Mourinho lets ball do talking as it moves into his court

Posted by Rob Train

In a week when chatter surrounding Jose Mourinho has naturally centered on news of Sir Alex Ferguson's decision to retire at the end of the season, the Real coach has remained as silent as he done for much of his tenure at the Spanish champion.

Although it is only a matter of time before Barcelona is crowned anew as Liga top dog, the wily Mourinho has kept his counsel as to his future and largely kept his counsel as Real's season draws to an increasingly acrimonious conclusion. In an increasingly rare appearance in front of what Mourinho believes are his chief tormentors, the Portuguese provocateur leveled a broadside at the club's crown jewel, Iker Casillas, singled out Pepe for a spot of abuse and managed to squeeze in a dig at arch-nemesis Barcelona while he was at it.

-Ronaldo scores 200th for Real
-Madrid keep slim title hopes alive
-Pellegrini: Madrid moves are far-reaching

As parting shots go -- if indeed they were such -- it was a virtuoso performance from a coach who entranced the British media with his wit and guile but has alienated just about every outlet the length and breadth of Spain in a three-year stint at the Bernabeu.

Wisely, with the Liga title not yet ceded, Mourinho has let football do the talking on his behalf. Last weekend, he engineered a scintillating win over Valladolid, a side that likes to stick a spanner in the workings of the club with the the Factory whenever possible. In Wednesday's rescheduled match against Malaga, the Real coach oversaw a thorough scolding for the club he once described as small and laid down a marker to Manuel Pellegrini, the Anchovies' coach, in a 6-2 victory.

If reports are to be believed -- and of course these in Spain should be taken with a pinch of salt to make an anchovy taste like elixir from the Gods themselves -- Pellegrini and Mourinho may, just may, be squaring off again in the Premier League next season. Manchester City has interest in the Malaga coach, while Ferguson's shock announcement has opened the door to Mourinho to take over at Old Trafford.

Although the grizzled Scot has apparently anointed Everton coach David Moyes -- a fellow Glaswegian -- as his successor after 26 years at the helm of what is arguably the world's biggest club, it is difficult to see how the man who gave birth to Mesut Ozil's eyes could possibly fill a Ferguson-shaped void. The only manager currently active in the game with the pure stones to walk through the Old Trafford door and say something about being special is Mourinho, even if his reign in Spain has suggested he is not as special as he considers himself.

Despite the league having been over for some time -- Barcelona can rest easy this weekend if it beats Atletico in the capital -- Mourinho has far from thrown in any kind of towel. If the Real coach is trying to get himself, ahem, "mutually released" from his contract, he is going about it in an odd way. A complete team performance on Wednesday, with goals from defense, midfield and attack, brings to mind the warring couple from Channel 4's award-winning comedy Father Ted (apologies if it never aired in the U.S. -- YouTube might help).

Smiles pervade even as they are ready to go at each other with anything close to hand. It is the case with Real at the moment; whatever malcontent simmers beneath the surface, when the Church of Real is watching it is the opponent who is handed a kicking. At least in the league.

Malaga this season has had the luck of somebody who stumbles on a four-leaf clover, and then gets hit by a tractor. Even if Pellegrini's side finishes in the European spots it will likely be banned anyway and the Great Dortmund Robbery knocked the wind out of the sails of the south coast club's extraordinary navigation of its Champions League debut.

Still, going down to nine men against Real was only likely to result in one outcome, and that was a spanking that kept Real's title hopes -- as slim as the Spanish government's excuses over rampant political corruption -- alive for a few more days at least.

Mourinho may barely have cracked a smile for months, but he will have been grinning as he scurried down the dugout before full-time after his side pulled off another consummate victory when there is little to decide in the league. His own future could well have been gifted something much more tangible over a bottle of Portuguese wine at Old Trafford in March.

ESPN Conversations