I’m hesitant to do this because I generally quite like Gab Marcotti, but he was very wide of the mark on his assessment of Jose Mourinho’s time at Real Madrid. After he lists Mourinho’s resume at Madrid—which, it should be said, for any other manager and any other club, would be extraordinary—he reaches this odd conclusion:

For an average manager, those aren’t horrible results. But Mourinho isn’t Joe tracksuit-and-clipboard (or, these days, sponsored fleece-and-iPad). He is the highest-paid coach in a major European league. Real Madrid paid more than $16 million in compensation just to free him from his Inter Milan contract. They expected him to be a difference-maker.

This is the crux of Marcotti’s argument—that because Mourinho was paid a lot of money by Madrid and had a lot of good players including Ronaldo, he should have done better against an historically brilliant Barcelona side with one of the greatest ever footballers and possibly the best midfield in the last three decades, if not longer. He also says Mourinho failed because he had a “siege mentality” and he didn’t have a clearly delineated tactical legacy for pseuds to fawn over for years after.

Some brief context. Jose Mourinho’s win percentage at Real Madrid is the third highest in Real Madrid history, at 72.67%. This is an accomplishment of which Marcotti states, “For an average manager, those aren’t horrible results.” Despite the lame attempt to compare Mourinho to the manager with the second highest win percentage—Manuel Pelligrini, who managed Madrid the season before Mourinho’s arrival—that record involved a mere 48 matches compared to Mourinho’s 172. Moreover, Pelligrini exited the round of 16 tie in the Champions League against Lyon, and went out in the round of 32 stage in the Copa del Rey against AD Alcorcón. Mourinho by contrast reached the Champions League semis three times and won the Copa del Rey once.

If you don’t think that European record is impressive, as Ravi Rameneni pointed out to me on Twitter:

Which makes Mourinho’s achievement in Europe all the more incredible. As to Marcotti’s point about the lack of stiff competition Real Madrid faced in their Champions League campaigns under Jose, it might be prudent to check Real Madrid’s CL competition in 1997-98, or their group stage competition in 1999-2000 or 2001-02.

As for Marcotti’s words about club “brand” and “image” and whether Mourinho’s tactical approach stands out—Mourinho was brought in in part because the club understood that merely assembling a group of stars in the hopes of perpetual glory wasn’t going to work against a Barcelona side that had been steeped in Cruyff’s Dutch vision for three plus decades. They needed a manager who could win in spite of an organization that still believed the rules of the late 1950s—assemble a star squad and watch the trophies roll in—wasn’t going to work against Barca. That was always the deal with Mourinho. He did all he could to keep his side of the bargain, and it was never going to be enough.

Sad that the supporters didn’t know it, nor the press. Because as long as Barca has a few good years left, the futility will continue no matter who ends up in the dugout.

Here’s the Storify’d version of the online debate that followed this article:

Comments (17)

  1. This reminds me of the Dean Smith debate at North Carolina before he won the NCAA Championship – Mou was a goal away from advancing over Dortmund this year and a goal away from advancing over Munich last year. Would reaching the final have been enough to make his win percentage look better?

    Real Madrid has a world class center back in Sergio Ramos, world class winger in Ronaldo, and world class midfielder in Xabi Alonso. The rest of the team performs in fits and starts. How he won La Liga last year with that roster is a miracle.

    • YES.

    • You can complain about the fits and starts of the mere mortals he was saddled with, but it’s Mourinho’s task to get the right people at the club. He did not. You also fail to mention that Mourinho also has a world class Goalkeeper at his disposal that he decided to exile. That “goal away from greatness…” argument suddenly looks more like an indictment than a defence when egos get in the way of success.

      On the topic of thin margins…

      If you want to talk about the thin margins that denied Mourinho greater success, you need to look at the ones that got him where he is.

      Mourinho was a wrongly disallowed goal away from falling into Portuguese obscurity instead of winning a CL with Porto. If memory serves, Porto also got nailed in a match fixing scandal that year. If not for the extra-fortunate Porto success, there is no move to Chelsea, no Abramobucks, no anything else.

      Marcotti, Delaney and Honingstein disagree with you for a reason. They’re right; he should have done more.


      • Your hate for FC Porto is humorous. You and your Manu colleagues regurgitate the same old crap. Porto were the better squad over those two games back in 2004. Swallow it.

