When is a knee slide appropriate form from a Coach? What is the vital ingredient that sparks off, but also merits, that adrenaline-fuelled fall to the grass right at the death? Of course there is the suspense, the drama, and the sense of epic, but ultimately it is success and glory.
Can the first match in a six-game European group phase really warrant such a theatrical response to a late winning goal? Coming after the Champions League tie between Real Madrid and Manchester City, the question follows the answer – or, at least, Jose Mourinho’s answer. Because the sight of Mourinho on his knees, brilliantly captured by one photographer in the foreground with Cristiano Ronaldo also sliding on his knees in the background, has covered today’s front pages and filled introductory paragraphs across the media.
The match certainly offered the requisite levels of suspense, drama and tension to deserve the elation at the final whistle. Real Madrid discharged their arsenal at Joe Hart in the Manchester City goal with Cristiano Ronaldo and Gonzalo Higuain coming closest to scoring, while the home side found the Manchester club short of a reply. Yet despite dominating play, they found themselves 2-1 down with just three minutes remaining, forcing a resilient response from the Real Madrid players.
And given how the Spanish champions had performed against their English counterparts, not to mention the decision to drop Sergio Ramos and Mesut Ozil for Raphael Varane and Michael Essien from the starting line-up, there was even a sense of vindication in the final result for Mourinho. It was a risk that had paid off. Yet was there really the glory and the sense achievement?
The 3-2 win was, arguably, more a leap – than a step – in the right direction in terms of qualifying for the knockout phase from a group containing Borussia Dortmund and Ajax, but we are still just in September, some eight months away from the competition’s final.
For Mourinho, though, there was far more riding on this performance, and result, than just the three points. After a poor League start, including two defeats in four games when last season Real Madrid were beaten just twice all campaign, Mourinho had been severe with his comments about the team after last weekend’s defeat at the hands of Sevilla. He had complained about the players’ performance, stating he would have taken seven of them off at half-time if he had had the chance. Dropping Ramos and Ozil for a match of this importance in the competition where Real Madrid once again go in search of the ‘decima’ was a clear message.
Against City, Real won back their DNA, according to Mourinho. They had shown character. The team had done what he expected of them. To boot, his star player, whose comments about his own state of mind had caused a whirlwind, hit the winner. “I have my team back,” said Mourinho. “I hope it doesn’t disappear.” He will soon discover whether he can find the same response from his players in perfunctory League outings as in big European nights at the Bernabeu.
It is hard to believe that the Coach himself rates this win as highly as when he danced down the touchline at Old Trafford as Porto Coach, or when he dropped to his knees at the Camp Nou as Chelsea boss. Whether it proves to be such a pivotal match as this early stage of the season to warrant a knee slide, not even he knows.