It’s been too long since Jose Mourinho rubbed anything in well. The last really memorable occasion being when he did so literally, using Tito Vilanova’s eye as a squidgy prop. In this sense, Tuesday night’s slide across the Bernebeau pitch was a welcome return to form: a reminder that the old magic is still there when he wants it to be.
In the end, it took adversity to bring it out of him. Behind 2-1 to a Manchester City team in which Gareth Barry’s selection remains a given, his Real Madrid team was halfway to crisis: combining poor league form with a slow start in a difficult Champions League group is enough to do that even at slightly less insane clubs. But it was personal too: Mourinho doesn’t do failure, and he definitely doesn’t do losing to Roberto ‘why am I using a back three?’ Mancini. When Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo reversed the result and staved off the calls for his head, Mourinho brought out the inverse Matrix.
If you watch it, it’s a thing of beauty. First his eyes bulge as he jolts forward off the bench, seeing that Ronaldo has cut inside past Pablo Zabaleta, then ,as the shot moves past Joe Hart. He bursts out of the dugout, before lunging at the pitch and onto his knees, pumping his fists and raising a finger. He fits more gracelessness into one, seamless slide onto a football pitch than most nude pitch invaders achieve in a whole career. It is utterly fantastic.
And more to the point, it’s a relief. Real Madrid’s a tough job, even for a managerial genius like Mourinho, and despite the title win last season there’d been reason to worry. He was winning—of course he was—but watching him do it wasn’t as fun as it has been. In England, he’d riled Alex Ferguson and had old school tabloid journalists eating out of his hands with ‘Special One’ this and ’Special One’ that. In Italy, he’d made everyone hate him, which was really enjoyable. But in Spain he got fat. Not properly fat, just enough that the moobs began to show. And he went a bit quiet. And suddenly he was older.
Tuesday night wasn’t just ace, it needed to happen. The world needed proof that the Messiah hadn’t left the building, replaced by an older cousin who was still quite a good football manager and it came.
That’s not all though. Look who it came against. Look, and realise that it couldn’t have happened to a more deserving opponent. It happened to Roberto Mancini, the manager who spent his summer insulting Everton (officially the club least deserving of insult) and explaining why the billion pounds invested in his side so far was not enough to satisfy him. It happened to one of the nastiest losers in the game. The petulant whiner in a scarf was forced to watch on as the master took off. This was a man getting what he deserved: a taste of his own medicine from the only manager who can really pull off acting nasty. Not that Mourinho had any of that in mind – he provokes instinctively. You don’t calculate something that good.
Fans of The Moussiah can only hope that he’s come back to stay, but it’s unlikely. Whatever he says about being as desperate to win as ever, it must be difficult for him to care as much as he did when he started out, now that he’s won everything with everyone. It’s no coincidence that this wicked celebration came in the Champions League, the only trophy he hasn’t yet returned to Real’s collection—in La Liga, his long term wilting will be more difficult to counter, you’d imagine.
Still, even if the decline into middle age is terminal, at least we can add another great moment to the list. There was running down the touchline at Old Trafford with Porto, putting his finger to his lips to shush Liverpool fans in the Carling Cup final, becoming the first person to put one over on Ol’ Pep, fingering Villanova for a crime he didn’t commit, and now there’s this: demonstrating how to be a proper arsehole to that pretender, Bobby Mancini.
Damien Duff’s 100 Caps
Numbers are important. Damien Duff’s 100 caps for the Republic of Ireland was put into doubt this week after the validity of one of the games he played was put into doubt. Supposedly one of the officials in Ireland’s game against Hungary wasn’t as official as the name suggests. Ireland have said that he can keep the cap, because he “deserves it”, but err, would that satisfy you?
Saying: “Yes, you didn’t play 100 official games, but you deserve to have done it, so we’ll say you did,” doesn’t really work when the entire emphasis of the celebration is on the number itself. The lesson is: don’t leave it on 100; do 101, just in case. You’re welcome, Damien.