They have been labelled the world’s best team by managers and players the world over. Sir Alex Ferguson has called them the best he has ever faced. Spanish football expert Graham Hunter has even declared them the greatest side in all history.
The champagne football Barcelona have so brilliantly espoused has been coming for some time now, ever since Ronaldinho’s brilliance bewitched onlookers at the Camp Nou. But, it was under the tutelage of Pep Guardiola that they broke new ground and reached new heights. He made a great team even better. They became mesmerisingly perfect as the trophies poured in. By the end of his four-year tenure, Guardiola had amassed 14 titles in total – an astonishing figure that has made him a God-like figure in the streets of Catalunya.
However, for all his greatness and for all his unsurpassed achievements, it does seem a little unfair that it was he who collected the 2011-12 LFP Coach of the Year award this week. Not that his award was completely unwarranted, after all he did lead his side to the Copa del Rey, FIFA World Club Cup, UEFA Super Cup and the Spanish Super Cup. Yet, for just one year the award should have gone to a certain someone in the country’s capital.
Fresh from Champions League success with Inter, Jose Mourinho was brought to Real Madrid in the summer of 2010 and given one principle task - to knock Barcelona off their perch and reassert the capital giants as Spain’s supreme team.
It all started horribly wrong for the Special One. A 5-0 drubbing in Barcelona just four months into his reign and the size of his task was made abundantly clear. By the end of his first season, the Blaugrana won their fourth European crown and their 21st La Liga title. They were at the peak of their powers and eclipsing them was going to take something special.
But, Mourinho eventually delivered. He won La Liga in his second term – something he has a knack for – and he brought an end to Barcelona’s three-year domestic dominance. There were a number of key moments that helped swing the balance of power back to the centre of the country, but, there was one that stood out as the real turning point. After 10 winless encounters against the Catalans since becoming Madrid boss, Mourinho led his side to a fine and deserved 2-1 win at Camp Nou. The capital club may not have dominated possession, but, Barcelona were clearly rattled by Los Blancos’ determined display as they seized control of the match and ultimately wrestled back domestic supremacy.
They did it mostly in some style, too. Often criticised for his team’s apparent lack of attacking flair, Mourinho’s Real scored 121 goals in the season – a La Liga record. They also finished with the best goal difference ever recorded – plus 89 – along with accumulating the highest ever points total – 100. Their 16 wins and the 50 points they collected on their travels were both new benchmarks while they managed to score three goals or more in 20 of their 38 matches – another record.
The LFP Coach of the Year is voted for by active players from the first two Divisions in Spain. In one way, it is hard to argue with professionals as to just who was most deserving, Guardiola or Mourinho, for surely they would know better than most. But, considering how Real Madrid fairly and squarely beat the great Barcelona to the number one domestic prize last term, Mourinho perhaps deserved the accolade this time around.
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