- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Inter's stunning upset of Barça in the Champions League semifinals last year—a 3--2 aggregate win in which Inter held off Barcelona in the second leg despite going down to 10 men inside a half hour—convinced everyone that Mourinho, more than any other coach alive, had the chops to win with inferior players. It also further divided the world's soccer watchers into two camps: one that hailed Mourinho as a practical genius and another that derided him as a defensive-minded killjoy. And it drew the attention of Real Madrid president Florentino Pérez. In his previous term, from 2000 to '06, Pérez had signed the so-called Galácticos, a Dream Team that included Zinédine Zidane, Ronaldo, David Beckham and Luís Figo. Pérez started his second term in '09 by buying two more former World Players of the Year, Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaká, but Barcelona swept to victory in the Spanish league.
The 2010--11 season's new Galáctico was Mourinho himself. He didn't come cheaply. Real Madrid paid Inter a reported $10 million transfer fee and signed Mourinho to a four-year deal worth an estimated $48 million. Beyond the money his hiring heralded a cultural transformation for the club. "What Mourinho brings is a newfound respect for the coach, a position that has always been criminally undervalued at Real Madrid," says Sid Lowe, the Madrid-based correspondent for The Guardian. "Now the coach is the most important guy at the club."
Indeed, Real Madrid's fans and directors are accustomed to winning with panache, a word that has rarely described Mourinho's teams. Jorge Valdano, Real's director of soccer, once called the style of Mourinho's Chelsea "s—on a stick," and the two men have jousted in the Spanish media this season. For his part the Special One points out that he now has more entertaining and possession-oriented players. "With Inter we had no qualities to control the game by having ball possession all the time," Mourinho says. "At Real Madrid, I am adapting to the qualities of the players. We have people who can control the game not by defending but by having possession of the ball."
None are more electrifying than Ronaldo. Under Mourinho, his Portuguese countryman, the 26-year-old winger has returned to the devastating form he showed two years ago with Manchester United—witness the deadly extra-time header that gave Mourinho's side a 1--0 win in the 2011 Copa del Rey, Real's first Copa crown since 1993. "I've always had great players, but I've never had a Cristiano Ronaldo," Mourinho says. "Last year Real relied too much on Cristiano to decide things. The best thing is not to make him feel responsible for the success or nonsuccess of the team. He can make the difference when things are very equalized but behind him he has a structure. I think he's much more comfortable."
Real Madrid and Barça may well be the world's two best teams, and so Mourinho's first season will be judged on how his side performed in the big games: the Champions League and head-to-head against Barcelona. The Catalans won Round 1 on their home turf last November, a 5--0 humiliation that was the worst loss of Mourinho's career, but Real fought them to a standstill at the Bernabéu in the return leg on April 16, the start of an epic stretch of four Clásicos in 18 days. Employing the same kind of stifling defensive approach he'd used with Inter in 2010, Mourinho held Barça's fabled attack scoreless for 120 minutes in the Copa del Rey final. But in the Champions League semis the strategy failed: Barça beat Real 2--0 at the Bernabéu on April 27 and held Los Blancos to a 1--1 tie at the Camp Nou on May 3 to eliminate them from the tournament. Eight days later the Blaugrana sewed up its third La Liga title in three years, having left Real Madrid in second place each time.
London, April 2007. Talk about odd pairings. WWE Raw has gone to England, and now Shane McMahon is interrupting his ring monologue: "Wait a minute, I know you! That's José Mourinho! The head coach, if you will, of the Chelsea football team!" A chorus of boos (and a few cheers) rains down on Mourinho, who's sitting between his two children in the front row. Mourinho smiles, wags a finger at McMahon. The coach is in on this. It's the Special One and pro wrestling! It's ... a perfect match.
WHEN MOURINHO RETURNS HOME FROM REAL MADRID'S TRAINING center, he's no longer the boss. That role falls to his wife of 21 years, Tami, and their kids: daughter Matilde, 14, and son José, 10. "I have to do what they want," Mourinho says. "I have to watch the programs they want to see, the movies they want to go to. I have to go to the wrestling because they enjoy the wrestling."
Mourinho's children have attended American schools in London, Milan and Madrid. He expects they will go to college in the U.S. And therein lies an opportunity for soccer in America. "We want to be close to our kids the maximum we can," he says. "I see myself coaching a [club] team, coaching the national team or helping develop soccer in the U.S. When I'm tired of winning things in Europe, it's something I want to do. I want to coach the Portuguese national team, and I want to work in the United States."