Now, I wonder how many of us watched Jose Mourinho’s last match against Osasuna at the Bernabeu. Forget the media scrum and the circus around him when he came out from the tunnel into the dugout. Note the way the players were relating with him, even as it was clear it was his last game. Note the way Michael Essien dedicated his goal to him and Ricardo Carvalho’s comment about Mourinho’s commitment and work ethic. Note Alvaro Arbeloa’s comment about his regret that he’s going, because they would have achieved more, as they have improved under Mourinho in terms of competiveness – something Florentino Perez, club President was implying when he said Mourinho has restored them to their “rightful place”. Arbeloa who was falsely reported to have fallen out with the coach as well had tweeted earlier to salute Mourinho: “Many thanks for everything. It has been a pleasure”.
However, the most telling thing was the crowd’s response. Though there were a few whistles in the crowd, as is to be expected, the majority chanted his name. In Madrid, if you really want to know what the fans feel, no matter the politics, look at the ‘Ultra Sur’, the hardcore Madridistas. They are one of the most powerful and influential fan groups in the world and in Madrid, they tell you where the wind is blowing. Now did you guys see how they related with Mourinho? It’s worth stating that throughout the crisis, the Ultra Sur solidly supported Mourinho and on this day of Mourinho’s last game, they came out in full force to show their support and goodwill in a very ceremonial fashion. As Mourinho came out into the dugout, they chanted and sang his name to the tune of Frankie Valli’s ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You’. They did this throughout the game. Midway through the second half, they unfurled a giant banner with the inscription: “Jose Mourinho thank you for fighting against the wind and the tide”. And no, it wasn’t the Ultra Sur alone that were chanting his name, even people in the expensive seats’ area were also doing so. In fact, one man there who kept joining the chants had a scarf which read: “Jose Mourinho, the best manager in the world”.
After most supporters had gone, the Ultra Sur remained singing and chanting his name and Mourinho had to return to salute them again. It is worth noting that the last coach the Ultra Sur did such for was Vicente del Bosque. So, is this the guy they’re reporting to be a persona non grata in Madrid? People can be as emotional and as dismissive of facts as they like, but there is politics and there is reality. True Madrid fans know what he has achieved while there and why he has to go. I have Madrid friends who fear that the culture of discipline and winning he is already succeeding in establishing there, despite the disgruntlement of a few and the uncooperative media, would just die now when he leaves and that Madrid may need up to a decade and another strong coach like him to change for the better. Some believe their recent return to dominance over Barcelona would not last as the architect is going. Still there are some others who believe his record of three straight semi-final qualifications for the Champions League which had erased their previous decade of mediocrity would also not be sustainable. Most of those I’m in touch with are not even dreaming of winning the league back next season, no matter who’s appointed to take over from here; yet a couple of months ago, they all were sure they would wrest it back from Barcelona with Mourinho in charge next season.
The truth is that true Real Madrid fans know it’s their loss. True, the lure of Chelsea is pulling him, but he could have shelved that for some other time if the Real Madrid board had showed more support for him than they did against disrupters and the press. Mourinho manages to leave a lesson for the men in suits in the boardroom wherever he goes. His lesson for the Chelsea big suits in 2007 is that you do not mend it when it’s not broken. But Abramovich, fresh on the scene and with too many hangers-on who want to prove important was talked into setting up a so-called continental management model where the manager’s power is reduced and shoved behind some other fellows who more or less were to be interfering in football affairs in one guise on the other on behalf of the owner. Mourinho left rather than be part of that charade. The result was that the diminution of manager’s power created a dressing room that became too powerful for subsequent managers and managerial instability became the order of the day. Though Chelsea won things, they did only in spite of this. Now, Abramovich has realised that he spent too much money on this big administrative machine pursuing glory and not having the peace of mind to pursue other things.
Meanwhile, Mourinho in moving on left him another lesson. Mourinho went to Inter Milan, one of those clubs with the kind of owners who are instinctive interferers. But Mourinho told Massimo Moratti point-blank that he would not come if he does not give up his interference and leave him to get on with the football. Moratti, against character, agreed. He claims this to be his best footballing decision. He left Mourinho alone as he tangled with the Italian press and the football establishment and delivered the treble in a dominant fashion, taking out every club that presented a threat at home and abroad. He did it with a team cobbled together from Real Madrid and Barcelona rejects, local boys and glorified journeymen. The message to Abramovich was that if he’d left him to do his thing, Chelsea would have been better. The message for Moratti was that not everyone can do it the Mourinho way. Moratti had hired Rafa Benitez to continue with the world-conquering team Mourinho had put in place, giving him the same free hand he gave Mourinho. Benitez destroyed and demoralised the team, endured a tense relationship with Moratti and in six months he was out. It would be interesting to see how the reverse works now with Mourinho returning to Chelsea after Benitez.
Anyway, the Madrid people knew they needed Mourinho. They had established a Galacticos culture that has spawned terrible indiscipline and a tattered dressing room. They knew that Mourinho’s records are built on strong discipline and a close-knit dressing room. They wanted someone to come sort out the Madrid mess. He came and went about his business without respect for reputations, but with fairness and honesty. Yet, rather than give him the backing needed, the Madrid suits began to scratch their heads and wring their hands. Meanwhile, here was Abramovich waiting all the while since he left Inter for him to return, with Chelsea fans waiting with open arms. It was only going to end one way. Mourinho is returning to an owner who has learnt his lesson and to a club he loves above all others. I predict he’s going to be at Chelsea for the long-term this time. His greatest legacy in club football will be created with Chelsea and we shall all witness these historical moments. Mourinho is made for these times and we are lucky to have him back.
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