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Chelsea alert: Mourinho comes with a health warning

ESPN staff
May 21, 2013 « Live County Championship coverage | Chartbeat test »
Mourinho's departure worst-kept secret

His unnecessary inability to avoid feuding with Iker Casillas will forever remain an unsightly scar on Jose Mourinho's reign at Real Madrid - which, perhaps, awards ultimate victory in the battle of wills between two Iberian footballing powerhouses to Casillas in that Mourinho's failure and departure were announced on the Madrid captain's 32nd birthday.

Mid-evening in Spain, at the Santiago Bernabeu, a place where Mourinho had increasingly become booed, jeered and disliked, club president Florentino Perez announced that "the time has come for us to end the relationship." He described the parting as mutually agreed upon, but then went on to say that "this season hasn't been at the level required by Real Madrid."

You don't say.

It's a dismissal packaged as a mutual decision and made inevitable because of Mourinho's dedication to leaving. The club laid out €18m to buy Mourinho from his Inter Milan contract and lavished hundreds of millions of euros in fortifying his project. Yet now, the net balance is deeply in deficit.

Two major trophies (he disparaged and said he didn't count his third, the Spanish Supercup). Rows with [Sergio] Ramos, Casillas, Pepe, Jorge Valdano and [Cristiano] Ronaldo within his own club. Embarrassing outbursts, including the rant against referees, and his paranoia that it was a UNICEF conspiracy.

An inept defence of the league title won in such swashbuckling style last year. An inability to teach his back four (no matter how he rotated the personnel) how to defend the ball into the box (17 goals conceded to corners or free kicks this season). Poor decisions in each of the three Champions League semi-finals that helped cost his side a passage to the final, which it merited at least once.

Sending-offs, insults, bullying journalists. Refusing to even go up to accept his loser's medal from King Juan Carlos on Friday. Refusal to fulfill his club duties and communicate to the media on a regular basis. The coward's finger poked in Tito Vilanova's eye. The crowd booing and jeering him.

Set against one Copa del Rey and even what was a memorable, admirable league title in 2012, the balance is excessively negative.

Mourinho is the coal, oil and natural gas of European football. The flame burns brightly, but the fuel isn't sustainable or renewable.

So here I am writing disparagingly about Mourinho again. But there is absolutely no pleasure in doing so. There are many things that are unfortunate about the current situation - one of which is that Mourinho is an efficient coach with a good trophy-winning record who seemed as if he might be able to do "special" things at Madrid. He has let himself down and he's left us neutrals with no more than a flavour of what might have been.

Not only was the title won thrillingly last season, it would have been a footballing pleasure to see that level laid down long term for Barcelona, Atletico Madrid and Valencia/Real Sociedad to joust at domestically and for the creme de la creme of Europe to tilt at in the Champions League.

What has been proved beyond doubt is that there is now much, much more evidence that Mourinho is the coal, oil and natural gas of European football. The flame burns brightly, but the fuel isn't sustainable or renewable.

When he left Chelsea, his relationship with some key players and the owner had been diminished to the point of destruction. When he left Inter Milan, the team almost instantly proved to be on its knees physically and mentally. Whatever Rafael Benitez did while in charge, the spectacular collapse of the side from its high-water mark in the Treble season showed that it was an artificially constructed winning machine that didn't have an eye to sustainability.

That's no crime. I would also say that Inter's season in 2009-10 was admirable, convincing and enjoyable.

But Mourinho has carried this question about with him for a while now. Is there a scorched-earth policy in his philosophy of how to run a squad? Are his footballers like the blade runners in the Harrison Ford-Ridley Scott epic? Programmed to run harder, jump higher, dream bigger ... but with a pre-programmed "live-fast-die-young" chip in the machine.

Now that he leaves Madrid without a significant trophy in Year 3, suffering a broken relationship with the fans and the president, the indications are increasingly strong. Moreover, he left deep, embedded loyalty among the greater majority of his Chelsea squad, almost all of his Inter squad ... but not here.

Michael Essien, on loan from Chelsea, and only one or two others will be sorry that he's going. The vast majority will be relieved - no more white noise at the white house, a trainer who is fully focused on his work rather than fully focused on finding his next club and fighting with the media. A hard core - Casillas, Ramos, Marcelo, Higuain and now, increasingly, Pepe and Ronaldo - will, I presume, be delighted.

This is significant because it's a key chapter in the Mourinho playbook that the players are devoted to him, will follow him into battle unblinkingly and share this feeling that the occasionally boorish man we see in public is in fact, intelligent, tactile, funny and loyal in private. Madrid unequivocally hasn't been like this. It unequivocally has not been like either Chelsea or Inter.

What's also sad about this is that it wasn't only entirely predictable, it was entirely predicted. In 2008, when Mourinho was interviewed by vice-president Marc Ingla and football director Txiki Begiristain in connection with the soon-to-be vacant Barcelona job, they were taken with his presentation but repelled by his perspective.

Ferran Soriano, fellow vice-president and current chief executive at Manchester City, told me for my book on "Barca: The Making of the Greatest Team in the World": "Txiki and Marc thought that Mourinho was very prepared. They spent three hours with him and both came away thinking Mourinho was not our guy. Marc said that Mourinho spoke for 90 per cent of the time and just didn't listen.

"He said: 'I just didn't like him.' Txiki was a bit more rational. He said: 'Mourinho would do well but the number of fires he would cause internally and with the media are not worth it.' "

Those words don't just seem prophetic now; they were destined to come true. It's my opinion that the great majority of the farrago we've been through in recent weeks - the slagging off of Casillas, ditto Pepe, ditto Ronaldo; the antics against Atletico Madrid; the "I'm so sad, please come and get me" theatrics after the defeat to Dortmund; and the refusal to collect his medal from the king were all aimed at ensuring he got what he wanted: an exit.

It has been ugly, costly, petulant and embarrassing. The hard fact is that generally, Real Madrid - their players and their fans - deserve so much more. Hopefully, in either Carlo Ancelotti or perhaps Benitez, they'll get that.

But one is certainly left with questions, still more questions, hanging over Madrid's president. During Monday night's announcement that he was cutting the cord with Mourinho, he also announced presidential elections for mid-June.

What nobody influential on the Real Madrid scene seems able to make capital from is the fact that from 2003 (when he acted like a clown in removing Vicente del Bosque) until this day, he's had eight years of mandate during which he's won one league, one Copa and the Spanish Supercopa (twice). During that time, he's ploughed through coaches, heaped debt on the club, prioritised market solutions over youth development, and shown absolutely no awareness of how badly wrong his steering of the club has gone.

I don't think Perez is good enough for this club, I don't think he's learning, I don't think he's the way forward and I don't think there will be notable improvements unless he has a complete volte-face in what he deems to be priorities. The fact that the financial guarantee needed to be laid down in order even to wish to be president at Madrid is so enormous that most decent candidates are weeded out is now patently unhealthy.

So, farewell, Mourinho. The version we saw won't be missed and the version we hoped we were getting only appeared for a third of this unsuccessful tenure.

Yes, I'll be happy to continue testifying that the league title was won with flair and attitude, that the Copa final of 2011 was epic and enjoyable and that Rafa Varane and Mesut Ozil will be good souvenirs left behind by this coach who, at Madrid, has been much more damaged goods than Madrid thought they were buying.

"I'm no Harry Potter," Mourinho said when he arrived. Not even Malfoy, mate. But here's hoping that when the next man is appointed he brings more equilibrium, more attacking flair, more dignity, more class and less self-obsession.

Step forward, Carlo Ancelotti? I do hope so.

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