Mourinho's Madrid return shows why he was never right for Real

The Portuguese’s pragmatic plan may yet take Chelsea to the Champions League final this term, but Tuesday’s tactics were a remainder of why he wasn’t a hit in his previous post

By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer

From the moment the semi-final draw was made earlier this month and Chelsea were paired with Atletico, Jose Mourinho’s Madrid visit took top billing. But in the end, the return of the Portuguese proved little except to confirm that he was never the right fit for Real in the first place.

The Madrid media had hoped for some special soundbites from the former Real boss in the pre-match press conference on Monday, but Mourinho seemed less inclined to impress the familiar faces he had largely antagonised for three polemic seasons in Spain – and he refused to speak Spanish.

That decision proved unpopular and was repeated in the post-match presser on Tuesday. “Out of respect for my club, I will only speak English,” he said. Yet Pep Guardiola, who is respectful to everyone, always answers in several different languages. Charming when he wants to be, Mourinho made no effort to improve an already rocky relationship with the Madrid media this time around and made no apologies with his negative gameplan at the Vicente Calderon, either.

Chelsea shot just five times in Tuesday’s first-leg match. “I wanted to win 5-0,” the Portuguese joked afterwards. But that was never going to happen and Atleti, by comparison, had 25 efforts.

This is Mourinho’s eighth Champions League semi-final, his third with Chelsea and fourth in a row. The previous three came with Madrid and all ended in defeat. And although Blues fans won’t mind if their team makes it to this season’s final and Atleti aficionados will be quite happy if Simeone succeeds with similar tactics in London next week, the Portuguese’s pragmatic philosophy was never right for Real.

The first of those three semi-finals was a 3-1 aggregate defeat to Barcelona, which started with a 2-0 loss at the Bernabeu in which Madrid saw the ball for less than 27 per cent of the match. Lionel Messi netted two late goals to seal victory. Afterwards, even Cristiano Ronaldo complained. “I don’t like playing like that,” he said.

Nor did the Bernabeu. So even though Mourinho’s men came closer in their next two Champions League semi-final exits (on penalties against Bayern Munich in 2011-12 and by a single goal in seven to Borussia Dortmund last season), there was always a feeling that Madrid could have succeeded with a more positive plan in those ties.

Fine lines of course and Mourinho remains a tremendous tactician, yet such a gameplan is not suited to Europe’s elite teams, especially those with a tradition for attractive, attacking football. At clubs like Barcelona, Madrid, Bayern and Manchester United, both style and substance are needed; coaches are expected to win with positive performances, not negative or stifling tactics like those utilised on Tuesday and which made for a sorry spectacle.

Had he delivered La Decima, Mourinho may have lasted longer in Madrid, but the players never fully took to his methods and the fans were quick to complain about the football on offer as results dropped off. Neither a failure nor a success in the end, the 51-year-old could yet take this Chelsea team to the final and deny his former club the trophy they so crave. It would be a tale typical of the man and no doubt bring him much satisfaction, but it wouldn’t prove that he should have stayed longer at the Bernabeu because, off-field problems aside, his football was just not the Madrid way – and his return this week shows separation was the right route to take for both coach and club.

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