With the Catalans seemingly battered and broken and La Liga all but in the bag, the Portuguese now turns his attention to the capture of a 10th European Cup for Real Madrid
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By Mark Doyle
Gary Lineker once mused, “Football is a simple game: 22 men chase a ball and, at the end, the Germans always win.” In light of Real Madrid’s Clasico success at Camp Nou and Barcelona’s subsequent Champions League elimination at the hands of Chelsea, perhaps a slight amendment is in order: “Football is a simple game: 22 men chase a ball and, at the end, Jose Mourinho always wins.”
When the Portuguese arrived at the Santiago Bernabeu, his task was both simple and arduous: usurp Barcelona as the dominant force in both Spain and Europe. At the time, Mourinho had just led Inter to a remarkable treble, with their Champions League success owing much to an already legendary 3-2 aggregate success over Barca.
Of course, that the Nerazzurri subsequently claimed Europe’s premier club trophy at the Santiago Bernabeu, courtesy of a 2-0 victory over Bayern Munich, was significant, but it was the two-legged triumph over the Blaugrana in the semi-finals that convinced Florentino Perez that Mourinho was the man to restore Madrid to their former glory, challenge the Catalans in Spain and bring home La Decima - a 10th European Cup success.
It is worth remembering that before the Portuguese took up residence in the Spanish capital, Los Blancos had not made it beyond the semi-finals since last winning the Champions League in 2002. And yet here they stand now: seven points clear at the top of La Liga with just four rounds remaining and within one victory of a return to the grandest stage in club football.
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Two seasons of tackling Jose has, it seems, taken its toll on both Barca's players and their esteemed coach, Pep Guardiola. Nobody is saying that the Catalans no longer deserve to be considered a great side but, as Bayern coach Jupp Heynckes declared during his pre-game press conference on Tuesday, maybe the Blaugrana are no longer the benchmark for Europe’s elite, maybe it is Mourinho’s Madrid.
Are Real as beautiful as Barca? No, but they are far more effective. Indeed, with four rounds of La Liga remaining, Los Blancos have already scored more goals than any other side in the competition’s history.
Mourinho deserves the credit for Madrid's metamorphosis. Love him or loathe him – and many people now fall into the latter camp – it is impossible not to respect him. The 49-year-old Setubal native is now just two games away from becoming the first man to win the European Cup with three different clubs, which would undeniably put him forward as a candidate for the greatest coach of all time.
And who would bet against him? Admittedly, Bayern bossed last week’s semi-final first-leg clash at the Allianz Arena and were good value for their 2-1 win, but the fact remains that Los Blancos played poorly and yet only succumbed to a late goal. With home advantage on Wednesday night, it is difficult not to foresee Madrid turning the tie around.
Indeed, Mourinho seems to have this knack of finding a way to make something work in his favour. The Portuguese always finds a way. It's what he does.