The moaning, whinging and diving of the cluster of El Clasico’s is one thing, but is the wedge driven between the Spanish players from Barcelona and Real Madrid all part of Jose Mourinho’s master plan to win the World Cup with Portugal in 2014?
Iker’s got that resigned look on his face. Pique and Ramos are lucky still to be on the pitch after their latest set-to. And Villa’s stormed off to the dressing room. “Why don’t you take one of those Madrid b******s off?” he says to Del Bosque as he storms past the bench and down the tunnel.
Meanwhile, surveying the scene from his technical area, Jose’s soaking it all in, his Portugal side all but through to the semi-finals of the World Cup and the defending champions coming apart at the seams, riven by an irreparable Barcelona Real Madrid fault line.
He hadn’t exactly planned it this way. He hadn’t even meant to be here. He’d still be at Old Trafford if he hadn’t fallen out with the bearded Yank over transfer funds and for waving that yellow and green scarf above his head. But still, he had to admit, that was almost worth it for this, the flowering of the malevolent seeds he’d casually tossed on the ground three years earlier.
They’re still blaming him for it in the Spanish press. “Jose’s evil master plan” they’ve been calling it, harking back to those 18 fractious days in the spring of 2011, when his Real Madrid side faced Barcelona four times and a wedge was driven down straight through the middle of the Spain team.
He’d still be at Old Trafford if he hadn’t fallen out with the bearded Yank over transfer funds and for waving that yellow and green scarf above his head.
The hacks haven’t quite got it right, though. There was no master plan, just a sense that in getting his players in the right frame of mind for that quartet of clásicos, in telling them to get right in their opponents’ faces and to tread on their ankles if necessary, he might also upset Spain’s carefully established equilibrium.
Collateral damage was how he thought of it at the time, and it’s turned out to be useful damage too. And in any case, he’s never cared much for the Spanish, always looking down their noses at the Portuguese, their cheap superiority complex puffed up by years of sporting achievement.
He had to hand it to Del Bosque, though. He’d done well to keep a lid on it for so long. The rumours of internal divisions persisted all the way through EURO 2012 and the qualifiers, but somehow the mild-mannered Spain boss kept pouring just enough oil to still troubled waters, even when performances inevitably began to dip.
But not even a consummate diplomat like Del Bosque could paper over the cracks after Pique lamped Ramos at the pre-tournament training camp, all in full view of the cameras, the Barcelona man irked by those gossip-column rumours of backstage shenanigans involving the randy Real Madrid man and Shakira.
The warring duo kissed and made up for those selfsame cameras later in the day, but everyone could see the game was up. Iker’s long face told you that, as did the sight of Xavi and his Barça sidekicks keeping themselves to themselves and the Madrid contingent doing the same.
And now it really is all over, the referee’s whistle marking the end of an era and inviting Mourinho to take another inexorable step towards sporting immortality. Del Bosque, ever the gentleman, approaches him, his hand outstretched: “Congratulations Jose, you deserved it.” Jose nods his head in acknowledgment and manages a thin smile. Turning to join his jubilant players on the pitch, hands in pockets, he gives the passing Iker a wink. “Hijo de p**a,” says his former keeper. “You knew all along this would happen.”
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