Real Madrid and Barcelona would square off once again in the preseason in the Spanish Super Cup, which pits the league winner against the cup winner in a two legged home & away tie. Barcelona eventually walked away victorious and lifted the trophy, but not before Jose’s antics kicked in. During a scuffle which stemmed from a Marcelo red card for a tackle on Fabregas, Mourinho got involved by poking the eye of Barcelona assistant coach Tito Vilanova:
The Madrid press lambasted the “Special One” for his classless behavior, but this was typical Jose. Many were calling for his head and claimed that his behavior does not represent the institution of Real Madrid and its values. However, Mourinho was not phased. He was ready to get the season under way.
The next match was the first clasico of the season in the Bernabeu and Barcelona were simply too strong for Madrid, despite conceding an early goal from a Victor Valdes blunder. They scored 3 consecutive goals and won the match 1-3. This was the lowest point for Madrid fans. They must have been thinking to themselves “How on earth do we defeat this Barcelona side”?
However, as the season went on, Madrid continued to get stronger and more determined, while Barcelona started dropping points in away matches, which would ultimately be their demise. Real Madrid were pummeling Spanish opposition, often by 6 goal margins as Cristiano Ronaldo and co. were ruthless in front of goal. Ronaldo, Benzema, and Higuain were sharing the goal scoring duties while Barcelona were limited to the one-man army that is Lionel Messi. Despite the Argentine’s brilliant performances, he did not have Pedro and Villa to share the goal scoring burdens and this would cost them dearly. As the final clasico of the season approached, Barcelona needed a win to make a push for the title, but Cristiano Ronaldo silenced the Camp Nou with a strike and effectively sealed the title for Madrid. Not only did Madrid finally pick up a major piece of silverware, they finally defeated their arch rivals in an important match.
Unfortunately for Madrid, they once again got knocked out of the Champions League by Bayern Munich in the semi-finals on penalty kicks. They would have to wait another year to contest for “La Decima”.
As Jose’s second season drew to a close, the Madrid press were divided. Some were praising him for winning a major title after a long wait. Others were expecting a Champions League title or at the very least, an appearance in the final. After all, this was the task Mourinho was appointed for.
However, if we look at the overall scope of the season it was actually quite a successful one. They not only won the league title convincingly on Barcelona’s turf but their performances in the champions league were impressive. They “blitzkrieged” their way into the knockout rounds winning all 6 matches in the group stage and nearly got to the final of the tournament. It was not a perfect season by any means, but it was a step in the right direction. Mourinho would get another year at Madrid.
As the 2012-13 season began, Barcelona and Real Madrid faced each other in the 2-legged Spanish supercup. The only difference this time was that Barcelona was the cup winner and Madrid the league winner. Having broken their Barcelona “hoodoo”, Madrid were a lot more confident when facing their arch enemies. They defeated Barcelona and took the trophy for the first time since 2008. More importantly, they now had the edge over their rivals and knew how to beat them.
Jose Mourinho’s power began to grow at the club. Their president Florentino Perez even went as far to sack their director general Jorge Valadano over the summer due to his disagreements with Jose Mourinho. He quoted:
“We have decided to end the contractual relationship with Jorge Valdano. The experience of this season has shown the need for a new organizational structure giving authority to the coach and avoiding dysfunctions with the directorate general,” he said. “I do not want to hide the pain I feel at the exit of Jorge Valdano, but my feelings cannot be a reason for not taking the necessary decisions.”
All seemed rosy for Mourinho as he was getting results on the pitch and off the pitch, but this would be his highest point. Soon after, Madrid started dropping points in the league to minnows like Granada, while Barcelona had their best ever start to a season going unbeaten in 20 straight matches.
The league title was wrapped up January, and Madrid turned their attention to the Champions League. They were in the group of death with Manchester City, Borussia Dortmund, and Ajax. They were not very convincing like the previous year, as it took them until the final matchday to clinch qualification and only managed 3 wins in the group stage.
Reports started emanating from Spain about a locker room divide at Madrid. Major journalists were reporting that Iker Casillas and Sergio Ramos wanted out of the club as long as Mourinho was still there. The reports intensified as Sergio Ramos was benched for a champions league match against Manchester City. He was also criticized publicly by Mourinho after a 2-0 defeat to Sevilla in the league.
Club captain Iker Casillas also fell out of favour with the Portuguese and lost his starting position to Diego Lopez. Mourinho claimed he preferred Lopez over the Spanish International due to his ability to command the penalty area and play it out from the back. Many Madrid fans turned on Mourinho at this juncture, claiming that Iker is a legend of the club and cannot be benched, despite several subpar performances. Real Madrid Center-Back Pepe and Cristiano Ronaldo have also been on the receiving end of criticisms from their coach during the season. However, journalism from the football world should always be taken with a grain of salt, as they are more interested in selling papers than actually reporting the truth, but there has certainly been some controversy in the Madrid camp. One thing is for sure, the Real Madrid players do not have the same sort of affection Inter Milan players had for Mourinho.
As the knockout stages of the Champions League approached, Real Madrid got paired with Manchester United. The first leg in Madrid resulted in a lacklustre 1-1 draw, which was not the best result for Madrid. It seemed that every time Real Madrid faces a top team who does not have a strong attacking intent, they look clueless. Mourinho’s tactics are most effective when a team attacks them, giving them the ability to hit on the counter. They do not take a proactive approach to games, and will suffer if they have to take the initiative. The 2nd leg was a perfect example of this, as United had the away goal and could play more conservatively. Madrid did not look to score until after the controversial Nani red card incident. They eventually capitalized on the man advantage with 2 goals and won the tie, but even Jose himself said that Real Madrid were not the better team.
Madrid then breezed past Galatasaray in the quarter-finals until they met Borussia Dortmund in the semis. The german giants utterly dispatched Mourinho’s Madrid by scoring 4 goals on them. Perhaps in this tie, it was not Mourinho’s redundant tactics which did them in, but his inability to make his players sacrifice for the team. Dortmund looked a cohesive unit, while Madrid still looked like a bunch of individuals, even after 3 years. This match was the culmination of the entire “Moudrid” project, and it had failed.
With the amount of funds and power he was granted at Madrid, one would have expected more from him. Mourinho was not able to create a champions league winning team at Madrid, but this is the hardest tournament to win. Were the expectations too high? Granted, he improved the team and helped them over the mental barriers of first round exits and reached the semi-final of Europe’s elite tournament 3 times in a row. He also added some silverware to his cabinet and helped the team overcome their fears of Barcelona, but was this enough? Was the “special one” appointed solely for the purpose of bringing “La Decima” to Madrid? Surely, no one hires a Jose Mourinho for the purpose of long-term squad building. There are far better managers for that. However, it’s undeniable that Mourinho has elevated Real Madrid’s level based purely on results. If that was the expectation from him, then he has succeeded. But with Mourinho, you always expected something extraordinary, and he could not deliver. He certainly had all the tools at his disposal to create magic and bring in La Decima, but alas, he failed.