; players trust him to lead them to glory as a team and to improve them as individuals.

One individual, Cristiano Ronaldo, has been singled out for criticism by the fans so far this season. He is clearly out of form at present, but Mourinho claims that, given time, he can help him overtake Leo Messi as the best in the world. However, Mourinho has a history of making his attacking players perform with more discipline than most managers; the only player he relieves of defensive duties is usually just one striker, be it Benni McCarthy, Didier Drogba, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Diego Milito or now Gonzalo Higuain, with the other nine outfield players assigned specific roles when his team are chasing possession. Will Ronaldo be the same player if he is shorn of the freedom and license to roam he has been granted previously? We shall see.

Whilst asking superstar wingers to track back is unusual given Real’s historic emphasis on attack, another change is that Mourinho’s transfer policy has hardly been faithful to the recent ‘galactico’ model. Rather than buying the finished article at the peak of their career he has brought in his old general, Ricardo Carvalho (now 32), to instil the values to the Madrid back line learnt from playing under Mourinho for two, and now three different clubs. He has also bought no less than young midfielders who all have the potential to reach galactico status but still have much to learn – Spaniards Sergio Canales and Pedro Leon, Germans Sami Khedira and Mesut Ozil and the Argentinean Angel Di Maria.

After the draw to Real Mallorca, Mourinho said:  “there is a big difference between the finished product [Barcelona] and a team in construction, like we are.” Unfortunately for him, the tenth man to take the helm since the end of the stellar Del Bosque era in 2003, neither Real Madrid’s hierarchy nor fans are of a patient disposition.

However it seems that (Real Madrid General Manager) Jorge Valdano has finally realised, after Barcelona have finally established themselves undisputedly as the best team in Spain much to his chagrin, that something had to change. Barca are proof that continuity can bring as much if not more success than throwing cash at the latest superstar; the revival of Real’s silly-money transfer policy has yielded but two trophy-less seasons. If the young talent Real have matures as expected they could have a midfield axis to rival the likes of Sergio Busquets, Xavi and Andres Iniesta, albeit one of more a cosmopolitan complexion than the Catalan trio. Only time will tell as to whether Valdano’s newly-found patience is merely a facade.

In typically self-indulgent fashion, Mourinho underlined the need for stability at Real: “Madrid is in many ways a conflict of footballing ideas. Coach after coach after coach… They need stability.

“My profile as a coach is different to those they have had in recent years,” he added. “If things go badly and I have to leave… I would have one of the best clubs in the world waiting for me.

“This personal stability allows me to say I am the ideal person to be at Madrid because I fear nothing. Madrid need stability and I’m here to give it.”

Mourinho hints here that whereas the likes of Manuel Pellegrini and Bernd Schuster were low-profile appointments who it may have been thought would toe the line out of a gratitude to the board, Mourinho is his own man, a Manager in the British sense rather than a coach in the continental mould. He shapes clubs in his own image, and after seeing the success he has had at Porto, Chelsea and Inter, Valdano and Real Madrid seem to have acknowledged that they must yield a greater portion of control to the man who picks the team.

Even so, Mourinho knows that he cannot rely on his reputation alone. He must produce results. He has the necessary tools to do so. Even before his new young steeds are blooded in Madrid have a fantastic team. Carvalho provides brain to compliment his compatriot Pepe’s brawn; Sergio Ramos and Marcelo have the technique, pace and stamina to attack and defend effectively from full-back; Lassana Diarra and Xabi Alonso are two of Europe’s leading defensive midfielders. With two former World Players of the Year (Ronaldo and Kaka) supporting two big, strong forwards who are adept aerially or off either foot (Higuain and the revitalised Karim Benzema), the team should be full of goals. All that is needed is the togetherness and selflessness to rival that of Barcelona. Mourinho is undoubtedly the best man for that task.

These qualities, of course, do not come overnight. The attractive football and goals the fans demand should come but, ever the pragmatist, Mourinho will look to ensure results first and style second. Real’s next fixture is in San Sebastian on Saturday against Xabi Alonso’s old club Real Sociedad. Alonso eloquently sums the occasion up thus: “There will be three points at stake against Real Sociedad, so we will be opponents for 90 minutes.” For Mourinho, and obviously for Xabi Alonso, nothing less than a win will do. Real Madrid fans and the sensationalist Spanish media are quick to give credibility to crises. One win in three La Liga games will just not do, and Mourinho knows it. All eyes will be on the flamboyant Portuguese, but then he wouldn’t have it any other way.

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