500 Days Of Mourinho: Real Madrid And The Battle To Dethrone Barcelona

The tempestuous Portuguese manager is yet to win a league title with Real Madrid - or dethrone the seemingly unstoppable Barcelona, but will his time come?
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The tempestuous Portuguese manager is yet to win a league title with Real Madrid - or dethrone the seemingly unstoppable Barcelona, but will his time come?

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Five hundred days ago, Real Madrid appointed Jose Mourinho as manager for the sole purpose of knocking Barcelona off their lofty perch.

Such was the dismay at having been eclipsed by its arch-rivals that president Florentino Pérez chose to risk Madrid's self-styled reputation as “Un Club Señor” (A Gentlemanly Club) by turning to the confrontational Mourinho for a reported record salary of 40 million pounds over four seasons.

So far, the gamble has largely failed. Mourinho, who has compared coaching Madrid with landing on the Moon, has proved impotent as Barcelona have remained in a different galaxy. As expected, he has also become embroiled in a raft of incidents which represent bad publicity for the image-conscious club.

Of course, Mourinho would beg to differ. So he hasn't repeated his astonishing achievement in his first full seasons at Porto, Chelsea and Inter Milan, when he landed the league title each time, but he still has two and a half years of his contract remaining.

The 48-year-old has also provided Madrid fans with some joy by steering Madrid to its first Copa del Rey since 1993. Much more importantly, their victims in the final of the Cup competition were Barcelona, preventing the Catalans from achieving the treble for the second time in three years. Mourinho-supporters would say this was proof that his multi-million euro team is reducing the gap.

Yet Madrid has faced Barcelona seven times during Mourinho's tenure, with the Copa del Rey final its sole victory in a record which must be desperately disappointing for Pérez. Overall, Mourinho has an impressive record of 50 wins in his 69 matches with Madrid, but his failure to dethrone Barcelona must rankle for a president who finds defeat especially unpalatable.

Mourinho has been engaged in a litany of disputes with UEFA, the Spanish Football Federation, local journalists, Spanish and foreign referees, his own players and an array of officials from rival clubs. This latter group included Pep Guardiola's assistant Tito Vilanova, who, hilariously but painfully, was poked in the eye by Mourinho during the Spanish Super Cup in August.

Despite Pérez's recent proclamation of Mourinho as the world's best manager, the Special One badly needs his next 500 days to be something a little more, ahem, special.

Another was Sporting Gijon's manager Manuel Preciado, who drew Mourinho's  approbrium for his team's apparent failure to put up a fight in a league match at the Camp Nou. Yet Preciado, who had called Mourinho a scoundrel for his remarks, had the last laugh a few months later with a 1-0 win at the Bernabeu, inflicting Mourinho's first league defeat at home in over nine years and ending the club's hopes of overhauling Barcelona in the league.

Nor would Mourinho be Mourinho without the odd suspension or two. With Madrid, he has already amassed three – two from UEFA and one from the Spanish Federation. The game's continental body punished him for two games for instructing Xabi Alonso and Sergio Ramos to attempt to receive a strategic yellow card in a Champions League match with Ajax.

It was Madrid's tempestuous 2-0 defeat against Barcelona in the Champions League semi-final first leg which brought a gala performance from the manager. Not content with receiving his marching orders – for the second time since his arrival in Spain – Mourinho launched a diatribe at his post-match press conference in which he alleged UEFA and its referees had conspired to help Barcelona achieve its success over recent years. Mourinho received a five-game ban that was subsequently reduced on appeal.

Barcelona's victory at the Bernabeu that day came five months after they had thrashed Mourinho's team 5-0 in El Clásico at the Camp Nou. The Portuguese attempted to shrug off the biggest loss of his career, saying the result was easy to digest because his team had played so badly, but the stinging defeat represented an early blow to his standing.

Legendary Madrid striker Emilio Butragueño, who is currently the club's head of institutional relations, suggested this week that as many as 93% of club members support the manager. However, many seem irritated by Mourinho's unseemly and erratic behaviour.

A straw poll conducted in Madrid-supporting sports daily AS this week handed the Portuguese a far from impressive 44% approval rating, with 38% describing his performance so far as a failure. Despite Pérez's recent proclamation of Mourinho as the world's best manager, the Special One badly needs his next 500 days to be something a little more, ahem, special.

Aware of Madrid's ‘hire 'em and fire 'em’ approach, with 10 different managers employed in as many years, Mourinho has moved fast to strengthen his power base. Realising that the club's general manager, Jorge Valdano, would be a major obstacle, he persuaded Pérez to drastically revamp the club's management structure. Valdano resigned and now Mourinho possesses much more clout. But unless a succession of silverware ensues and Barcelona are indeed knocked off their perch, this still may not be enough to ensure a longer reign as manager.

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