After Florentino Pérez’s unsurprising announcement that Real Madrid and José Mourinho will part company at the end of the season, the message that many in Spain have put across to the departing manager is clear: good riddance. Mourinho has always been a controversial figure, and his dislike of Barcelona, stemming from his time spent at the club under the late, great Sir Bobby Robson, has been allowed to get the better of him on several occasions. Barça vice-president Carles Vilarrubí launched into a scathing attack on self-proclaimed Special One, blaming him for the “negative atmosphere” surrounding Spanish football.
Mourinho first met Spanish football when he worked, somewhat ironically, for Barcelona after Sir Bobby Robson took him with him after a successful stint at Porto in Mourinho’s native Portugal. Although officially employed as an interpreter, it was immediately obvious that the young man from Setúbal fancied himself as a manager, and he would often add his own opinions into Robson’s interviews.
During training, he often talked tactics with a young Pep Guardiola, who was a midfielder at the Camp Nou at the time, and it was from people like Guardiola, Robson, and Louis van Gaal that he began to develop his own ideas. Although he was clearly an exciting prospect, the roles of interpreter and assistant coach were seen to be incompatible. He angered Spanish journalists, some of whom spoke English, who saw through his “translations.” In addition, people at the club spoke down to the “Special One” and referred to him only as “the translator.”
This perceived insult to Mourinho’s sizable ego was one in a line of incidents that have led to his passionate distaste of Barcelona. During his time as Chelsea manager, Mourinho used this passion to his advantage in the Champions League, creating an “us against the world” mentality in the Blues’ squad, which saw them reach the semi-finals.
In the first leg at the Camp Nou, Didier Drogba was controversially sent off in a narrow 2-1 defeat. Mourinho launched into a rant about referee Anders Frisk, accusing him of meeting with Barça manager Frank Rijkaard at half-time. Frisk received death threats which forced him into an early retirement, and Mourinho was labelled an “enemy of football,” but Chelsea used it as motivation for their second leg 4-2 victory at Stamford Bridge.
This personal rivalry with Barcelona coupled with his treble-winning exploits at Inter Milan made Mourinho seemingly the perfect fit for Real Madrid, and in May 2010, he was confirmed as Manuel Pellegrini’s replacement at the Bernabeu.
Considering the signings of Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaká before his arrival, much was expected of him in his first season at the club, and he also signed players such as Ángel di María and Mesut Özil, who had shone at the 2010 World Cup. In his first four games at the helm, Madrid won three and drew one, scoring sixteen goals and conceding just one.
In his first Clásico encounter, however, it all went wrong. Barça sauntered to a 5-0 win at the Camp Nou, in a match dubbed “the worst game in the history of Real Madrid” by director Florentino Pérez. Madrid avenged this defeat to an extend later in the season with a 1-0 victory in the Copa del Rey final, but again it was Barça who were smiling last, defeating Mourinho’s men in the semi-finals of the Champions League, a competition they went on to win.
2011-12 was Mourinho’s best season with Madrid, setting records for the most wins, most away wins, most points in Europe, most goals scored (121), and finishing with the best goal difference (+89) as they steam-rolled their way to the Spanish title, winning 2-1 at the Camp Nou along the way. Sergio Ramos’ infamous ballooned penalty dashed their hopes of a tenth European Cup, but overall the season was a success, with their first La Liga title in four years.
Despite his successes, Mourinho has never been far from controversy during his time in Spain. In 2010, he was accused of encouraging Xabi Alonso and Sergio Ramos to get themselves sent off in the penultimate Champions League group stage match against Ajax, meaning that they would miss the last match of the group stage but enter the knockouts with no yellow cards to their name.
Mourinho, the club, and several players were fined by UEFA, and Mourinho was suspended for one game; the suspension was dropped after Madrid appealed. A year later, in the Spanish Super Cup, he was involved in a touchline brawl, and footage showed him gouging the eye of Barcelona’s then assistant coach Tito Vilanova. In an interview after the incident, Mourinho made no comment other than to say he did not know who “Pito Vilanova” was, “pito” being derogatory Spanish slang.
Whatever Mourinho has said or done at Madrid, it was his deteriorating relationships with his players that contributed most to his position becoming untenable. He dropped club captain and icon Iker Casillas (known as ‘Saint Iker’ in Spain) earlier this season; some suggested it was nothing more than a show of power, although Mourinho attested his decision was “purely technical.”
Madrid lost that match 3-2 to Málaga, leaving them sixteen points behind Barcelona, and the ensuing row caused a rift within the squad. Portuguese defender Pepe argued on the side of Casillas earlier this month, but was quickly put down by his manager, who said that his only “problem” was that of Raphaël Varane, the teenage center-back who has taken Pepe’s starting berth in recent months.
There have been talks of a Spanish-Portuguese divide in the dressing room, and it is widely accepted that once a manager has lost the support of his players, his days are numbered. There are few people in Spain who will be too sorry to see the back of Mourinho, and although his stint as manager of the world’s largest club hasn’t been especially successful (in a poll by Spanish newspaper Marca, 62% of people voted that he had been a failure), it has certainly been eventful.
Ex-Chelsea boss Carlo Ancelotti is the bookies’ favorite to succeed him, and it seems increasingly likely that Mourinho will return to Stamford Bridge over the summer, with Juan Mata the latest player to encourage his arrival. Wherever he ends up, whether it be London, Paris or elsewhere, one thing is certain: the Special One will be a man on a mission.