"If ever Pep and I have a footballing problem, it will never become a problem between Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola; only ever a problem between the coach of Real Madrid and the coach of Barcelona. It's something completely separate. Totally different."
Jose Mourinho's words during his first season at Real Madrid were said with a huge amount of respect that Guardiola had earned from the Portuguese. The Spaniard's achievements as manager of Barcelona commanded the respect of the football world.
But Mourinho’s relationship with Guardiola stretched even further back to his days as Sir Bobby Robson's interpreter and assistant for the Barcelona side of 1996-1997, through to Mourinho's departure in 2000.
The two would often talk tactics, as Guardiola's vision for football and ability to read games was forming and Mourinho would take more responsibility as Robson and later Louis van Gaal trusted his ideas and methods. The two celebrated successes together, the captain waving to and calling over Mourinho, hugging and lifting him off his feet in celebration.
All of which made the Real Madrid manager's repeated digs at his former friend that much harder for Guardiola to take. Infamously, before their first Champions League semi-final meeting as coaches of their respective Spanish giants, Mourinho addressed Guardiola and Barcelona directly for the first time instead of what he had been doing previously all season, only calling Barcelona "that other team."
In that moment, Guardiola, who had been saying all season privately that the continuous barbs from Madrid were breaking him, effectively consigned his relationship with his opposite number to the waste bin. No longer was the battle between the coach of Real Madrid and the coach of FC Barcelona, it was very much between Guardiola and Mourinho.
But of course, a relationship between such fierce rivals was always going to be volatile, fragile and even dispensable. So how has Mourinho managed to destroy a working relationship between himself and his very own Real Madrid players and fans?
For one, he has seemingly lost the Spanish players in the dressing room. There is a wide reported dressing room divide, between the Portuguese speakers, that Mourinho defends and they reciprocate, and the Spanish speakers, who don't care for him, nor he for them. The Spanish contigent, led by Iker Casillas and Sergio Ramos, have tired of Mourinho's confrontational style in the press and on the pitch.
At times, their play has crossed the line from vigorous to violent. This almost caused fractures within the Spanish national team. Iker Casillas and Xavi, who have always been great friends going back to their childhood days, were at each other's throats. Alvaro Arbeloa stamped on David Villa then accused him of play acting. Things were turning ugly for a national team that had at last got past the cliques that held back their potential for so many years.
The Spanish players recognise Mourinho's role in all of this, and have lost respect for him because of it. For example, after having his defensive positioning on a set-piece questioned, Ramos told Mourinho that sometimes players make decisions in games, something that Mourinho wouldn't understand "because [he] had never been a player."
More importantly, this incident highlighted another problem for Mourinho. His own board weren't going to fully back him either. The story of Ramos' row with his coach was reported the next day, and Florentino Perez, the club president, could have had the article quashed. If Perez didn’t want that story in the paper, it wouldn't have been in the paper. Instead, the president let it out into the world, and pretty much threw Mourinho to the lions.
Which is one of the reasons that Mourinho has now lost the backing of the fans too. To compound this, Mourinho has essentially stuck his fingers up to them by doing the unthinkable: he has dropped Iker Casillas. Twice. The club captain, the Spain captain and the player the fans know as Saint Iker. The embodiment of Real Madrid on the pitch, and Mourinho has dropped him twice for 'technical reasons.' Technical in that Mourinho is making a stand, and more than likely going down swinging.
The stadium announcer at Real Madrid spared Mourinho at their last home game against local rivals Atletico Madrid, not announcing his name before the match. On Sunday, Mourinho was made aware of how the fans felt. Casillas' name was announced as a sub to massive cheers, and then Mourinho's name was announced. The villain of the piece was greeted with a cacophony of boos.
Before the Madrid derby, the Portuguese manager made a gesture, going out onto the pitch 40 minutes before the derby to soak in the venom of the fans. If he does something like that again, he may want to take in his surroundings. It could be one of the last times he is there in that capacity as manager of Real Madrid.
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