By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Editor
Pep Guardiola emerged from his bench shortly before kick-off, made his way through swarms of photographers in his technical area and picked out Jose Mourinho. The Barca coach held out his right arm, clenched the hand of his Real Madrid rival and looked him in the eye in a gesture of respect and admiration.
Little did he know that his was to be about the last sporting salute of the evening. One, suspects, however, that Mourinho did.
Shortly before the final whistle, the Portuguese raised his right arm, the same one which had shaken Guardiola’s hand with supposed affection barely two hours earlier, and poked his index finger into the eye of Barca’s unsuspecting assistant coach Tito Vilanova.
It was an act of thuggery and hooliganism from a man who has gained fame as one of the world’s most respected coaches, and it had followed a disgraceful brawl propagated by a brutal challenge from Madrid full-back Marcelo on defenceless debutant Cesc Fabregas. Mesut Ozil, who had already left the pitch as a substitute, quickly piled in and had to be restrained. The German was also sent off, along with Barca’s David Villa and Marcelo, but Pepe – who was leading the barrage of abuse at the officials and provoking the players in red and blue, did not. And nor did Mourinho.
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Earlier on in the game, after another ill-tempered exchange, Barcelona defender Gerard Pique approached the Portuguese and told him: “This is your fault - you started all of this.”
He had a point.
Real Madrid and Barcelona are eternal enemies, for geographical, historical, cultural and even political reasons. Before Mourinho’s arrival, however, the players shared a mutual respect and in many cases, a dressing room at international level.
In the bitter battles between the two teams last term, Madrid accused Barca of play-acting and theatrics designed at swaying referees. The Catalans, it must be said, are certainly not innocent in this department, and the tactic of diving and feigning of injuries by the likes of Dani Alves, Sergio Busquets, Pedro and Javier Mascherano has infuriated Mourinho, Madrid players and fans, too. Perhaps the Portuguese, though, should remove his rose-tinted glasses and take a long hard look in the mirror. For not only do Marcelo, Pepe, Cristiano Ronaldo and Angel Di Maria do exactly the same, but some of them – particularly the two defenders – commit nasty fouls as well.
Mourinho, and the mild-mannered Iker Casillas, both accused Fabregas of exaggerating the contact from Marcelo. As he fell to the ground, however, the midfielder’s pain was evident and although he emerged all smiles later on to celebrate with the trophy and then speak to the press, he did so with an ice pack pressed to his knee. Hardly a feigned injury, then.
“Unfortunately this is the image of Madrid. You can be aggressive or over-enthusiastic, but Marcelo went in to hurt Cesc. It's good that justice has been done.”
While Barca were still celebrating, Mourinho emerged to address the press. Asked about Marcelo’s foul and Pepe’s criminal challenge on Messi, when the Brazilian-born defender swung his right arm viciously across the Argentine’s neck, earning chants of ‘murderer’ from the Catalan crowd, Mourinho preferred to praise the duo on their performances. Marcelo’s foul had been exaggerated, he claimed, while adding that Pepe had been booked for ‘nothing in particular’. Messi, no doubt, would disagree with that assessment.
Mourinho then took a swipe at Barca, claiming the Catalan club had deliberately instructed their ball-boys to slow down the play in a tactic he said was used by ‘small teams’.
Questioned on the incident with Vilanova, the Madrid coach said he did not know who ‘Pito’ – which means penis and was a deliberate mispronunciation of Tito – was, and claimed he had been unaware his 'victim' had been Barca’s assistant coach. For a man motivated to the extreme by his attention to detail, however, such a story is impossible to believe. It is also a stunt he has pulled before. During his time at Inter, Mourinho became locked in an explosive war of words with Catania director Pietro Lo Monaco. 'The Special One' infamously sniped: "I do not know who he is. With the name Monaco I have heard of Bayern Monaco (Munich) and the Monaco GP, the Tibetan Monaco (Monk), and the Principality of Monaco."
Quizzed later by a radio reporter on whether his actions could set a bad example to players such as Marcelo and Pepe, Mourinho glared at the young female with an intimidating and icy stare, asked her to repeat the question and proceeded to mock her with quickfire questions: “Who me?” “My players?” “Tito Vilanova?” "What?" It was mean and malicious, spiteful, savage and simply cruel. The question, after all, had been a valid one - and it deserved a proper answer.
“Someone has to take action here - Mourinho is destroying Spanish football. I think he is crossing the line and the limit - and he needs to be stopped.”
- Gerard Pique
Much like he did at Porto, when his players would use all the gamesmanship in their grasp to gain an advantage, Mourinho has his players charged with energy and close to breaking-point as they head out on to the pitch for their biggest games which, invariably, are against Barcelona. It is akin to a siege mentality and in moments of tension, they snap.
But it starts from the top and Mourinho is the commander in chief. The Portuguese’s pathetic and ridiculous rant against Barca in last season’s Champions League semi-final first-leg defeat - when he accused the Catalans of cheating and even claimed the club were receiving preferential treatment from Uefa - was no isolated incident, but a precedent of ignorance and inciting which has been well and truly set.
Down in the mixed zone, Xavi claimed he was disgusted by Mourinho’s behavior, while Pique said the Portuguese was ‘destroying Spanish football’.
“It needs to be stopped,” he added. And the usually placid Pep agreed. “It is going too far, but I can only look at my own players – I can’t give lessons to anyone else."
“This could end badly if unchecked. I can do something with my players, and make sure they behave their best, but I do not give lessons to anyone.”
- Pep Guardiola
Guardiola, however, is a fine example of how a coach can be highly competitive without resorting to underhand and aggressive tactics. Somebody needs to advise Mourinho that his actions have gone far beyond the usual mind games and spicing up of football fixtures. The Portuguese is inciting violence on and off the pitch with his words and his gestures. And it is only likely to get worse. So before somebody gets hurt, perhaps even fatally, Mourinho needs to look at himself and his actions, and ask: “Has it not gone far enough?”
The irony is that in these last two matches, Madrid have played some extraordinary football and bettered Barca for long periods both home and away. And when you can do that, there is absolutely no need need to incite, manipulate, abuse, poke or provoke. So as he himself might ask: "Why, Jose Mourinho? Why? Why? Why?"
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