Assessing Jose Mourinho's Time at Real Madrid - From a Barcelona Perspective

Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno

"The Special One" was hired by Real Madrid with much fanfare - and lots of and lots of cash - but his time may be over after three years. His press conference yesterday saw the Portuguese defending his record and trying to settle scores, which suggests an exit after failing to capture the Champions League.

"In Spain, many people hate me," reflected Jose Mourinho at his press conference. "And many are in this room."

It's true that the many members of the media have had it with the controversial Real Madrid coach. But Mourinho was wrong in implying the media always had it in for him. No coach in history was greeted with such fanfare or such support.

Marca, the Madrid-based paper with a bias towards Real Madrid, posted adoring covers: "Will Mou Want to Come?" and "Madrid Waiting For Mou" are some examples. At the same time, they called for current coach Manuel Pellegrini's head "Just Leave Already!" one cover cried. "Manolo, You're Fired" another read before he was actually fired, with the subheading speaking of Mourinho as "the one the club desires."

Yesterday, Mourinho was on the defensive. Pulling out a paper from his pocket, Mourinho echoed Rafa Benitez and gave a speech about facts. He insisted he had not decided to leave Madrid, but it was hard to escape the feeling that there was very little chance he'd be back. His agent, Jorge Mendes, calculated that there was an 80% chance Mourinho would be managing Chelsea next year.

Mourinho's cheat sheet was a list of his best moments in Madrid, a defense of his legacy. He highlighted his accomplishments: his Copa del Rey win, three Champions League semifinal appearances, and one Liga title. He said the Copa had not been won in a while, that CL semifinal appearances had dried up until he came, and that the Liga was won in a record-breaking fashion. All true.

Why were the fans and media not that impressed then? Maybe it's because for Real Madrid, a Liga and a cup or two, and being close to winning a CL, over the span of three years... is fairly average.

Mou was hailed as a savior. "The Special One" is the moniker he chose for himself, and it carries expectations. But in 84 years in the Spanish league, Real Madrid have won 32 titles. That's an average better than one title every three years. His performance, then, is slightly below the historical average.

Appearing in the semifinals is all well and good, but in the end, a team like Real Madrid cares about trophies. In this department, Mourinho did not deliver in the most important competition, the CL. To put things into perspective, no one is entirely too happy with Tito Vilanova helping Barcelona reach the semis during his first year in charge.

Mourinho insisted that getting to the semis and almost winning was not all that great. "I'm not a manager of 'almost', 'almost' winning to me means nothing," he emphasized in reference to getting close to the title.

But paradoxically, Mou defended his record by pointing to three semifinal appearances in three years compared to just five in the past 21 years. But that's highly selective. Jupp Heynckes won the Champions League in only one year managing Real Madrid and was fired. Vicente del Bosque won it twice in the span of four years - sacked as well.

Let's revisit that 21 year span. Since 1989, Real Madrid have won the league 9 times, for an average of a bit less than once every two years. Again, a significantly better rate than Mourinho's.

Mourinho's supposedly best quality is the ability to bond with his players. But he miscalculated by feuding with Sergio Ramos and especially with Iker Casillas. Casillas is a hero in Spain, an icon and captain for club and country. He is the current World and Euro champion, plus winner of the best keeper in the world award for many years running.

Not only that, Casillas is well-liked for his even temper and classy demeanor. Making him his enemy was a serious blunder. For three years, the team was in open conflict. Many Real Madrid fans slowly turned on him, and Marca, who caters to Real Madrid fans, did so as well.

To this day, Mourinho continues trying to foster a siege mentality. The media and some of the players are against him, he claims. That may be the case now, but it certainly was not from the beginning. The siege mentality never quite worked because Real Madrid are never under siege.

If there is any club that represents the establishment, the richest one with the biggest history, operating out of the capital of the country, is it. It's a tad ironic that Mou's supposed biggest strengths - man management and his ability with the media - were some of his biggest failings in Spain.

"The Special One" has lost some of his luster in Spain, which does not necessarily deem him an outright failure, but certainly does not enhance his reputation. He lost 5-0 to Barcelona and 4-1 to Borussia Dortmund, historical drubbings not just for Real Madrid but for himself as well. The 5-0 at the Camp Nou remains his worst loss ever.

Though he did start winning more often, he's lost more than he won in El Clasico. His impressive unbeaten home record in national leagues, which began at Porto and continued at Chelsea and Inter Milan, arrived at Real Madrid but was broken by Sporting Gijon in his first year.

He had gone nine years without a home defeat in the league, but after losing to Gijon, it took only 28 days before it happened again, Real Zaragoza defeating Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu 3-2. The following season, he lost El Clasico at home.

His eye poke on Tito Vilanova that season in the Supercup was punished by an incredibly small fine and nothing else, but it lost him the goodwill of many neutrals who saw him as an entertaining competitor rather than an outright villain. He gained support for being so ardently anti-Barcelona, but he probably went down in reputation overall in his stay at Madrid.

Just like any transfer, the expectation on a manager is proportional to how much money the team spent on him. Mourinho is the best-paid coach in the world, and Real Madrid sacrificed millions to release him from his Inter Milan contract. Vilanova's salary, not small by any stretch of the imagination even in comparison to other top-class coaches, is less than half the size.

Again, to put it into perspective, Vilanova will, in one season, probably achieve most of what Mou has in three. He's likely to wrap up the league as expected, and did already book a semifinal appearance.

Mourinho's defense is that he was up against the best Barca in history, and thus we should grade him on a curve. Perhaps that was true of the first season, but the team that took the league from him this year was nowhere near the best in history.

And if he wants to be graded on a curve because of that, the curve has to be adjusted the other way as well. He was given extensive backing - the most expensive team in history at his disposal, with millions to spend as he wanted. The expectation was special. The results less so.

"The Special One" did some things well and some things poorly. But his only "special" achievement was winning the league with a points record, and again, the bottom line is trophies. In that department he wasn't only short of being special, he was actually rather below average for Real Madrid.

What Real Madrid really wanted was "La Decima", the tenth Champions League title. They mobilized vast resources for this, and Mourinho was a centerpiece. This title they did not win with the Portuguese at the helm.

El Peridico did a poll a few days ago asking if Tito Vilanova should continue as Barcelona coach. Almost 3,000 people voted, and 53% said no. Vilanova is at this moment in time not considered a success as a coach by the majority of fans, and he's definitely on course to surpassing Mourinho's achievements. So why would Mou be heralded as a success, bearing in mind the expectation on him was greater?

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