Once upon a time they reigned supreme at the helm of European football. Their perpetual affluence a subject of both awe and envy. They were regarded as the bar by which every other team would be measured. They were the embodiment of every other club’s deepest aspirations. They were winners. They were white shirts, black boots, green grass and blue sky. They were Real Madrid, the habitat of the world’s supreme football talent and, in truth, not much has changed. Yet the club has been uncharacteristically bereft of any notable triumphs in recent years and such a predicament has often been attributed to the conspicuous absence of a manager capable of curbing the needs of a dressing room so often infested with the sort of prima donnas that often serve to hinder as much as help. In that respect, Mourinho’s tenure thus far has whetted the appetite of those eager to see a Real rejuvenation, with pin-ups such as Ronaldo revelling in superlatives once again. But the competitive future of the club remains somewhat dubious, and only now will it emerge what is truly required of Mourinho if he is to endear himself to both the fans and that other entity with which he has never been particularly enamoured in the past: the board of directors.
Prior to this season, a cavalcade of managerial candidates succumbed to the temptation of Real Madrid’s bitter-sweet chalice, with endeavours of restoring the club’s predominant status both domestically and continentally. However, their attempts to satisfy the expectations of both fans and superiors were often to little avail and it is difficult to discern why. Suitors ranged from the not-so glamorous (Juande Ramos) to the more accomplished (Fabio Capello). The latter’s appointment even yielded the club’s first domestic league trophy in four years before his subsequent, and perhaps unwarranted, dismissal. As it transpired, the Italian’s pragmatic, though often fruitful, style of play was not consistent with the attacking philosophy perpetuated by the club. Furthermore, he made the fateful error of alienating high-profile players, namely David Beckham and Antonio Cassano. Equally abrupt was the demise of his successor, Bernd Schuster. Unlike his predecessor, Schuster had a penchant for attractive attacking football but his overt criticism of the club would betray his ineptitude for the public relations component of the post. The managerial job at Madrid is, after all, a more complex prospect than any other.
Jaunde Ramos and Manuel Pellegrini would subsequently boast equally unspectacular and brief tenures at the helm of Los Blancos, leading the club to something of an identity crisis in the summer of 2010. What exactly had become of Real Madrid? In 6 years they had accumulated just two league titles, a disheartening statistic rendered worse by a recurring failure to venture beyond the second round of the Champions League. 8 Managers in 7 years had failed to remedy the decline of this once faultless competitive entity and suddenly Real Madrid became merely the also-rans of continental football.
Then there came another one. The self-professed ‘special one’. ‘Special’ being the objective word here as it is the adjective to which Real Madrid have always most eagerly attached themselves. Mourinho, much like the club itself, is synonymous with success. And thus, he may indeed be the most eligible candidate for invoking a renaissance at Madrid. However, many would assert that the viability of his candidacy was, primarily, more a product of his formidable competitive record than of any mutual principles between himself and the club’s faithful. Indeed, doesn’t Mourninho’s oft pragmatic approach to the game comprehensively deviate from the doctrine perpetuated by Real Madrid? Well, in theory, yes but in the face of such scrutiny it is perhaps worth consulting the rather intriguing statistic that in 10 of Real’s 18 league victories this season, they have triumphed with at least 3 goals. So, perhaps the precipice of football,domestically at least, beckons Real Madrid once again.
However, Jose Mourinho’s otherwise impeccable record at the club was tainted last November in the Classico. It was an occasion on which the Portuguese was afforded the opportunity to flex his managerial muscle against more credible opposition, but what unfolded was a comprehensive victory for Barcelona who swept aside an unrecognisably incoherent Madrid outfit with a conspicuously anonymous performance from one Cristiano Ronaldo. And therein lies the essence of Mourinho’s task, as this season both Ronaldo and Messi have been registering virtuoso performances with unprecedented regularity. However, over-reliance on the Portuguese protagonist is likely to leave Real Madrid’s supporting cast notably untried. So, does Mourinho have a contingency plan for when the consistently impressive form of his compatriot falters through injury or is undermined by the sort of controversial extracurricular activity towards which high-profile players often gravitate, à la Wayne Rooney? Certainly Real Madrid’s current prosperity has been aided by the contributions of the relentlessly remarkable Ronaldo, having scored 24 of their 53 league goals this season, so it would be difficult to regard their prospects of silverware as anything other than precarious should Mourinho prove incapable of accommodating any possible absence of the winger.
When Florentino Pérez was re-elected as president of Real Madrid in the summer of 2009, he sought to usher in a new era of Galacticos, his main endeavour was to assemble a new all-star cast for the club. However, such an aspiration would precipitate a somewhat cavalier approach to handling club finances which not only seemed rather vulgar in times of such austerity but also proved to be ineffective and last year’s barren campaign merely accentuated the necessity for a world class head coach. Mourinho certainly boasts all the credentials and, thus far, has enjoyed something of a harmonious relationship with the Real Madrid support. However, he must anticipate the possibility of animosity should the teething process be prolonged or he may be in danger of replicating the unfortunate fate of his numerous predecessors. Containing the personalities of the dressing room will be paramount to any longevity in prosperity and it is a challenge with which Mourinho isn’t wholly unfamiliar. Perhaps then, the time has come for both Perez and the support to recognise that the fairytale times of yesteryear have long since subsided and to welcome the inevitable melodrama and ego-battling that lies ahead. After all, isn’t that what makes Mourinho’s projects so thoroughly compelling?
By Brendan Timmons