One final flourish: Mourinho must swallow his pride and pick Pepe

The Portuguese coach has fallen out with the majority of his squad and will leave Madrid next month, but will ask his footballers for one last push in Friday’s Copa del Rey final

By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer

The end is in sight. Jose Mourinho draws ever closer to a Real Madrid exit at the conclusion of his third term in Spain. But before the end comes the Copa del Rey final – and he wants to win it.

Mourinho left Porto, Chelsea and Inter on excellent terms with almost all of his players, but the same cannot be said of Madrid. The Portuguese has fallen out with virtually each member of his squad over the last few months and a summer separation now looks to be the only option for all concerned. However, with a trophy up for grabs on Friday, the 50-year-old will ask those footballers for one last effort – a final flourish.

Jose’s tenure in Madrid was kick-started by the capture of the Copa del Rey in 2011, when Madrid beat Barcelona at the showpiece in Valencia. La Liga then followed last season, with the Spanish Supercopa added at the beginning of the current campaign. A second Primera Division title eluded the Portuguese, though, after a stuttering start saw his side lose too much ground to Barca, while the Decima dream remains just that as Mourinho watched his team lose three straight semi-finals in the Champions League – in 2010-11, 2011-12 and again this term.

Nevertheless, a fourth trophy would represent a satisfactory conclusion to his three-year tenure. That is what the club are focusing on now and the squad dined together on Tuesday in a bid to promote team spirit and build morale ahead of the Copa final on Friday, when the Blancos face city rivals Atletico Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Perhaps tellingly, Mourinho was absent at the lunch organised by his players. But despite the bad blood, they will want to win Friday’s final just as much as their coach.

Captain Iker Casillas will be on the bench once again as Diego Lopez starts in goal, but Mourinho should swallow his pride and pick Pepe for the derby clash on Friday.

Pepe recently upset Mourinho by publicly criticising his coach after the 4-3 win over Valladolid, when he told Canal Plus that his boss should show more respect to Casillas.

Mourinho hit back by claiming that Pepe’s problem was Rapahel Varane, the brilliant 20-year-old defender who has displaced the Portugal centre-back in the team this term. Now, however, Mourinho has a problem too: Varane is sidelined.

The young Frenchman injured his knee in the weekend draw at Espanyol and has since undergone surgery to repair the problem. He will miss the final and has almost certainly played his final game under Mourinho at Madrid.

That leaves the coach with a dilemma. Sergio Ramos is expected to be fit for the final after two weeks out, but the Portuguese appears not to trust Raul Albiol or Ricardo Carvalho. So he has to play Pepe.

Ahead of the Champions League semi-final second leg against Borussia Dortmund, Mourinho asked his players for one big effort – and he got it as Madrid won 2-0 to miss out by a single strike in the 4-3 aggregate defeat.

Now he needs another – from Pepe and the rest of his players too. La Liga was finally lost at the weekend, although it had left their reach a long, long time ago. So Friday’s fixture is now all that matters for Mourinho at Madrid. A happy ending is impossible; the scars run too deep and the divisions are too painful. Yet victory against Atletico will bring Mourinho’s spell at Madrid to an amicable conclusion. And that is what everyone at the club will want: a final flourish.

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