Mourinho has quickly gone from hero to villain in his three years at Madrid … but why? What kind of legacy will the Portuguese manager leave in the Spanish capital?
Unlike at Chelsea and Inter, the Mourinho Era at Real Madrid has not been all smiles and trophies. Though the Special One’s spells in England and Italy did have their ups and downs, neither was marked by the same kind of drama swirling in Spain at the moment. Mourinho arrived in the Spanish capital with an aura of majesty. Fresh from winning the Champions League in the Bernabéu, Mourinho gave merengues everywhere the hope that the ever-elusive decima was only a few months away. Spanish sports dailies Marca and As wrote their usual articles enumerating the Lusitanian’s accomplishments and debunking the “myth” that Mourinho’s brand of football was invariably ultra-defensive.
Fast-forward three years— fans outside Valdebebas, Madrid’s training ground, insult Mourinho as he drives home after training sessions. Marca and As run smear campaigns against him to further stoke the fire, and rumors abound that The Special One well leave Madrid this summer. How did attitudes shift so dramatically in three years? Of course, three years is a long time in the world of football, and Mourinho’s tenure at the head of the Spanish giants has not been as smooth as many believed it would be.
Mourinho’s biggest problem has been the emergence of an FC Barcelona that has doubtlessly etched itself in the annals of football history as one of the greatest teams ever. In his three years at the Bernabéu, Mourinho’s record against the the blaugrana in competitive matches stands at five wins, six losses, and six ties. The first clásico between Josep Guardiola’s Barça and Mourinho’s Madrid ended 5-0 for the Catalans. Few people—if any—predicted such a one-sided match, and even fewer people argued with the result afterwards: everyone agreed that Barcelona had rolled over their eternal rivals, and even Mourinho acknowledged the culés’ supremacy on the pitch. The second league clásico ended in a 1-1 draw, but the real morbo—that untranslatable Spanish term that describes the historical, social, political, economic, and sporting factors that converge to create the tension-filled atmosphere that surrounds the greatest rivalries in Spanish football—between Mourinho’s Madrid and Guardiola’s Barcelona emerged after the 2011 Spanish Super Cup. The Portuguese manager controversially gouged Barça assistant manager Tito Villanova’s eye, creating a maelstrom of controversy in the football world. Furthermore, of Mourinho’s five wins against Madrid’s eternal rivals, only one or two of those could be called comprehensive wins—wins not marred by controversy, either football- or referee-related, where Madrid was decisively better than Barcelona. Mourinho’s frustration, then, is understandable: he has had the terrifically bad luck of managing Madrid during Barcelona’s period of greatness.
To further exacerbate his problems, the partisan Spanish sporting press has hounded the outspoken Mourinho incessantly. As his recent comments suggest, Mourinho keeps warm memories of his time with Chelsea. Back then, he was the media’s darling—the manager who wasn’t afraid to speak his mind and was thus always a reliable headliner. Things were tougher at Inter, where the FIGC repeatedly slapped him with fines for his comments, but nothing compares to Mourinho’s relationship with the Spanish media. Both Marca and As, Spain’s two largest sports newspapers, have their headquarters in Madrid, thus exhibiting an unabashed bias in favor of everything madridista. The yellow journalism spewed by these newspapers has always advanced a particular agenda that oscillates between extremes as called for by newspaper sales—stir up controversy, maintain high readership rates. Mourinho has thus devolved from hero to villain in their eyes. Whereas he could get away with controversial comments at his two previous clubs, his mixed bag of results at Madrid has made the press particularly intolerant of the opinionated manager—the message appears to be either win or keep your mouth shut. Furthermore, the press has railed against Mourinho’s teamsheet, and his willingness to sit national icons such as Iker Casillas has not gone down well with the media or the general public.
This highlights another issue at Madrid under Mourinho: the locker room. This is perhaps the strangest issue blighting the Mourinho Era at Madrid— creating a harmonious atmosphere in the locker room was a Mourinho trademark before Madrid. The Special One was known for inspiring undying loyalty in his players at Porto, Chelsea, and Inter: Lampard, Drogba, Essien, and Sneijder have all referred to Mourinho as a father figure, and before he left Inter, Mourinho was seen sharing a tearful embrace with Marco Materazzi. Early rumors of a rift in the Whites’ locker room between the Spanish and Portuguese contingents were quickly dismissed or ignored, but this past season locker room discord has dominated headlines. The players have confronted their manager for some of his more controversial comments in the press, with captains Iker Casillas and Sergio Ramos making retributive quips to the newspapers. What went wrong in Madrid’s locker room? Perhaps this is material for a book some years down the road, long after Mourinho is gone and tempers have calmed down. It would be interesting to piece together what really went on behind closed doors.
If the European sporting press is to be believed, it appears that Mourinho will not remain in the Spanish capital past this summer despite his comments saying otherwise. Will Mourinho leave behind such a poor legacy at Madrid? If he stays, will the situation prove to be beyond repair? As the saying goes, the owl of Minerva flies at dusk.