So, Jose is Jose is a genius is moody is successful is the coach of Real Madrid. He has won some trophies. He has coached at some big clubs. However, some paint his success in different countries and at different clubs as a negative: the talking point is that “Mou rides the same starting XI” into the ground and his motivational tactics expire after two-to-three years. For sure, Inter imploded after his exit. Chelsea also hit a few bumps, but largely the same roster did win some major trophies under Avram Grant, Carlo Ancellotti, and that Di Matteo feller. However, does that just prove his roster wins by talent, not the coach’s tactics? However, wouldn’t that criticism apply to every coach of every major club?
It’s enough to make the head spin. And what interests me most about Mou is not the wins, losses, or trophies, but how he has entered Spain and assaulted many of the unspoken rules in Spanish soccer.
I fully admit to tossing it with my super early Mou-at-Madrid predictions. I thought that he would go even more gray or lose his hair, lose La Liga to the Barca-juggernaut, and ultimately resign in disgust. Why the pessimism? Well, Barca’s roster was loaded. More importantly, Perez’s first term as President was not known for its patience with coaches. He was Roman Abramovitch before Roman Abramovitch was Roman Abramovitch.
Also, Real Madrid employed a “I like to talk through the press” sporting director by the name of Jorge Valdano. Valdano, a former blanquillo player and coach who is best known for what he did as a coach at Tenerife to Madrid, not for Madrid, did not get on well with prior managers. He was stuck in a may-have-existed soccer of yesteryesteryear when nobody defended, passing was “like” art, and teams magically scored lots of goals but never conceded any. Even more, Valdano played Spanish sports daily Marca like a fiddle and was an enabler to Perez’s poor, short-sighted judgment. “You were so right to fire that coach, Florentino!” He seemed to say in actions that speak louder than words.
Mou and Valdano, of course, butt heads almost immediately. Mou diagnosed Madrid’s problems as a weak defense and lack of target forward. Conversely, Valdano dreamed of signing undersized elves who can complete ten-foot first touch passes but haven’t landed a tackle since their U17 days. I predicted Valdano would put the poison pill to Perez’s ear and, bam, a dip in form would be the end of Mou. However, I underestimated Mou. Jose acted smartly and got the players on his side, told them he was leaving, and used bottom-up pressure to force Perez to run off Valdano.
This season, though, Mou has broken some unwritten rules in soccer (in Spain and abroad). First, many in soccer treat pressers and media relations as “fellate-the-fan.” No matter how short-sighted and over-reactionary the mass, no matter how unlucky the loss, the fans as consumers have the right to demand a perfect product day-in, day-out. The capitalist logic is that the players, who are relatively more wealthy than many fans, have a duty to the proletariat working class to create a perfect dream ideal for vicarious living. Of course, nobody asks: doesn’t the owner who signs the checks (and earns much more) have some duties? Regardless, the players are the toys of fans and can’t complain.
Mou recently flaunted this code. He arranged a special arrival at the Bernabeu stadium where, if fans wanted, they could come and boo him. His goal? Perhaps he wants to “show” that only a small minority of fans don’t support him. Regardless, timing and cunning go hand-in-hand. Did Mou agree to a stadium “boo session” after the next home loss to a meddling midtable team? Nope. Of course not. That would be suicide. Instead, to a nearly empty stadium, he arrived 40 minutes early before the Madrid derby and could smirk to a mix of chants and boos. Who would travel early to go and boo a coach? Next to nobody. Who wouldn’t boo a coach of a talented home team after a loss? Exactly.
Mou has also just performed the Schuster-Kiss-Of-Death. What did he do? He admitted, before Christmas, that Real Madrid cannot win La Liga and will lose to Barca. Of course, he stated the obvious. He was calm. He was composed. He knew that Alonso, Khedira, and Modric are good central midfielders, but, oft-injured Sammy-aside, are too soft a center to consistently compete. Hence the Essien loan-signing. Too little, too late. For any other coach, those words “Barca will win” in December would translate to “adios” and be followed by a pink slip.
However, with Mou, you never know. The dynamic at Real Madrid has changed so much since his arrival, from “kiss Marca’s ass” to “go away Marca,” that the “already hates him” press is just recycling old stories at this point. Maybe Mou will see out the end of the season. Or at least until the Champions League run ends (probably in the quarters or semis, unless something truly magical happens). Either way, Real Madrid is better for having had him as a coach.