Mourinho and the pursuit of another triumphant run through the exit door
It isn’t ironic but probably destined that Mourinho’s finest hour with Inter was on the same turf where he would be soon executing his most challenging project. A project where toppling the might of the heavenly Catalans was a bare minimum and clinching the ever eluding la decima an outright necessity. Yet, there is something more about Mourinho’s character that seems to overstep a mark others wouldn’t; something that wiped the stage of hesitation with sheer confidence in accepting this ridiculous task – it was Barcelona.
Perez not only offered him a new pasture to prove his footballing genius but also gave him a chance to land a sucker punch right down on the chin of the Catalan identity. And in his own peculiar way, he did manage to rattle and ultimately destroy the aura of indomitability that Barcelona had maintained for the best of the last five years. By clinching two consecutive El Clasico wins last month, he not only emphasized his staggering progress with the Madrid side but also left the world with another set of blueprints to beat Barcelona. Prolific football has always been divided into two parts – one shaded with technical brilliance and the other devised with purpose and positional discipline – and Mourinho is probably the only identity in football that symbolizes the rise of the latter half. Yet, it’s not a trend that was developed overnight. In presenting the world a dossier of result oriented football and giving the best team in the world consistent headache, Mourinho has had to improvise in the steadiest of fashions.
Managing Real was always a task that demanded a lot of self belief and perseverance from the Portuguese, but being the best in the world leaves you with only few daunting challenges. Madrid, where football predominantly represented the sheer beauty of their glowing culture, Mourinho was to employ a rather pragmatic approach that his predecessors interpreted in their tenure yet failed to have the audacity to implement it. He carried on developing the notes he formulated during his time in Inter on a lethal counter-attacking model that would not only feature his trademark possession retaining methods but will also emphasize on controlling game in patches. Of course, Mourinho had to face cynicism in the opening phase of his campaign yet it was only a matter of time when he got the best out of his Madrid side – a side that possessed a fair share of swagger to match their purposeful football. He induced a style of football that slowly started to please the Madridistas with bursts of exhilarating moments that the Los Blancos are known for – only this time, achieving the end result was not a flailing option but a priority.
Though Mourinho’s managerial prowess has been solely dependent on three crucial pointers – Player management, coaching adaptability and media management – he would have never foreseen how deep he had to dig in order to motivate his lot for the current season. When the world was expecting another period of Madrid’s indomitable displays on the Spanish front, he was left to fight for his position at the club. On his way to laying a winning foundation for the Blancos, he also took a few decisions that backfired in retaining the support from the players and the media quadrant. He dumped the likes of Ramos, Ozil and Casillas on the bench for the collective good, yet all it signaled was another ludicrously scripted media outrage.
However, few had a mental fortitude of Mourinho as he dealt with every roadblock with a motivation to boost his side. He still had a Champions League agenda that was enough to patch up the dressing room differences and the shut the clatter from the juvenile media quadrants. He knew that this was the job he was hired for. In fact, he, in the current scenario, was the best person to assist any club to European glory. He realized that he didn’t have much to hang on to the job, yet no one could forbid him that one last shot to European glory with the Madridistas.
“My career is always incomplete. Nobody puts pressure on me, because I put pressure on myself.”
– Jose Mourinho, on his Champions League ambitions with Real Madrid
With the League title challenge shelved for the good and the King’s Cup game being no sooner than the latter part of May, the manager couldn’t have wished for a more comfortable route in the European Cup. However, the pressure of this possibly being the last chance to showcase his forte to these demanding set of fans that somehow match his own character might have got to him in the past few months. Two Clasicos in a week, followed by an adventurous European night at the Theatre of Dreams, yet Mourinho lacked his usual exuberance when interacting with the media or on the touchline. No doubt, his preparations were phenomenal, which shows that he learnt a lot from the last season where a couple of showdowns with Barcelona somehow unsettled his European dream against Munich. His players have been playing their part increasingly well too. However, when we’d look at the current season, one might be able to figure another shade to Mou’s personality – restraint.
He did love the idea of competing with Barcelona when he chose the job; he also understood the magnanimity of the European challenge. However, three years down the road on the most ruthless managerial hotseat in the football world, even the Special One is reflecting a sense of vulnerability. Maybe it’s the fear of failure – which is favourable to a certain extent to keep you focussed. Maybe, it’s the anxiety leading to one of the most defining season run-ins of his career; we haven’t seen a more subdued state in Mourinho’s short but extravagant career. But more often than not, the current story line leads to only one ending that pictures the Portuguese ducking the limelight and approaching to the exit doors. Whether it will be capped by another medal in the pocket or a lasting blot in his CV, is what would keep us intrigued for the next few months.