This calendar year marked both the highest point of this season and the most disappointing for Jose Mourinho in his career with Real Madrid. The 5-0 loss at Barcelona at the very start of his spell with Madrid has been pushed to the back of the mind, while the three Clasico wins across the Copa del Rey and league earlier in the year added greater weight to the title-clinching victory at the Camp Nou last season; it wasn’t just a one-off.
Yet it’s been a season of greater disappointment, even taking aside that argument that he’s somewhat overcome the storm he himself created during the season with his clashes against almost anyone in the team. Mourinho’s final season at Madrid won’t be marked by the Champions League and his third with three different clubs. Forgetting for a moment the league title and potentially a second Copa del Rey trophy later this month, many will look back at a time of failure.
It was worth looking at how ineffective Mourinho’s Madrid was against Borussia Dortmund at the Bernabeu. Gonzalo Higuain failed to back up his claim that he was deserving of more playing time. When Karim Benzema arrived onto the scene, he did very little for much of the time he was on the pitch before adding the first goal late on. Is it worth highlighting Cristiano Ronaldo? It was one of his worst games in recent memory.
The positives to take from this season are the wins over Barcelona and Manchester United. On a slightly smaller scale, the 5-0 thrashing of Valencia was by far the most impressive and entertaining performance Madrid has put forward in the entire campaign.
But it’s too small and evidently not enough. The derby matches with Atletico were highly anticipated and yet both passed by with many describing them as some of the most awful showings all season. It was more theatrics than football. It did nothing to highlight how good Atletico has been or how good Real Madrid can be. The only constant to take from it is that once again Real came out on top.
So ahead of a possible return to Chelsea this summer, should there be concern?
Jurgen Klopp and his Borussia Dortmund got the better of Mourinho in typically Mourinho fashion. That’s both on the pitch and in the press room. Even the Portuguese manager himself opted against the moniker “The Special One” this season and introduced a variation. Maybe he isn’t that special anymore. How can a largely unchanged Madrid side go from conquering La Liga last year to battling for second place with their city rivals? Let’s not ignore the fact that football moves in cycles. The dominance of the two German sides over the big two in Spain in European competition is more than enough evidence of that.
But Mourinho hasn’t become a bad manager overnight. In fact, there would be very few clubs in Europe who would say no to the opportunity of appointing him as manager. But should Chelsea – provided he ends up there – prepare for the possibility that success might not come as quickly as it did the first time around?
The current Real Madrid side need something new in a number of positions. Both strikers have been nowhere near to reaching the heights of last season. Angel Di Maria is one of the most frustrating players to watch in the current side. Mourinho tried to force a rise from some of the players, challenging Iker Casillas and Mesut Ozil. In league play, their wins have lacked the magic that drove them towards the title. It was that of a team so regularly described as a juggernaut. Now, it’s a little tame and more susceptible to damage either through counterattacks or aerial battles.
So what’s changed, and again how does a defending champion go from last season to this?
The media haven’t taken to Mourinho in the same way the English did. Obviously that’s an understatement. Whatever was happening on the pitch was ignored for the most part with the hysteria surrounding Casillas’ benching.
These are world-class players, with many becoming passengers for the majority of the season. Mourinho’s management has to be questioned, although predominately for this season.
Before Mourinho arrived at Madrid, the club were failing to advance past the last-16 stage of the Champions League. Mourinho has offered them three consecutive semifinal appearances. You don’t get a trophy for it, but it is a massive step forward. Who else could have wrestled the league title away from Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona? On that front, Mourinho was a success.
But that was in the past and this is moving into the future. It could simply be that Real Madrid and Jose Mourinho were never a match for one another. It could be that he is battling personal demons that stretch far beyond the need for trophies. He was never welcomed by the press in Spain. No matter how good you are, that’s an attack that can sting even the best. Chelsea could offer Mourinho a reawakening. Yet for now, the doubts are quite prominent. In the eyes of many, he failed to achieve what was required of him in Spain.