Goodbye to Temporada 2012-13 in Spain -- a season of loss, pain, grief and, regularly enough to give us our fix, some quality football breaking through the dark clouds. It began with the immensely sad deaths of young Betis defender Miki Roque and the tremendous character Manuel Preciado, who was to coach Villarreal this term. Just as the year turned, we had news of Tito Vilanova's renewed fight for a healthy life. The season ends with Espanyol's Victor Alvarez requiring heart surgery in order to continue earning his living and Eric Abidal, despite a miraculous recovery from liver surgery to top-level football, being told that Barcelona no longer believe he's worth investing their money in.
Can you recall the age at which you learned, probably to your cost, that your parents (and Shakespeare, who first gave prominence to the phrase 400 years ago) were bang on the money when they droned on that "too much of a good thing can be bad for you?" Perhaps, dare I say it, alcohol was involved? One of the most common modern versions of the saying is that someone was "like a kid in sweetie shop." It implies that, let loose in a candy store, someone of a childish disposition will: a) initially feel total euphoria b) show little restraint c) pretty quickly require a sick bag My impression, augmented by last weekend's signing of Neymar, Brazilian star in the making, is that Barcelona's President Sandro Rosell, his key football employees Andoni Zubizarreta and Josep Maria Bartomeu plus large swathes of the Catalan football media have extremely sweet teeth.
His unnecessary inability to avoid feuding with Iker Casillas will forever remain an unsightly scar on Jose Mourinho's reign at Real Madrid -- which, perhaps, awards ultimate victory in the battle of wills between two Iberian footballing powerhouses to Casillas in that Mourinho's failure and departure were announced on the Madrid captain's 32nd birthday. -- Real confirms Mourinho's exit -- Mourinho's last act? -- Ball: The secrets of motivation Mid-evening in Spain, at the Santiago Bernabeu, a place where Mourinho had increasingly become booed, jeered and disliked, club president Florentino Perez announced that "the time has come for us to end the relationship.
The only thing which will be quivering more than the woodwork at the Bernabeu will be Jose Mourinho with indignation. For a bad loser at the best of times, this defeat, Real Madrid's first to Atletico Madrid in 14 years, means that if he leaves this imperious club at this juncture, he'll have won in three years -- after the investment of hundreds of millions of euros -- the same number of trophies, three -- as Atletico's Diego Simeone, who inherited a relegation-menaced club 17 months ago. Who's the Special One in reality .
Just a few short months ago I was standing a few hundred metres away from where Levante plays: the Ciutat de Valencia stadium. Juan Francisco Garcia -- or Juanfran, to use his working name -- was showing me the three-minute sprint he used to have to make from his front door to his school when he'd overslept and then, the shaded street corner where he'd enjoyed his first kiss. The church where he'd been christened was less than the distance of a firm throw-in away and the stadium where his grandfather had taken him as a kid to see his first Levante game would have taken a man on crutches barely four minutes to reach.
The past few weeks have been full of Barcelona's players and staff emphasising that any feeling that the title victory isn't all that impressive, that it doesn't need to be properly celebrated or appreciated is false. They have taken turns, Andres Iniesta, Jordi Roura, Gerard Pique and a handful of other voices, to dispel the idea that because the second half of the season hasn't been nearly as impressive as the first, and because the Champions League semifinal was humiliating, the initial work is in any way undermined.
Despite the absolute superiority they have demonstrated over FC Barcelona in the past two matches, the suspicion remains that Real Madrid will have to produce their best performance of the season to eliminate Manchester United from the Champions League on Tuesday night. Capable of it? Fit for purpose? Yes. However, it's very far from guaranteed. One of Madrid's greatest problems this season has been hitting and then maintaining its top form. Fitness has been an issue. The alertness of mind and crispness of passing that stems from being on top of your game physically has ebbed and flowed.
Times have been so turbulent at the home of the Spanish champions of late that only the foolhardy would say "definitely," but there is sufficient indication that Spain may be about to see its final Camp Nou Clasico with Jose Mourinho in charge of Real Madrid. Even after the crowd booing his name, the guerrilla warfare between him and a section of the Madrid media, an apparent tit-for-tat feud with Sergio Ramos, the dropping of Iker Casillas and an eight-stone weakling defence of a brilliantly won Spanish championship last year, Mourinho is such a will-of-the-wisp that there are a couple of scenarios (however unlikely) in which he wriggles free from this straightjacket of his own making and retains the throne next season.
Part of the fun of watching FC Barcelona over the last four and a half years has been watching them tinkering with the norms of football tactics and formations. For their fans, and for neutrals who simply enjoy watching individual or group displays of extreme technique applied at high speed, there has been plenty to make you addicted. For those neutrals who crave a good story (team wants trophy, team overcomes struggles, team lifts trophy, roll credits) there has been drama -- Rome in 2009, victory and defeat in Copa finals at the Mestalla, Clasicos galore, Wembley and those two extraordinary semifinal ties against Chelsea.
It seems pretty well established that the phrase 'Victory has one hundred fathers but defeat is an orphan' emanates from the Italian Renaissance but was made popular in modern culture by U.S. President Jack Kennedy in 1961 following the Bay of Pigs disaster. Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho paraphrased it after his team, the Spanish champions, slumped to a spineless 1-0 defeat at Granada a couple of days ago, saying, with dripping sarcasm, that "when we win you say it's the players who auto-manage and when we lose it's my fault -- so this defeat is my responsibility".
The Oxford Dictionary defines a sporting handicap as "a disadvantage imposed on a superior competitor in sports such as golf, horse racing, and competitive sailing in order to make the chances more equal." Going in to Wednesday's Clasico, the fourth of the season, Real Madrid lie 15 points behind the league leaders, have lost seven games in all competitions and have been dogged by controversy pretty much since August. Barcelona: record-breakers, league leaders, three defeats all season and possessing a striker who has 43 goals since August.
Back when Real Madrid needlessly dropped two Champions League points at Manchester City in November, Jose Mourinho was at his jaunty 'best' for the post-match television cameras in England. "Every time I have won the Champions League I've finished second in the group" was how he brushed aside concerned questions about Los Blancos' failure to convert patent superiority into a win. At the time what jarred a little was his blatant disregard for the maxim that "there's no 'I' in team." But on the basis of the remarkable, devastating show his team laid on at Valencia last weekend, Mourinho may just be beginning to regret that Madrid finished behind Borussia Dortmund in Group D.