        • It’s nothing about hate for Porto, it’s an illustration that thin margins go both ways: you can’t hide behind them when they work for you and ignore them when they don’t.

          Better over both legs? that’s disputable. Not offside? Match fixing? Evidence is insurmountable.


  2. A valid defense of Mou. He doesn’t deserve to be shellacked for failing to topple Barca during what may be the most dominant club period in recent history.

    HOWEVER… Trophies. Particularly of the European variety. That is what Real really wanted, and what Mou could not deliver.

    A failure? Perhaps not completely. A success? Surely not entirely.

  3. Sometimes, you just come around at the wrong time. That’s about the size of it.

  4. Last season when he beat Barca, people called it a one off…even though they topped with 100 + points if I am not mistaken. people were quick to let it pass as a failure on Barcas part rather than a achievment for RM. 1st season he won the league cup equivalent to England, then the LaLiga. Ofcourse he was bought for european glory, but its CL football, sometimes you need less of stars and egos in the dressing room and other fringe or different players that would do the ‘dirty’ work and not be talked about to win the CL.

    The problem is that when he was trying to put his stamp on the team, you had players like Iker and Ramos who were creating havoc. That was bound to happen specially when Iker is RM like Raul was not too long ago and even though its destructive in the dressing room the media, club owners, presidents and who have you and fans dont get it…they only here their side of the story. Still dont know the entire truth of the whole story but when he did want to put his stamp on the team he wasnt allowed to and there was a lot of negative press around it

  5. If he won another La Liga his important trophy haul would’ve been the same as his time at Chelsea. Chelsea fans seem to remember him fondly.

    The only other team that’s made 3 straight CL semis during the same period was Barca. He did very well considering how far back of Barca Real appeared to be when he first arrived.

    • Chelsea hadn’t won the league in 50 years before he came along. Apples and oranges. Massive apples, and very tiny oranges.

  6. Really though said it best “A failure? Perhaps not completely. A success? Surely not entirely.”

    I would say Mourinho’s time thus far has been more positive than negative. The only barometer I can truly use to gauge is results against Barca (that’s mostly because the UCL is damn hard to win no matter how much money or talent you have). He took a team that was consistently getting embarrassed by their bitter rival and found the recipe to defeat them with consistency. Obviously Madridistas want la Decima, but it won’t happen until there is pure harmony among the squad and the manager. Mourinho didn’t do himself any favors this year, but the players weren’t angels either.

    Also having said all this, I hope everyone starts judging Pep by this UCL standard. I can’t see him being considered a “success’ at Bayern without winning at least one European trophy.

    • Luigi,

      Do you even bother to look up facts? OMG, gotta love internet discussion boards.

      “He took a team that was consistently getting embarrassed by their bitter rival and found the recipe to defeat them with consistency”

      Mourinho’s Madrid vs Barca in 21 games: 5W – 6L-6D

      Show me where he “defeated them with consistency”

  7. Just for some perspective.
    Jose Mourinho at Real (started in 2010)
    1 La Liga title (set records for most wins, points, goals, best goal difference)
    1 Copa Del Rey title
    0 Champions League cups

    Sir Alex Ferguson since 2010
    2 Premier League titles
    0 FA Cups
    0 Champions League cups

    In the Champions League in that span, Real finished more than 1 round ahead of United twice, and one round behind United (both lost to Barca that year) once.

    Nobody is calling Ferguson a failure (and neither am I).

  8. Luigi,

    Do you even bother to look up facts? OMG, gotta love internet discussion boards.

    “He took a team that was consistently getting embarrassed by their bitter rival and found the recipe to defeat them with consistency”

    Mourinho’s Madrid vs Barca in 21 games: 5W – 6L-6D

    Show me where he “defeated them with consistency”

  9. During Mou’s Madrid reign, he accomplished:

    1 domestic title and 2 Copa Del Reys

    While Barca won:

    1 CL, 2 Domestic titles and 1 Copa Del Rey.

    And beat Barca 5 out 21 tries. How in the world can anybody NOT consider this a failure?

  10. Gaby marcoti is a childish commentator and lack the audacity to criticize Jose mourihno , I remember h never liked him while in Italy and has always being th kind that sees nothing good in Jose , imao he lacks that will to be objective and a good communicator who should be less biased in important issues . In all he has betrayed his disdain by Jose by such commentary . Happy that we still have serious writers like Richard Wittal that give straight genuine and humane analysis of issues

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