WHENEVER Jose Mourinho appears in the cartoon on the back page of Barcelona-based daily football paper Sport, the artist depicts him looking out from the corner of the drawing wearing a straitjacket. It is an image that his critics say he is starting to live up to.
When he arrived at Real Madrid a year ago there was a genuine fear among Barca supporters that it would spell the end of their domination - but that loathing respect has given way to mocking humour.
There is unlikely to be any action taken against him for his behaviour in the Spanish Super Cup second leg. President of the competition committee Alfredo Flores will only act if Barcelona make a complaint and, aware that they were not innocent bystanders, that seems unlikely.
So he will be free to start his second season in the dug-out but he begins this campaign with many in the Spanish capital wondering if all the disciplinary baggage is really worth it. “The images will speak for themselves,” said Pep Guardiola after the game and sure enough the stills of Mourinho, at best pinching the cheek of Tito Vilanova, at worst poking Barcelona’s assistant coach in the eye, were damning.
In his defence the “clasico” is a fixture whose history is littered with unsavoury incidents and bad feeling. And the noble traditions that Mourinho is often accused by the club’s elder statesmen of betraying are somewhat exaggerated anyway. But it isn’t just what Mourinho does; more the way that he does it that begs the question: has he gone too far?
The aggression towards Vilanova came from behind - it was more childishly devious than bravely confrontational. Afterwards there was no apology and he said he did not know Vilanova’s name referring to him as “Pito” instead of Tito.
“Maybe he really doesn’t know my No 2’s name,” said Guardiola. But it’s hard to imagine Mourinho’s encyclopaedic knowledge of all his rivals does not stretch to the assistant manager of the Spanish champions.
The response sat uncomfortably alongside another snapshot captured by Spanish television of Mourinho appearing to make the gesture of waving away a bad smell when he was in the proximity of Dani Alves and Leo Messi during another second-half mIlEe on the touchline.
The theatrics that were once heroic - the celebratory slide on his knees at the Nou Camp as Chelsea coach or the charging down the touchline at Old Trafford as Porto manager have been replaced by exaggerated gestures of someone who knows he is the centre of attention.
Last season he communicated to his players in the final stages of a Champions League group game against Ajax that both Xabi Alonso and Sergio Ramos should deliberately pick up yellow cards so as to clear their suspensions.
It was typical of Mourinho’s attention to detail and forward planning but the masterplan was executed with such slapstick - Mourinho briefing substitute goalkeeper Jerzy Dudek who then ran around to behind the goal to tell goalkeeper Iker Casillas who in turn told Sergio Ramos to get booked - that Uefa punished the club and what should have been some clever rule bending became an embarrassment.
Real Madrid were in trouble with Uefa again after the Champions League semi-final first leg last season when Mourinho’s “Why? Why? Why?” diatribe which suggested European football’s governing body helped Barcelona progress in the Champions League, courtesy of poor refereeing, landed him a three-match ban.
Winning is the overriding priority at Madrid - more than at Barcelona where defeat can always be sweetened by gaining full marks for artistic impression - but Real’s supporters also require their team to lose with dignity.
Real did not stay on the pitch at the end to see Barcelona lift the trophy in midweek as BarAa had done for them last season when Madrid won the Spanish Cup. They claim that they had been advised to leave by Barcelona security.
There was no apology for the finger in the eye afterwards from Mourinho just that disrespectful “who are you anyway?” And he also suggested that Barcelona had deliberately delayed getting the ball back into play - what he called a typical small-team mentality tactic.
“He is ruining Spanish football,” said Gerard Pique - a reference more to the wedge being driven through the Spain squad by such bad feeling created between Real and BarAa players than Mourinho’s overall impact on an ever-more fascinating if brutally two-sided competition.
Of more long-term concern to Mourinho could be the damage to his own career. The Manchester United job might once have been his to turn down but will such a famous old institution want to be linked with a coach who dragged Madrid through the mire in an everything-goes pursuit of major honours?
His team do look closer to toppling Barcelona than they did last season and landing the League or the Champions League will seem him further indulged by his president and by his players who have fully supported him so far.
It was the once mild-mannered Marcelo who lunged two-footed at Cesc Fabregas and it was Iker Casillas who suggested afterwards that his Spain international team-mate probably made the most of the challenge. Two examples of players who have almost altered personalities to fit the Mourinho mould.
That loyalty will only crack if the season’s target of improving on the last campaign and therefore reaching the Champions League final or winning the League are not met.
In the event of failure there are certain sections of the media already poised to orchestrate a coup on the grounds that Mourinho is a stain on the image of the club who hired him - despite knowing from the start he didn’t care for the club’s image so long as it was a winning one.
Earlier this week daily newspaper El Pais ran a story describing the scene inside the dressing room after last season’s 1-1 league draw with Barcelona. A mole Mourinho has been desperate to identify describes the coach throwing a can of energy drink at the wall and dropping to one knee sobbing that he had been betrayed by his players because a television channel got wind of his team selection.
There is a willingness to portray him as power mad in Madrid, and just plain mad in Barcelona. When he behaves as he did in the early hours of Thursday morning he makes the job of his detractors on both sides much easier.
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