Why Jose Mourinho failed to bring La Decima to Real Madrid

The Portuguese has agreed a deal to leave the Spanish capital without having won the Champions League with los Blancos. So what went wrong in his three terms?

By Ben Hayward at the Santiago Bernabeu

The atmosphere was electric. Real Madrid left it late and were ultimately unable to claim an all-important third goal needed to defeat Dortmund and advance to next month’s Champions League final at Wembley on Tuesday. For the third year in a row, Jose Mourinho’s men fell at the penultimate hurdle and, as the Portuguese prepares for a future far away from Spain, Madrid fans were left wondering what might have been by Tuesday’s gallant effort.

Mourinho likes to leave the fans wanting more. At all of his previous clubs, he had departed at the peak of his powers, amid a mixture of affection and anger at the prospect of life under another coach. But that has not been quite the case at Madrid. The Portuguese told ITV on Tuesday night. “I love to be somewhere people love me to be.” It was the clearest indication yet that his future lies elsewhere this summer, while Goal.com confirmed on Wednesday that he had agreed a return to Chelsea this summer.

But maybe Madrid will end up missing Mourinho too. As a group of Madridistas shuffled into a cafe in the city’s centre on Wednesday morning to end their night as a new day began, the talk turned to the 50-year-old coach. “Did you see what Mourinho said last night?” asked one of the fans in disbelief. “He said that we don’t love him enough… Unbelievable. Everyone loves him.”

That may not have been a wholly accurate appraisal of the Portuguese’s situation at Madrid as this term has seen the former Chelsea and Inter boss both cheered and jeered at the Bernabeu, with many other fans preferring to keep quiet altogether when his name is announced on the tannoy.

There was no such silence on Tuesday, though. Nor negativity. Madrid fans realised that this was a night on which they needed to support their side fully – and they did just that. In fact, even though the final result was insufficient, pride was restored and many observers commented that the team had played an heroic match true to the club’s values. Not something heard too often when it comes to Mourinho’s Madrid.

On the whole, Mourinho’s spell in Spain has been successful. The Portuguese has claimed one Liga title, a Copa del Rey (with the possibility of a second to come) and a Spanish Supercopa, while closing the gap on the best-ever Barcelona side and also restoring Madrid to their rightful place among Europe’s elite.

Three successive semi-finals in the continent’s premier club competition may seem normal now, but Madrid had failed to make it beyond the last 16 in the six previous editions of the tournament and had not featured in the last four since 2003, when Vicente del Bosque was coach.

Having claimed the Champions League crown at the Bernabeu with Inter in 2010, however, Mourinho was expected to bring the trophy back to Madrid for the first time since 2002. Indeed, at his first press conference he spoke glowingly at the prospect of winning the competition with a third different team. Three years on, though, it has not quite happened. So where exactly did it go wrong?

Tuesday’s game highlighted the need to sign a new striker, something which Mourinho has failed to address in his entire time at the club. Had Gonzalo Higuain converted an excellent early chance, things may have been oh so different. Karim Benzema did impress with a goal and an assist after coming on, but his contribution is also far too erratic, while the Portuguese has also been unable to identify a right-back, another weak link in the side. With Alvaro Arbeloa injured, midfielder Michael Essien started there on Tuesday. And he did well, but Madrid can do better – particularly in a Champions League semi-final.

Player disputes, a prickly press relationship, problems with fans and confrontations with club colleagues have not helped Mourinho either and he does indeed seem less loved in Spain than at his other sides. Madrid are also a much more demanding club than any of his other teams; he is expected to win, win well and entertain too – so his brand of football was perhaps never going to please. None of those factors have helped in general terms, although none will have affected the team on Tuesday.

Coincidentally, Mourinho’s other two semi-final exits at Madrid came against the other two sides in the last four this time – Barcelona and Bayern. And the two ties against the Germans saw the Portuguese’s side away from home in the first leg.

Most players and coaches prefer to play at home in the second match. Not Mourinho. “I like to play at home in the first match,” he said after the 1-1 draw at the Bernabeu against Manchester United in the last 16 in February. “Then you know exactly what you need to do [in the second match] and there are no doubts.

Indeed, a look at some of Mourinho’s finest results in the Champions League knockout stages shows that many did come with the home leg played first. These include Porto’s win over Manchester United in 2004, Inter’s victories against Barcelona and Chelsea in 2010, and Madrid’s passage versus Sir Alex Ferguson’s side this term.

Looking at the three semi-final defeats, it seems to be in the first match where the doubts have crept in. Against Barca in 2010-11, the Portuguese picked Pepe as an enforcer in a three-man midfield and saw the plan (which had worked days earlier in the final of the Copa del Rey) backfire as the defender was sent off. The coach also received criticism from fans for his ultra-defensive formation in a home match (with little more than 30 per cent possession) and ended up losing 2-0 as Messi struck twice against 10 men late in the game. A much more positive Madrid drew the second match 1-1 at Camp Nou when Mourinho seemed to finally discover another way of playing the Catalan club.

A year later, he almost got away with it as Madrid came within a minute of sealing a 1-1 draw at the Allianz Arena, but a defensive lapse late in the game allowed Mario Gomez to hit a winner which would prove decisive. It was no less than Bayern had deserved, however, and Mourinho’s approach appeared overly cautious, albeit against a strong side. In the return, Real raced into a two-goal lead but were pegged back and eventually edged out on penalties.

Something similar occurred this season. The damage was not done on Tuesday, but last Wednesday in his side’s dismal display in Dortmund. Madrid lacked width and intensity in a sterile showing as Mourinho got it all wrong tactically with a virtually untried 4-1-4-1 formation in which the players looked anything but comfortable.

The result was the disastrous 4-1 defeat in Dortmund and, ultimately, it proved to be an insurmountable scoreline on Tuesday. As in the previous two semi-finals, Mourinho’s men came out and attacked in the second leg, yet it was a conservative approach in the first match which has arguably cost his Madrid team from making it all the way to the final over the last three years.

Had he been more proactive in his approach instead of just reactive after the first matches, Madrid may have had their Decima by now – and Mourinho his Tercera. As it is, both will have to wait.

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