21 December 2012

Spanish Inquest: No Mour' to give

My Eircom SportsHub column

Joseph Sexton

It's hard to imagine that José Mourinho has faced a tougher week during his 12 years in the management game. Speculation about his position over the last fortnight had simmered away. Having delegated press conference duty to his deputy, Aitor Karanka, it fell to Florentino Pérez to bat away questions, insisting that the full term of his extension to 2016 would be served.
“We have the best manager in the world, yet he's had to endure unjust attacks and insults, even ones that cross the line and strike at his personal dignity. He's led us to the league and already this year the Super Cup, and has my gratitude”.
But there is no smoke without fire when the Madrid press openly question any Real manager's future, and the cup defeat away to Celta saw matters come to a head between Mourinho and his bete noire.
On Saturday, he was back on duty for the pre-match press conference. Not a particularly memorable one, but what was to follow was pure dynamite.
Antón Meana is a journalist with Radio Marca, and once the conference came to a close he was asked to step into the club's press office by one of their press chiefs to meet with the goalkeeping coach, Silvino Louro. After the Celta game, he intimated on air that his sources in the dressing room had told him that Louro was widely seen as Mourinho's 'spy' by the players.
When Meana entered, there was Mourinho alongside Louro. Meana offered his hand to Mourinho who refused it and instead began to berate him, 'shouting in thick Portuguese, which I couldn't understand properly', as he recounted in print on Sunday.
Meana tried to bat back, but Mourinho continued to rage. “Don't you dare question my honour... In the footballing world my people are top people but in the world of journalism, you're a piece of shit”.
Meana defended his sources, with Mourinho going through Louro's resume 'point by point'. Challenged to name his sources, he refused stating that although 'it's a matter of opinion rather than fact, I don't need to run it by them again because I trust them completely.'
“They tell me you're a real son of a bitch” continued Mourinho “and a bad person, but rather than take that as given I think something else. You're anti-Real, anti-Mourinho, and your 'questions' are all about stirring shit. As long as I'm manager here I'll continue to respect you, but once I'm gone you'll be just another Joe on the street”
The conversation went on over half an hour, with Mourinho continuing to impugn the sources. Perhaps most striking was his admission that that three of his own players were disposed to leaking negative news.
“Let's assume what you're saying is true - for me it isn't - but let's anyway; is this news? You take it as gospel? We've got 21 players who get on great with Silvino, me, all the staff, but then there's three black sheep trying to fuck the group. It's easy for you, you only have to go on the radio and toss out a few phrases to stir up all of this”
Meana initially agreed to keep the conversation private but many other journalists had overheard the ruckus. On Radio Onda Cero, he said that once he met those waiting outside the story had already entered the public domain for him, and one of the other panellists on the show confirmed he'd witnessed it all.
This strain with the press isn't new. While he may have had the English media eating out of his hand, his relationship in Italy swiftly grew confrontational, where he likened their criticisms to 'intellectual prostitution' at Inter.
That sense of him against them has only heightened in the Spanish capital, where those he's faced have proved similarly immune to his charms. There was last season's vow of silence during the run in, and one well-known Madrid based writer was only half kidding when he described the experience of dealing with the Special One as being 'terrifying' at times.
There's been the well-documented splits in the camp, where a bust up with Sergio Ramos and Iker Casillas made the headlines in January. It's also long been reported that rival cliques have formed, leaving the Spanish & Portuguese speaking players at odds.
How much this has affected matters on the field is open to debate, but they've already dropped more points than in the whole of last season. They've also failed to maintain the staggering intensity and unity of purpose that marked their pursuit of the title last season.
That said, the challenge of maintaining such impossibly high standards also proved beyond Barcelona last term.
Then there's been their comic book inability to defend set pieces, which is impossible to square with our conceptions of Mourinho teams. Take your pick of any number, but Manucho netted two for Valladolid a couple of weeks back off the back of this defect and Espanyol's late equaliser on Sunday was Keystone Kops stuff.
Everywhere he's been, Mourinho has tried to pick fights and Madrid's been no different. Internally, he had Pérez's long-time lieutenant Jorge Valdano booted out, a man with a lot of friends among the press corps. Little wonder that they're going to town on him now, right down to sensationalising pictures of the players' seating arrangements at the club's Christmas do this week.
None of this is unusual. Plenty of pages need filling, and many copies sold. On Saturday they travel to Málaga, whose manager Manuel Pellegrini knows a thing or two about the brutal side of capital's press. Ever the gentleman, he's refused to twist the knife, even though Mourinho was more than happy to stick the boot into him when these sides met in April 2011.
“It's not for me to judge Mourinho. We're not taking the game like this, we're not preoccupied about what happens at Real. I'm very grateful to all the players I had when I was boss there because even though they knew I was on borrowed time by December we still had a great season”
Perhaps by now Mourinho is also a dead man walking. With the league gone and attention already on the Champions League and the obsession of claiming la décima, only a 10th European crown would give him the satisfaction of having the last laugh as he rides off to his next adventure.

Original Article here on Eircom SportsHub

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