There were plenty of things to dislike about José Mourinho during his three seasons in London, not least his thoroughly unpleasant baiting of Arsène Wenger.”It was a game decided on the sending-off, which looked a bit harsh,” he wrote in his programme notes on Sunday.
Wenger, we know, is hardly a pal of Mourinho. In essence, nevertheless, he was agreeing with the Portuguese coach, who was incensed when the referee gave Pepe, one of Real’s two defensive midfield players, a straight red card in the 61st minute, with the match still goalless. It was against 10 men that Lionel Messi struck twice to reawaken the campaign for his inclusion among the all-time greats.
Mourinho certainly won few new friends last week. All sorts of people emerged from the woodwork to proclaim their distaste for his behaviour at the Bernabéu stadium, some of them announcing that his tactics and antics in this one match alone had disqualified him from succeeding Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United.
Ottmar Hitzfeld, the current coach of Switzerland and a man who, like Mourinho, has won the European Cup with two clubs, used his column in a German magazine to reflect on his impressions of the man during their encounters at Uefa meetings. “His behaviour is faithful to his image: arrogant, haughty, chewing gum and something of a boor,” Hitzfeld wrote. “Luckily, Mourinho’s destructive tactics, aimed solely at provoking and destroying the opposition’s gameplan, did not work.”
At the end of his first season at the Bernabéu, Mourinho is only too aware that his Real squad are not equipped to match Barcelona’s creativity. So he aimed to do to the Catalan side what he did so successfully with Internazionale last year, which was to suffocate their short-passing game with a blanket defence and then to strike on the break. His success in that semi-final represented great tactical coaching by any standard.
To apply those methods again meant no place for Kaká, Gonzalo Higuaín and Karim Benzema in Wednesday’s starting line-up, which seemed to constitute a prima facie offence against Real’s history. But his strategy worked effectively for an hour, and apparently the next part of the plan was to bring Kaká off the bench to combine with Cristiano Ronaldo in a search for the goal that would have sent them into Tuesday’s away leg with an important advantage. But the intense rivalry between the two clubs meant that the emotional temperature of the match was running much higher than that of the games a year earlier, and the contentious dismissal of Pepe threw the scheme into disarray.
Barcelona made the most of their good fortune and Mourinho, remembering how Sergio Busquets’s despicable playacting prompted the dismissal of Thiago Motta less than half an hour into the second leg at the Camp Nou last year, began to spout the bile that earned him such criticism. It should be borne in mind, however, that he was only emulating Ferguson’s typical response to such circumstances, circling the wagons and vigorously defending his position, as one-eyed in his perspective as any fan.
Some have claimed that Mourinho’s fondness for negative tactics disqualifies him from the job at Old Trafford, where the historic commandment has been to promote the style shown by Matt Busby’s United in their victory over Benfica at Wembley in 1968. That argument hardly bears scrutiny, since the football played by Ferguson’s teams in snatching the trophy from Bayern in 1999 and Chelsea in 2008 was just about its polar opposite.
On Tuesday night, banished to the stands at the Camp Nou after openly expressing his contempt for the officiating last week, Mourinho faces the biggest test of his career. Is he about to genuflect to Real’s traditions by committing all his squad’s attacking resources in an attempt to claw back the deficit, or has he devised some more devious tactical plan? And how will this obsessive micro-manager cope without being able to deliver instructions to his players and coaches during play? Assuming, of course, that Uefa can find a way of stopping him.