It was the move of a drunk and desperate gambler at the end of a long night at the blackjack table. With all hope almost eliminated following’s last weekend’s 2-2 draw at home to Espanyol, Mourinho went all in.
His personal feud with a number of Spain’s World Cup winners has been a destabilising factor for a while, but until now the most public evidence had been the Portuguese’s decision to drop Sergio Ramos for the Champions League clash with Manchester City in September. A massive call at the time Mourinho got away with it thanks to two late goals that turned a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 victory, but on Saturday night he went one further.
Ramos has become a cherished figure at the Bernabeu as he has blossomed from a wild but talented kid that arrived from Sevilla into one of the world’s best defenders, but no one is more dearly beloved by Madridistas than “San” Iker Casillas. Their praise of him is often overexuberant, many simply refer to him as the “best keeper in the world” – as indeed did Marca’s front page on Sunday morning. And although there have been faults in his game over the past few years, his presence is more important than simply defending the Real Madrid goal.
For Casillas is and defends what most Madrid traditionalists see as their club. Although fiercely competitive and highly talented, there is still a grace in defeat, a confidence that never strays into full blown arrogance. When Real and Barcelona most fiercely locked horns in the four Clasicos in 18 days that decided the League, Copa del Rey and Champions League in April 2011, it was Casillas who reached out to Xavi and Carles Puyol to smooth things over and ensure harmony within the Spanish national team wouldn’t be harmed.
In a response that summed up both men, Mourinho responded by dropping him Santiago Bernabeu Trophy, a friendly that usually provides the curtain raiser to the season. By doing so again now the former Chelsea boss was preparing his own guillotine.
The fact the champions went onto lose 3-2 to Malaga with Casillas’ replacement Adan possibly at fault for the Andalusians’ third goal was almost irrelevant. The title was already gone – although catching Atleti in second place could now be a genuine struggle – but it gives those in the Spanish capital that are fed up with Mourinho’s posturing complete free reign to lambast his handling of what is now a broken dressing room.
Afterwards Mourinho was his usual defiant self, “I don’t plan to resign and I don’t fear for my position.” However, questions are now being asked as to whether the only way to keep their quest for La Decima in the New Year on track is to bring in a new man at the top and wash away the ill- feeling between certain senior members of the squad and the management.
It is a path the club knows well. They claimed their eighth European crown in 2000 after replacing John Toshack with Vicente del Bosque midway through the season and could even be encouraged by what took place at Chelsea in the spring of this year.
Whether Florentino Perez will be brave enough to take the financial hit and personal embarrassment of firing the man he has so publicly backed remains to be seen. The smallest of mercies for all involved at the club being they have at least a couple of months to sort themselves out before having to face up to Manchester United in the last 16.
Indeed 16 is the number that will haunt Madridistas over the Christmas and New Year period as Barcelona’s charge towards the title showed no signs of letting up despite the moral sapping news they received about Tito Vilanova’s health in the week. The Catalans gave their coach the best get- well gift of all by beating Valladolid 3-1 thanks to goals from Xavi, Cristian Tello and Lionel Messi who disgraced himself by only scoring the once for the first time in La Liga this season.
Atletico continued as they closest challengers to Barca with the 90 minutes that most summed up the club before and after Diego Simeone took charge. Almost a year to the day since the Argentine arrived Atleti barely even reached third gear but instead of wilting as they would have done in the past, they ground out a 1-0 win thanks to a rare moment of quality from Adrian just over 10 minutes from time.
And at the bottom there was Christmas cheer for Espanyol, Granada and Mallorca as having not managed a win between them for the previous five weeks all were successful this weekend to leave Deportivo rooted to the bottom and bring Osasuna and Celta Vigo right back into the relegation dogfight.