El Clásico #2
La Liga: 2011
Jose Mourinho has decided he won’t speak before his second El Clásico, so his pre-game press conference is awkward. He’s brought his assistant with him, Aitor Karanka. He will speak for the team.
Mourinho sits there quietly.
Over the course of the season, he’s had his usual battles. The press, referees, opposing coaches, league officials — he’s had the same fights in other countries. He seems to seek conflict, yet does quite well as it swirls around him. The vow of silence is his latest jab.
He says he is The Special One, but his first season at Madrid has been very much like everybody else’s. It’s play well, win a lot of games, score a lot of goals, but be second best to the whiny little Peps out in Catalonia. Barcelona are eight points up in the league. In all competitions, they've won 40 matches, Madrid have won 38.
One of the reporters asks something about catching Barcelona in the league. Karanka says they can do it. They’ll need a big effort and they’ll need — Mourinho stops listening.
La Liga is out of reach. Barcelona won’t lose eight points in seven weeks, not against this competition. Other trophies must be sought.
What tournaments are left?
The Champions League.
The Copa del Rey.
Who do they play next in both of those?
It’s Pep. The obsessive strategist on the sideline. The man with answers.
Messi — indescribable.
Sergio Busquets, who really, whatever his qualities as a player, is just a soap opera queen, crying every time he’s touched.
But Barcelona play well. That, Mourinho will admit to. Despite being asked to oversee their destruction, he admires them. Appreciating their beauty is not how you beat them though. If they’re playing beautifully, they’re destroying you.
Mourinho’s problem is that his team isn’t good enough to beat Barcelona. Madrid don’t have the skill, and with this set of players, Mourinho doesn’t have the tactics.
So what do you do when you need to win, but you don’t have the skills or the tactics to do it?
You figure a way to do it that has nothing to do with skills or tactics.
Here’s one way to perceive Mourinho’s plan: think of Barcelona as a gorgeous, twinkling, crystal chandelier. One that lights up an entire room. One that runs on a seemingly infinite energy source.
This is what they look like:
How are you going to turn this thing off?
You get a ladder.
You put it under the chandelier.
You climb up.
You rip the chandelier off the ceiling, and you throw it on the floor.
Watch every last one of those little twinklers shatter.
Barcelona has better players?
The team runs on better tactics?
How are they going to do it when they’re on the ground?
Mourinho tried to beat Barca straight — lost five-zero doing it.
He will move Pepe, his usual center-back, to the center of the midfield. He’ll team him with players also capable of destroying attacks: Sami Khedira, Xabi Alonso. The three of them, their colleagues in support, will beat to batter the Barcelona wonder-triplet of Messi, Xavi, and Iniesta.
Cut out that triplet, then what’s Barcelona?
Good, but beatable.
This tactic is going to lead to a lot of fouls for Madrid though, a lot of cards. To combat this, Mourinho will tell the media a story. He will tell them that Madrid aren’t getting red cards because of their aggressive play, they aren’t in second place because of their performances. Injustices are taking place on the field. Madrid are being deliberately held down. The referees are in on it. It goes all the way up to UEFA. Barca’s dominance is being ensured by the men behind the curtain.
Now, every time Mourinho’s men hack down a Barcelona player and are penalized, Mourinho spins the narrative. Everything is part of the conspiracy.
He's creating an “us against the world” mentality. To overcome his team’s deficiency, Mourinho will need superior passion and intense effort. In the world of sports, these are byproducts of being a victim.
It can be argued that the claims of the conspiracy are an example of Mourinho trying to sully the Barcelona name. After all, Barca, his former club, let him go as an assistant coach when they didn’t see the potential in him. They didn’t take him back either after he’d already won with Porto, already won with Chelsea, and had applied for the Barca job. They gave it to Pep instead*.
But what must be foremost in Mourinho’s mind is motivation. What better way to stick it in Barca's face than to beat them? And one way to win at the elite level is to take your passion, your motivation, to a level that is, frankly, a little unhealthy.
If Mourinho can’t do it, Madrid will remain in second place, and second place isn’t good enough for Mourinho. It’s not good enough for Madrid. They brought him here to win. They already had a guy who could get them second place.
Flash bulbs start going off.
Mourinho snaps back to the press conference.
Karanka has thanked the journalists and is now standing, waiting on Mourinho.
Reporter: José, nothing to say?
Mourinho: Finally, someone asks me.
A few reporters laugh.
Reporter: Where are you going to play Pepe?
Mourinho: Everywhere. He is a free player.
Reporter: Do you have a plan for Messi?
Mourinho: For who?
Mourinho smiles. He’s right from a Dickens book.
Mourinho: There are no plans for a player like Messi. Xavi. Iniesta. They are fantastic footballers. There’s no fight you can put up to beat them.
Reporter: How do you plan to win then?
Mourinho: With peace.
He gets up.
Mourinho: I like peace.
We'll get to the game next.
*Mourinho went to Inter and won a treble, even once knocking Pep’s Barca out of a Champions League semifinal.