x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Mourinho's mark is being stamped

Mourinho's Iberian honeymoon was over this time last week but he dug his heels in, defended his players, confronted questioners and called Ronaldo "untouchable".

The rain fell hard on Madrid's magnificent Bernabeu stadium, but the sun is finally shining on Jose Mourninho's spell at Real Madrid. He seldom ventured from the cover of the dugout as his players tore Deportivo La Coruna apart in Sunday's 6-1 victory, but the relief was clear and each goal was celebrated with more abandon. That Barcelona had failed to win early in the day added sparkle to a perfect night when it rained goals in Madrid.

Mourinho's Iberian honeymoon was over this time last week. There was criticism about his team's style of play and the role given to his main stars, such as Cristiano Ronaldo. There was disquiet about his deployment of three defensive midfielders - seen as an affront to Real's attacking legacy and the key reason why the team had scored just six goals in five games, when they had registered 16 by the same stage last season.

Mourinho dug his heels in, defended his players, confronted questioners and called Ronaldo "untouchable". Yet in another interview, he described Ronaldo's "potential" - as if it had yet to be fulfilled. He has a massive job keeping a notoriously egocentric dressing room on its toes, while sating the ravening media demands and fan expectations. But he knew all that when he took the top job at a club he describes as "the biggest in the world".

Mourinho never shirks a challenge and emphasised the need for patience because he was still "constructing" a team which remains short of a quality left-back. He also cancelled one press conference, restricted access to training sessions and prevented some players from speaking to the media. Because Real are owned by the supporters, the fourth estate have far more access than at other European giants. They see it as their right and did not like it when the tap of information was partly turned off.

"The supporters demand a lot, the press demand a lot. I work hard so I can do things," bristled Mourinho. "They think the coach is Harry Potter. I'm not Harry Potter." Real have not become the world's richest club in the 21st century by winning trophies, but by building on their image and open access. Fans could mingle with players on European away trips, journalists call the president or directors.

That culture will not change overnight, but Mourinho is trying to enforce his power at the Bernabeu, to take control of the club on and off the field because he has seen so many incumbents undermined. The Portuguese also hit back at claims that he is cutting off access to the team by producing a list of all the interviews he had given, the open training sessions he had held and the press conferences. It was impressive, calculated and showed any potential foes that he is a formidable opponent, but he knows that he will be judged on results more than anything.

That is the problem, because despite any difficult fixtures so far, Real have laboured. Deportivo La Coruna may be bottom of the league, but on Sunday Real finally clicked into gear, hitting the Galicians for six. Unlike Barca, Real were finally incisive in front of goal, with four of their strikers getting on the score sheet. Their so far frail confidence seemed to rush back as if the unrelenting rain had opened the floodgates.

Mourinho also outlined his aims for the club. "Success for me would be in the four years of my contract to make the tenth Champions League for the club and stop the Barca domination," he said. He is a long way off either and seeing out four years at a club who change their coach every year would be an achievement, but his task has been made easier as Barca have not had the start they enjoyed last year.

Oh how Mourinho's predecessor Manuel Pellegrini must be wishing he had had the same luxury.

sports@thenational.ae