This article first appeared in Football.com
The combination of Jose Mourinho and a microphone has always had a Pavlovian effect on journalists.
His press conferences and interviews have provoked ink to spill, newspapers to sell, and given reporters and pundits alike, something to opine about in moments of lesser inspiration.
Simply put, Mou’s relationship with the media has proved a fruitful one, both for himself and those who document his every word.
During his Chelsea days, the self-proclaimed “Special One” enjoyed a particularly congenial relationship with the media, very often turning press conferences into spectacles by doing anything from delivering now infamous one-liners (“I think [Wenger] is one of these people who is a voyeur”), to waxing philosophical about any given topic.
Their harmonious coexistence persisted largely as a result of its symbiotic nature. Mourinho supplied the antics – which provided endless journalistic fodder – and in turn, the media avoided ruffling his feathers, focusing instead on fueling the feuds between the Portuguese and other Premiership managers. It was a loyalty clause of sorts.
In all fairness, there was little else the media could do.
Under Mourinho’s management, Chelsea had become an insular club, adopting an “us against the world” attitude that not only drove the team to unprecedented success, but also fostered the sort of team chemistry that is rarely found in the world of sports.
That attitude hinged upon a simple rule: team matters would remain private. Players were never to air dirty laundry, and in return Mourinho would take on any and all criticism directed at the team. The Portuguese became a father figure, and all that he demanded was unabated loyalty.
On the very few occasions that the rule was broken, Mourinho acted swiftly and ruthlessly. An unhappy William Gallas was quickly offloaded when he complained to reporters that he was playing out of position. And Ricardo Carvalho, who had followed Mourinho to Chelsea from FC Porto, was publicly lambasted for suggesting that he shouldn’t have been relegated to the bench.
Mou’s draconian measures worked at Chelsea because most of his players – especially his captains – bought into his system, and prompt repercussions were accepted as a necessity in order to prevent any mutinous behavior from festering.
The same was true at Inter Milan.
Mourinho was quick to instill the Nerazzurri with the mentality that was so successful in London, and used players like Marco Materazzi and Wesley Sneijder to implement his philosophy in the dressing room and on the pitch. Materazzi was particularly affected by Mourinho, and took it upon himself to discipline a teenage Mario Balotelli when the latter failed to celebrate Inter’s 3-1 win over Barcelona in the Champions League semifinals. And of course, who can forget the tearful embrace between Materazzi and his mentor?
Unfortunately, Mourinho’s strategy has not been very effective in Madrid, with loyalty having been hard to come by.
Mourinho’s incumbency has been afflicted by a number of issues; ironically, though, the biggest challenges have found their roots in those areas that the Portuguese used to his advantage in his previous two clubs.
Unlike in England, the Portuguese’s relationship with the Spanish media was difficult from the get-go, and has only become more strained over time.
Ostensibly, the problems began when Real Madrid’s beat writers published articles exposing Mourinho’s antagonistic relationship with then Sporting Director, Jorge Valdano. The relationship between the two was never expected to work given Mou’s desire for total control over his team’s affairs, and Valdano’s influence over Florentino Perez. Yet, the manager accused the media of exaggerating the conflict, and in true Mourinho style, reciprocated by sending his assistant, Aitor Karanka, to do many of Real’s post match press conferences.
The move only served to sour the relationship; nevertheless, it was only when leaks of player dissatisfaction started to surface, that hostility levels reached an all time high.
According to some sources, players were splitting into various camps, with the most notable division being between the old Madridista guard and its acolytes (led by Iker Casillas and Sergio Ramos), and the Portuguese contingent. Reportedly, Casillas and co. were disgruntled about the defensive tactics used by Mourinho in the Clasicos, as well as Pepe’s dirty plays (the media had already crucified the Portuguese defender, prompting Mourinho to come to his defense).
The schism was a new development in Mourinho’s career, highlighting his inability to create his typical cohesive units, and more importantly, underscoring the fact that Real’s players were loyal to their own causes, and not to his philosophy.
Further inflaming the split was the accusation that Sara Carbonero – Casillas’ journalist girlfriend – was the source of the original leak. If that was indeed the case, Casillas was obviously violating Mou’s cardinal rule by exposing private matters.
Mourinho’s reaction was to bench Casillas, and start the little used Antonio Adan. The measure was clearly unjustifiable, and the media was mercilessly critical. However, a freak accident saw Casillas break his hand, sidelining the captain for over a month, and serendipitously giving Mourinho the perfect opportunity to find his long-term replacement, which came in the form of Diego Lopez.
For a while, Casillas’ injury all but silenced media rumblings, but his recent return to fitness rekindled the claims that Mourinho was unfairly marginalizing the goalkeeper, as part of his vendetta. With the approaching Champions League semifinals, Real Madrid’s press conferences became less about the games, and more about the seemingly inexhaustible quarrel between the manager and the captain.
Possibly, in light of his much publicized reuniting with Chelsea, as well as an attempt to squash the subject altogether, Mourinho stated that he had made a mistake in not having signed Lopez earlier; or as everyone interpreted it: Lopez is better than Casillas.
Unexpectedly, it was Pepe, once the media’s favorite villain that came out in defense of Casillas, calling him an institution. Additionally, the defender reprimanded Mourinho for being out of line.
Pepe’s stunt could only be viewed as the ultimate act of betrayal. Here was the player that Mourinho defended countless times, often unjustifiably, turning on his protector. To make matters worse, he was doing so by catering to a frenzied media, eager to deride the Special One.
Last week, not to be outdone, Mourinho finally set the record straight. Well, at least insofar as the Portuguese saw it.
Looking more comfortable than he’s been for a while, Mourinho dispensed his wisdom. Diego Lopez would continue in goal because he’s “a better goalkeeper than Iker Casillas.” And Pepe? “His problem has a name: Raphael Varane. It’s not easy for a man of 31 years, with status and history, to be trampled over by a kid of 19.”
Cold and calculated, Mourinho delivered what he felt was just retribution for his players’ disloyalty. Moreover, he reminded everyone that he’d leave Real on his own terms, regardless of whether his goals were achieved or not.
It must be noted that in all this upheaval, the media never suffered. The ink is still running.