Football

Mourinho faces tougher tests after Spanish glory

Ozil has shone under Mourinho (©GettyImages)
Ozil has shone under Mourinho (©GettyImages).

As Madrid celebrated on the San Mames pitch last night, many pondered a shift in the balance of power in Spain, from Catalonia to the capital. But Madrid's La Liga victory changes little.

It does hint at change, suggesting it may be possible with renewed application next year, but after a single season Madrid cannot claim to have toppled the Barca beast.

The Catalans have ruled Europe for the past three years, relegating Madrid to the shadows and leaving them to meekly celebrate a single Copa del Rey victory. Madrid were always bound to come back after such a drought and they opened their cheque-book to quicken the process, splashing out on Cristiano Ronaldo and Mesut Ozil. Finally, they seem to have wrested back control of the Spanish scene.

The signings have certainly been a success, but Mourinho has been the key to Madrid's re-emergence. The 'Special One' has moulded his team into a vintage Mourinho side, a tactically disciplined outfit with a lethal attacking edge.

Following victory in Bilbao, Mourinho hailed this La Liga title as the toughest test in his managerial career, testament to the talent of a Barca team who are as magnificent in their victories as they are magnanimous in their defeats.

The 3-0 victory in the Basque city clinched Madrid's 32nd league crown, but if breaking Barca's spell seemed difficult, securing a 33rd La Liga title next season poses even more of a challenge.

A team can only sustain performance for so long, Guardiola has spoken before about the burn-out which affects top-level sides after three years of achievement. The Hungarian coach Bela Guttmann once described the third year as "fatal" and for Barca this has proved correct. Madrid have certainly improved but Barca have also dipped, the two meeting in the middle to create an exciting tussle at the top.

The test for Madrid is to now push on, to improve further, because a wounded Barca are certain to come back stronger. A fatal third year has precipitated change in Catalonia and the turmoil of a new coach's arrival may open the door for Mardrid but Guardiola, the king of the Catalans, has chosen his successor from within the court, easing the transition.

Even so, beating Barca to the title gives Madrid tremendous confidence, and the boost of Mourinho's commitment to Madrid ensures a certain degree of stability. After the Bilbao match the Madrid man described the La Liga victory as his finest achievement.

"I won the league title in Portugal, Italy and England, but this one has been the toughest," said the Madrid coach.

"Barcelona won all their games, as befits the great team that they are. They are a club with great tradition who know we deserved to win this title."

How to beat Barca was a difficult question and one Madrid successfully answered, but a tougher test will be how Mourinho goes about repeating the trick. By guiding Madrid to their first La Liga since 2008, the Portuguese manager becomes only the third coach to win league titles in four different countries and he certainly possesses the self-belief required to achieve the feat.

His nomadic journey across Europe's top leagues has been hugely successful, inspired by a cult of personality and an iron grip on his team's tactical style. Few other coaches command such respect and cause such consternation in equal measure.

As a result Mourinho rarely stays put for any length of time - three years is his longest reign - but he now has the opportunity at Madrid to build a dynasty.

Madrid's side is set for the future, Fabio Coentrao, Karim Benzema, Mesut Ozil, Angel Di Maria, Gonzalo Higuain, Esteban Granero and Marcelo are all 24 or younger.

Following Ronaldo's signature there was talk of a second Galactico era at Madrid, a return to the excesses of previous regimes. However, this misses the fact the most of Madrid's marquee signings have been young, hungry and talented players from Europe's lesser leagues. Ronaldo may have been an £80m Premier League purchase but Benzema was bought from Ligue 1, Ozil, Khederia and Sahin from Germany, Di Maria and Coentrao from Portugal and Higuain from South America.

Barca may still have the world's best team but Madrid are best placed to be the one's to dethrone them. Messi, Xavi, Iniesta and Fabregas will all return next year eager to redress the balance before it tilts too heavily in Madrid's favour.

The Catalans' season collapsed in a single disastrous week in April, with defeat to Madrid and Champions League elimination to Chelsea leaving them scrapping for Copa del Rey glory.

That leaves them in the same position that Madrid have found themselves in for the past three seasons. It's an unfamiliar feeling for much of the side, which has experienced unprecedented success since Spain's victory over Germany in the 2008 European Championships.

It will not be a situation Barca want to repeat and a team as talented as theirs will test Madrid to the limits of their ability next season. In previous years the Catalans have swept aside all before them, including Madrid, and the disappointment of this season will provide ample motivation to avoid a second year of playing in Madrid's shadow.

Wednesday night was just the beginning for Madrid. Tougher tests for Mourinho's side lie ahead.

Topics:
Football
UEFA Champions League
Cristiano Ronaldo

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