Yesterday Real Madrid went an embarrassing 18 points behind league leaders Barcelona. Not only are they not going to catch the Catalan side, but they are also seven points behind City rivals Atletico Madrid and unlikely, right now, to finish even in second place. This 18 point deficit is apparently the furthest Madrid have been off top spot since 1996 when they trailed Atletico by 20 points. What’s worse is that having won the league title last season and with the departure of Pep Guardiola many people felt that Mourinho could enjoy a period of dominance with Madrid, something that has obviously failed to materialise. The result of the failure domestically means that Mourinho is unlikely to be at the club past the summer, so how would we rank his reign? Success or failure?
Mourinho has won two trophies since being at the club, the league title and the Spanish cup. On the face of it, this certainly isn’t bad. Mourinho has now won league titles in four different countries, as well as domestic cup competitions in the same number. For Mourinho, independently of Real Madrid, that is excellent, but for the club, some are less than satisfied with the job he has done. In context though, just two trophies is not brilliant. Del Bosque won two European titles, two La Liga titles and 1 Spanish Super Cup, as well as the Club World Cup in four seasons at Madrid, yet he was sacked. It is also worth noting that the club won La Liga under Capello in 20o7 as well as in 2008 under Bernd Schuster. In that context, Mourinho’s solitary title appears like a poor return, considering Capello and Schuster were both sacked after winning the title.
The size of the task at hand
The size of the task at hand can be highlighted by Madrid’s European performance prior to Mourinho taking charge of the club. Despite Madrid winning back to back domestic titles in 07 and 08, they were not in a good way. Real Madrid had not got past the second round of the Champions League knock-out phases since 2003-04. That is five years without making a meaningful impact in the tournament. Mourinho has improved Real Madrid as a Champions League force. Real Madrid got to two consecutive semi-finals under Mourinho. This on its own is a huge improvement and has to be considered a success, even if he does fail to win it this season.
Contextualising Mourinho’s success
Despite Del Bosque’s record at the club being so good and despite Madrid winning the league in 07 and 08, we must judge the Mourinho era in the context of the rise of FC Barcelona as the greatest team in World football. This Barca team are not like Barca sides of old, they are widely regarded to be the best club side of the last twenty years. Barcelona have won three Champions League titles in the last seven seasons. In the current format no side has been that dominant since Real Madrid won the tournament three times between 98 and 02.
The quality of this Barca team cannot be overstated. In the last four seasons the Ballon d’Or award (the award for the best player in the world) has been won by Lionel Messi, of Barcelona. In this period every single year the top three has comprised of at least one other Barca stuff, Xavi or Iniesta, plus Cristano Ronaldo. This highlights the dominants of this Barcelona side.
For Real Madrid to wrestle the league title off Barcelona Mourinho had to win La Liga with a record 100 points, taking 87.72% of available points, an unbelievable amount. This is indicative of how high the bar has been raised in Spanish football as a result of Barcelona’s rise to prominence. Nobody would call Mourinho’s spells at Inter, Chelsea or Porto’s a failure, yet his win success at Madrid is his highest of his managerial career at 72.97%. This again speaks volumes about the level of competition between Madrid and Barcelona.
The success Madrid had in 07 and 08 was at the end of a Barcelona cycle after Frank Rijkaard’s side began to run out of steam. The fall from grace for Ronaldinho and a general down turn in Barcelona success left an opening in Spanish football for Madrid to fill. The lack of European success experienced by Madrid between 04-09 demonstrates that they were by no means a force despite their domestic victories.
Real Madrid’s current demise
Real Madrid’s current woes are arguably, to a degree, down to Mourinho. His handling of board room and dressing room politics have left a lot to be desired. This is the first time where he has failed to win over all of his players. At Chelsea and at Inter several players reportedly were in tears when Mourinho left. At Madrid however, it is unlikely that any player will shed a tear when the Portuguese manager leaves this summer. His miss-management of Casillas and Ramos in particular has cost him, as have arguably poor transfer signings, especially Modric. That being said, a lot of the transfer dealings are down to the club and it has been well noted that on several occasions the Madrid board have not complied with Mourinho’s wishes in the transfer market, causing further rifts.
Another factor that has worked against Mourinho is his failure to control himself in certain situations. The Madrid hierarchy have reportedly been infuriated on a number of occasions as a result of Mourinho’s conduct, both in press conferences and on the field, such as the fight that took place between Madrid staff and Barcelona staff in 2010.
Mourinho is a fantastic manager with an unbelievable record. Despite that, his time at Madrid will likely divide opinion. One league and one domestic cup are arguably not enough for many Madrid fans or pundits, who believe that given the financial backing of Mourinho he should have delivered more. That being said, challenging by far the best team in the world is by no means easy and for that alone winning the title should be considered as a huge achievement for Madrid. Further to this Mourinho has turned Madrid into a serious European force, something they have not been since 2003-04. Mourinho’s mandate was to overthrow Barcelona as the dominant force in Spanish football, in that regard, he certainly has failed. Barcelona have (if we presumptuously include this year) won the league twice in the three years Mourinho has been at the club, as well as having won the Champions League once.
Failure for Mourinho to make a meaningful impact in Europe this year will lead to widespread detractors. Despite this, the size of the task was huge. When Mourinho took over Madrid they had consistently failed to make an impact in Europe and looked well and truly in Barca’s shadow. Winning the league title and domestic cup are certainly small and laudable successes in a very mixed Mourinho tenure at Madrid. If he does manage to win the Champions League many of his detractors will view his stay in Madrid in a different light.