Monday, 14 January 2013

A Chill Winds Blows Around Bernabeu

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A cold northerly wind blew across the Spanish plains sending a howling gale through an empty Santiago Bernabeu on Sunday in Madrid, made feel even chillier after the La Liga champions failed to exact any more than a draw from their trip to Pamplona the previous night. That result now stretching the gap with the leaders , Barcelona to eighteen points, and leaving Madrid now in third place scrambling to hold on to an automatic Champions League place for next season. Only bettered should they manage to win the tournament outright at Wembley on May 25th, a trophy that they have not clinched for a decade, and since Zinedine Zidane did the dutiful at Hampden Park in 2002. 

The same season that Jose Mourinho started his magic at in Portugal with Porto that saw the club win the UEFA Cup, before progressing to win the Champions League final proper in Gelsenkirchen against AS Monaco in 2004. A night which saw Deco run the Portuguese show from start to finish, along with Maniche, Ricardo Carlvalho, Costinha and Nuno Valente. It was to be the first of two trophies, which has marked out Mourinho as the man in a hurry and a manager that gets results – and is well paid for doing so. Indeed, the demolition of Barcelona in the 2010 competition and then the unwinding of Bayern Munch in the final in Madrid may prove to have been the self-professed special one’s career peak. Clearly this weekend in Madrid it is more than an ill wind that blows against the Real Madrid manager. 

In fact it is staring to rise to a strong gust given the inevitable histrionics that accompany the Mourinho Way. With a second leg in the Copa del Rey imminent against Valencia, and the first leg of the last 16 in the Champions League exactly a month away, the Real Madrid faithful are having their patience tested seeing Barcelona run way with la Liga this season – which has just completed the halfway stage. Which has seen Barca win 55 points in 19 games - with no losses and just one draw – all without Pep in charge. Whilst Madrid have dropped 20 points in the same stretch, and trailing Atletico Madrid who stand eleven points behind the leaders. 

For Mourinho it was an ideal weekend to go game watching at OId Trafford and perhaps rekindle some links with the Premier League as it appears the clock is ticking now in terms of extending his long term stay in the Spanish capital, not helped by a raucous press like Marca clamouring about the failing White Real machine over recent weekends. Albeit with a number of key injuries it has to be said. Yet not helped when Kaka came on as a substitute on Saturday night only to be sent off after eighteen minutes for picking up two yellow cards in that shirt time. Reflecting a Real Madrid illness, a number of expensive players now past their sell by date. Or unable to motivate themselves on a weekly basis having won the league last year and a handful of others part of the EURO 2012 team that saw Spain retain their 2008 title. 

Whatever it is, the feeling of anxiety does not bode well for the visit of the Premier League leaders on the night before Valentine’s Day, with locals now fearful of a massacre. And the media also playing an active role in monitoring the off field activities of Jose Mourinho, who saw a charge of allegedly kicking a fan in a suburban shopping centre, dropped this weekend, according to national daily El Mundo. In a scuffle that started when the over enthusiastic fan insisted on taking a Special photo when Jose was out with his family in Majadahonda - just outside Madrid - requiring the help of Mourinho's bodyguards – before the police were called. 

Also being played with polls by the sports daily Marca, over the Christmas, which showed that 82% of 100, 00 Real Madrid Socios – season ticket holders – were seeking Club president Florentino Perez to bring the Jose days to an end. Which will be highlighted with more precise focus once again if Sir Alex Ferguson holds the once Spanish titans of Europe to a draw on his visit next month. Which given the luck United are enjoying, even playing poorly, has seen them rest unchallenged at the top of the premier league currently holding a seven point lead from last season champions, Manchester City. Ably advantaged by facing the away leg first – which just might make it squeaky bum time for Mourinho’s Madrid. 

In previous meetings the results have been mixed and gone either way, with the most significant perhaps in April 1968 when United tied the return league at the Santiago Bernabeu to earn that place for what was to become their historic Wembley final win. Although there were less memorable ones for Red’s fans, like when 2003 when Ronaldo, the Brazilian version, demolished United in a blitz of goals in the quarter finals – and the last time they met in the Champions league. The added spice this time that the Ronaldo on Madrid’s books is the Cristiano version, who will returns to the Stretford End for the first time in a competitive capacity since departing as the world’s most expensive player of the day, in the summer of 2009 with £80 million in the bank. 

This time around Ronaldo needs to ensure Madrid stay in the competition and retain a chance of a 50 million euro windfall for winning the final. Which is still a long way even if they can dispose of United at the last 16 stage. And undoubtedly Mourinho is worried, given he is keen to join the now gone Liverpool legend, Bob Paisley, the only manager to have won three Champions League trophies and surpass Ferguson, Pep Guardiola, Carlos Ancelotti, and the Spanish manger, Vicente del Bosque - to name just a few in the dual category. But the omens on the streets around the Bernabeu are not good and the goalless draw at Osasuna was made even worse by Barcelona strolling to a 1-3 win away to Malaga on Sunday. In a match resplendent with good football. 

Too, the in-house battle with Iker Casillas has added to the sense of player unrest, as the personnel change has done nothing to bolster Madrid affinity for leaking goals. Just building more pressure on the chattering class obsessed with beating Barca. Not unlike the unravelling of Raul some season ago, when the Madrid striker was perhaps too powerful influence over the club at times. A question that maybe in Mourinho’s mind about the Spanish national captain, whose ability to lead any team from his penalty box to victory has never been questioned. Except this season where he has lost his place to Adam – who has yet to shine for the club and reward the faith Jose has shown him. 

All of which makes the next four weeks intriguing for the bystanders. If not a little too squeaky for Jose, who after all must now wonder what his next job is, given that most of the big clubs are currently shadow boxing the very available Pep Guardiola. Especially as the former Barcelona manager has declared he is ready for work next season, taking the limelight that too often Mourinho enjoys, and being tempted by offers from AC Milan, Bayern Munich, Manchester United and perhaps even Chelsea. All of which is cluttering up the airwaves for Mourinho, who it seems is keen to return to the premier league. Albeit where, or what club is looking for all that calamity that the Special One brings is anyone's guess. 

All adding pressure on Real Madrid for the February 13th Champions League first leg encounter in Madrid. 

A far cry from the joyful tears the night Mourinho masterminded the collapse of Bayern in the same stadium close on three years ago - making him nearly king of the world 

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