MADRID - AFP/REUTERS
Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho, or the self-proclaimed ‘Special One’ of European football, celebrates his seventh league title with a fourth different club but his path to La Liga glory has hardly been a rosy one. The Portuguese has had his fair share of ups and downs in Spain, especially in dethroning Barcelona
Real Madrid’s Portuguese coach Jose Mourinho (C) celebrates with his players after winning the club’s 32nd La Liga title following a victory over Athletic Bilbao at San Mames Stadium. The La Liga triumph is Real Madrid’s first league title since 2008. AFP photo
Jose Mourinho succeeded in bringing the La Liga title to Real Madrid in his second season on May 2, just two days after bitter rival Pep Guardiola decided to walk away from deposed champions Barcelona.
After a first season which left plenty of doubts about the direction that Real was going, Mourinho has now managed to overturn a Barcelona side which has been described as one of the best of all time.
Guardiola’s team won the last three Spanish titles and two Champions Leagues in a spell where it claimed 13 of a possible 16 trophies.
Mourinho also joins Austrian Ernst Happel and Italian veteran Giovanni Trapattoni in having coached clubs to four different league titles. But he became the first coach to win a domestic league in four different major countries following his two titles in Portugal with Porto, two in England with Chelsea, two in Italy with Inter Milan and now one in Spain with Real.
“It was the most difficult,” the 49-year-old said. “Up until the final moment nobody gifted us anything.”
Real has managed this through remarkable consistency and breathtaking attacking football with Cristiano Ronaldo leading the way as the Portuguese took on the challenge of Lionel Messi, Barcelona’s World Player of the Year. Array of goal scorers
While Barça has become dependent on Messi in attack, Real crucially has an array of goal scorers with Gonzalo Higuain and Karim Benzema also providing their fair share. The club had already broken the league’s record 107 goals in a season held by John Toshack’s Real side from the 1989-90 season.
President Florentino Perez brought in the all-conquering Mourinho in 2010 to lead his project of toppling the Catalan club after already triumphing in three different clubs.
Perez, who had overseen the rise and fall of the ‘galacticos’ where stars like Luis Figo, Zinedine Zidane and David Beckham arrived at the club, had returned to the presidency a year before. He was now willing to accept the abrasive Mourinho, who had been the cause of constant storm clouds in Italy due to his relationships with other trainers and the press.
After Mourinho’s first season there was still a lot of work to be done as Barça had won the league and knocked Real out of the Champions League at the semifinal stage with Madrid’s only success coming in the King’s Cup.
Mourinho’s approach was also called into question for the way that his side had sought to stop Barca through aggression when the teams had met. Many Real fans felt that the Portuguese was going against the traditions of the club as especially in the Champions League semifinal at the Bernabeu, the tactic seemed merely to defend and stop Barça at all costs.
There appeared to be little change at the start of this season when Barcelona won the domestic Super Cup against Real and the match descended into a brawl when Marcelo was red carded for reckless challenge on Cesc Fabregas.
In the melee Mourinho poked his finger in the eye of Barça assistant coach Tito Vilanova.
As the season has unfolded though Real has demonstrated an ominous consistency, which Barcelona has not been able to live with.
Barça still had the edge in the head-to-heads with a 3-1 win at the Bernabeu in December followed by a victory in the King’s Cup and despite the fact that Real was still in front in the league, this was crucial for many supporters.
Mourinho was booed during a 4-1 win over Athletic Bilbao at the Bernabeu in January, its 23rd win from 25 games.
“Zidane was whistled here, Ronaldo was also whistled and Cristiano Ronaldo, a Golden Ball winner, as well, so why can’t I?” said Mourinho afterwards. “If they jeered me at a club where they don’t normally jeer then maybe I would be worried.”
The decisive game was the 2-1 victory over Barcelona at the Camp Nou. This had added significance as finally Mourinho as Real coach had beaten Barça on its home ground and realized the shift in the power base that Perez had brought him in for.