Will Mourinho’s last act be to oversee someone else’s Decima?

Posted by Rob Train

Jose Mourinho's post-match press conference was never going to be comfortable after Atletico Madrid ended its 14-year hoodoo against its city rival in the Copa del Rey final at the Santiago Bernabeu. The Real coach was naturally asked where he will be next season, and responded as any coach in that situation might: by pointing out that there are two league games remaining, the direct and indirect opposition in those two games still have objectives to achieve and the league, the fans and the institution of Real Madrid should be respected.

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It is probably too late to take Mourinho's statement at face value. In his three years in Madrid he has divided the Bernabeu, picked away at the fabric of the institution with a venomous needle, insulted and assaulted the coaching staff of other clubs, ostracized a national hero and accused Unesco and Uefa of conspiring against him. You have to doff your cap to the man. Love him or hate him, and surprisingly I err toward the former, Mourinho leaves few people indifferent to his existence.

But the fact remains that after Atletico's 2-1 win in a pulsating derby cup final, Mourinho has just overseen his first potless season since 2003, when he won a domestic and European treble with Porto. Since then he has added six leagues in four different countries, two Champions Leagues, plus a handful of domestic cups. With Real, the Portuguese has won just three titles and one of those - this season's Spanish Supercup - he himself said was irrelevant, even if the defeated side was his nemesis Barcelona. Most would agree: two games played in August does not make a cup competition. Likewise, Atletico would happily swap five European Supercup wins over Chelsea for the title that went the other way to Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night.

Should Mourinho's tenure at Real, whether or not it continues next season, then be considered a failure at this point? By his own lofty standards, arguably yes. By those of the institution he represents, arguably no. In the first era of the Galacticos, Real went four seasons (between 2003 and 2007) without winning the league. It had not won the Copa del Rey since 1993 and had not been past the first knock-out stage of the Champions League in six years. Is that worth a net transfer loss of €130 million over three years? Again, arguably yes. Last summer, Real's transfer balance stood at an admirable zero outlay. In the summer of 2009, the club's net expenditure on playing staff was €169.9 million. And exactly what did it win in the ensuing season?

Manuel Pellegrini is a fine coach and the whole Alcorcon business was one of those intangible variants that pops up in football. But is it even possible to imagine Mourinho's Real being tripped up by Murcia, Alcoyano or another side of the same stature? Has Real fallen at the first serious Champions League hurdle under the Portuguese's watch? Quite the opposite: it has fallen at the second-last, and on each occasion to a better team - Real Madrid as an institution must one day come to terms with the reality that these will cyclically exist - to one inspired on the decisive night, or to the vagaries of lady luck.

Atletico was a team that fell into the latter two categories on Friday in the Bernabeu. Real had played its cross-city rival in three finals on its own turf previously - and lost all three. On each occasion, Real was not an infinitely superior team. It finished above Atletico in the league in 1960 and 1961, but not by the ridiculous margins that exist today. In 1996, when current Atletico coach Diego Simeone was in the side, Atletico won the double.

There is no doubt Real has better players across the board. How many Atletico squad members would really expect to command a first-team place at the Bernabeu? Radamel Falcao, certainly. Juanfran Torres, possibly. Thibaut Courtois, 50-50. But the actions of the respective coaches on the touchline spoke volumes about levels of camaraderie at the two clubs. Simeone knows his side individually are no world-beaters, but he instills belief in them, roars encouragement and riles up the Atletico support in a positive way. Any coach that can call Cata Diaz from the bench without wincing is a supreme man-manager - even if the lumbering Argentinean fortuitously climbed back into his tracksuit.

Mourinho simply does not trust his players, some of whom are world-beaters individually, and sulks in the dugout. When he did become animated in the Bernabeu, it was to offer some fruity assessment of the match officials, for which he was sent down the tunnel. It's hard to help your team when it's on the back foot if yours are up on a table in the locker room.

Although it appeared it would be 26 wins in the Real-Atletico saga when Ronaldo popped up with yet another fine header on 18 minutes - a head that would be equally prominent in defense in the opening third of the match - the 'visitor' ended a run of 25 straight defeats. Admittedly the referee was certainly not biased toward the home side. A Xabi Alonso-admiring Liverpool supporting friend texted me during the match to remark "your post is playing well," and Juanfran was in the right place at the right time to prevent a certain goal from a rebound off the upright, although Courtois also made two spectacular saves to deny Gonzalo Higuain and Mesut Ozil.

Luck was not on Real's side, but the petulant side of Mourinho's men did not aid the cause when cool heads were required in the second half of extra time. Alonso's weary expression said it all; a man among boys. Ronaldo was sent off for a wild lunge at Gabi after a fairly routine tangle; Angel di Maria was cautioned for screaming for a handball that hit Mario Saurez's knee and Sergio Ramos was, as always, lucky to be on the field at the final whistle. Still, they say the child apes the father, and Mourinho is hardly a role model of maturity and restraint.

He is, however, a very successful coach and he will be hard to replace on several levels. Lest it be forgotten, Real president Florentino Perez tore up the Bernabeu's traditional system of hierarchy to retain Mourinho a couple of years ago. He will have to reconstruct more than just the coaching staff if, and when, Mourinho leaves.

And so it was perhaps fitting that the craved Decima, the pursuit of which inspired Perez to hire the Portuguese in the first place, was finally delivered in front of a capacity Bernabeu audience. That it was Atletico's 10th cup, after a 17-year wait, without either Ronaldo or Mourinho on hand to witness it was perhaps a sign of things to come. At least one of Real's ringleaders will be absent next year. If oil-rich PSG flexes its financial muscle, it could be both.

When Aitor Karanka went up to collect the runner's-up trophy, a silver platter, King Juan Carlos placed Mourinho's medal on top for the Real assistant coach to carry off; a bit of Biblical symbolism that serves as a metaphor for the Portuguese's fractious tenure at the Bernabeu.

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