x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Jose Mourinho has grown tired of power struggle at Real Madrid

He has become frustrated by the influence of the capital's press on the club and by players who think they should be picking the team. Duncan Castles reports.

Despite a 4-3 aggregate defeat to Barcelona in the Copa del Rey quarter-final, Mourinho has led Real to a five-point lead over their bitter rivals at the top of the Primera Liga.
Despite a 4-3 aggregate defeat to Barcelona in the Copa del Rey quarter-final, Mourinho has led Real to a five-point lead over their bitter rivals at the top of the Primera Liga.

Even in the midst of wilful reticence, Jose Mourinho expressed the absurdity that envelopes Real Madrid.

"We have five points more than the team that everyone thinks is the best in the world," Mourinho said ahead of Wednesday's el clasico. "It is because we are not doing as badly and have as many problems as people think we have.

"When I came here, the club had a tradition of being eliminated from the Copa del Rey by teams from the lower divisions. When I arrived, we were not seeded in the Champions League; now we have the record for most wins in the group stage. I seem to have so many problems."

His frustrations are not difficult to understand. As things stood ahead of last night's 20th round of Liga fixtures, Mourinho's Real were in position to end the hegemony of a Barcelona side dubbed by many as not just best on the planet, but greatest of all time. The result of their late April return to the Camp Nou, where now characteristically poor refereeing cost them a victory last week, is set to be irrelevant.

Six Champions League wins out of six matches, 19 goals for and two conceded in group games versus Lyon, Ajax and Dinamo Zagreb, argues that they are best placed to depose Barcelona of their European crown the following month.

And the grandmaster of anti-futbol? Yes, that is the same man who has led Real to a half-season record of 67 Liga goals, eight more than Barcelona.

When Mourinho agreed to become Real manager, the night before leading Inter Milan to the Champions League at the Bernabeu, they were without a title of any magnitude for two years despite spending €200m (Dh971m) on Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka and Karim Benzema the preceding summer.

With a fraction of that budget, he immediately took the club to a re-energising Copa del Rey victory over Barcelona, and might have eliminated them from the Champions League if not for some deeply controversial refereeing decisions. In his second campaign, Mourinho has repeated his achievements at Porto, Chelsea and Inter, sending his side clear in the league while establishing them as one of Europe's two strongest teams.

His decision to make this year in the Bernabeu his last derives from a sense of exasperation, a feeling that no matter what he brings to Real the club will remain ungrateful and dysfunctional.

He is tired of a supposedly pliant local press that, in truth, holds undue influence over the club. Mourinho's attempts to break their control by ending open access to training and banning one-on-one interviews has borne greater resistance. Last week Marca ran a transcript of a training ground argument between Sergio Ramos and Iker Casillas. And Diario AS likened his leadership skills to the capsized cruise-boat captain, Francesco Schettino.

He is weary of the quixotic culture of "Madridismo" that struggles to define itself yet continually seems to stand in the way of on-field success, permeating the media and leaching through the institutions of the club. He is jaded by a cadre of Spain internationals who believe they are the best in the world and know more about the management and tactics of success than a coach who has won spectacularly and systematically everywhere he has been.

Questioned by Mourinho for ignoring his marking assignment at Barcelona's equaliser in the Copa del Rey first leg, Ramos argued back, and an inaccurate version of the discussion ended up in the public domain.

Ramos is, like Casillas, more inconsistent than reputation suggests, but he is sheltered from criticism by the Madrid sports dailies who continue the corrosive culture of player relationships behind the scenes.

Questions over their willingness, along with Xabi Alonso, to follow the example of Sergio Busquets and go the extra, brutal mile against Spain teammates in clasicos are rarely raised. Instead, stories have been leaked of the Spanish world champions overriding Mourinho's tactics to win in Malaga and selecting the line-up for Wednesday's second leg at the Camp Nou.

"Completely untrue," said a Mourinho confidant. "You know Jose."

What Mourinho did not instruct the team to do was drop their high line against Barcelona in the first leg and meekly hand over possession to their opponents. That reflected a psychological weakness against the champions the manager has been battling to rectify.

It may also be the fault line that best explains Mourinho's resolve to end his time in Madrid. One of his greatest strengths as a manager is an ability to inspire loyalty and extract performances through the brilliance of his training, tactics and personality.

From Benfica, via Leiria, Porto, Chelsea and Inter, it is almost impossible to find a former charge who speaks negatively about him as a coach or a person.

It is something he says matters more to him now than titles or salary. What is fundamental is the pleasure he derives from his work, the feeling that he is working in unity to "build something to win". Crucially, he has learnt not to tolerate its loss.

Mourinho, 49, describes his abortive 2007/08 campaign with Chelsea as "the worst season of my career" and his decision not to leave after a year in which Roman Abramovich's support for him evaporated as "my worst mistake as a coach".

With Real, the plan is to complete a personal "grand slam" of English, Italian and Spanish titles, see if he can add a third Champions League, then return to the Premier League.

Mourinho has not been told by Real to win both or face the dismissal, and says he will join an English club even if one of the great names does not become available. As usual with Mourinho, though, his calculation is that there will be no shortage of offers from a league that values him all the more for his absence and is in an unusual state of flux.

Manchester United face losing the title to their neighbours; Roberto Mancini will struggle to find excuses if he cannot turn the division's strongest and most expensive squad into champions. Kenny Dalglish has the almost unquestioning loyalty of Liverpool's core support, but not the owners. Chelsea and Arsenal are struggling to qualify for the next Champions League, while one way or another Harry Redknapp is on his way out of Tottenham.

All could be looking to appoint in a few months times. When Mourinho is available he should always be top of the list.

sports@thenational.ae