x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Mourinho's mountain

To survive in his new job he has to bring success to Real Madrid, writes Andy Mitten.

Jose Mourinho during the Champions League final at Real Madrid's Bernabeu, his new football home.
Jose Mourinho during the Champions League final at Real Madrid's Bernabeu, his new football home.

It's the close season and as every Real Madrid fan knows, that usually means a change in coach. Manuel Pellegrini was dismissed on Wednesday after a single season in charge. A failure to win the Champions League or the Primera Liga title cost him his job, despite the cerebral Chilean leading Real to their record points haul in the league and many players demanding that he stayed. "I've been waiting for this for a long time," Pellegrini said yesterday.

From the club's perspective, they had made what Florentino Perez, the club president, described as "unprecedented efforts to come up with a squad capable of aspiring to the highest level". "We've come a long way," the construction magnate, who took over for a second spell last summer, continued, "but we still have further to go. This club, its board and its fans permanently strive for excellence, victories and European leadership."

Nowhere is time more of the essence than at Real Madrid. There is no such thing as patience: success has to be instant and sustained. If it isn't, the coach will be on his way, though even success guarantees nothing. Vicente Del Bosque was dismissed after leading Real to Champions League success in 2002 and the club have worked though 12 coaches in as many years. Pellegrini never stood a chance and nor will Jose Mourinho, his expected replacement, if he fails to break Barcelona's domestic hegemony or win a 10th European Cup

Mourinho was lined up to replace Pellegrini after Real exited the Champions League at the last 16 stage for the fifth successive year. Real leaked the story to favoured media outlets to test the reaction from fans. It was initially lukewarm and even frosty - the Inter Milan coach having a reputation for defensive football rather than the attacking play demanded by the 80,000 fans who fill the Bernabeu most weeks.

Mourinho's stock began to rise as Inter progressed through the Champions League. When his obdurate yet skilful side knocked Barcelona, the holders, out at the semi-finals stage, he became the choice of many, the only person capable of toppling Barca. A few carefully organised interviews with Madrid-based media helped Mourinho get his message across - that he would love to manage at a great club like Real, that his football was anything but defensive and that he had been successful at every big club he had coached. His arrogance began to be viewed as self-assured confidence, the mantra of a winner.

Mourinho was a shoo-in and everyone knew it. When he arrived in Madrid last week with Inter, he was portrayed as a man moving to his new home rather than a coach about to oversee the biggest game in club football. After he had dismissed - and thanked - Pellegrini for his efforts, Perez moved on to the subject of Mourinho. Cynics laughed as he explained that changing coaches was always a hard decision, but in Mourinho, Real were likely to appoint the only man who can challenge Barca.

The Portuguese coach is a collector. He has won the league in Portugal, England and Italy and Spain is the natural next choice. He speaks perfect Spanish after a stint as assistant to Bobby Robson and then Louis Van Gaal at Camp Nou. He loves the challenge presented by a brilliant Barcelona and Pep Guardiola, their equally handsome, elegant and intelligent coach, the challenge of lasting more than a season.

Spain has already forgotten Pellegrini, a great coach who will have to rebuild his career elsewhere, like so many before him. The Spanish like to look forward in anticipation rather than dwell on the mistakes of the past. The duel between Guardiola and Mourinho is already being hyped, despite Mourinho not even signing a contract yet. He is on holiday with his family, but has given his word and will sign a four-year deal worth ?10 million (Dh45m) a year on his return.

Mourinho holds all the cards and knows it. His stock is at its highest and he will have insisted that he brings in the players he wants, not those the habitually interfering Perez prefers. He already has a world-class squad as his disposal and his winning mentality quickly commands the loyalty of players, but a Who's Who of world football has been linked with the Bernabeu. Douglas Maicon, the Brazilian defender, seems the most certain to follow him from Milan while Mourinho has already spoken fondly of Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard, the England duo.

Perez claims that he wants "stability", but added that "Real Madrid changed coaches in the years it won its first five European Cups." Nobody, not even Mourinho, is safe. It is a test he will accept with relish. sports@thenational.ae