Florentino Perez’s decision to hire Jose Mourinho to coach his beloved Real Madrid in 2010 was the fruit of the construction magnate’s obsession with winning the 10th European crown that has eluded the club since 2002.
The bespectacled 66-year-old, who has splurged more than 400 million euros (US$515.1 million) of the club’s money on players since returning to the presidency in 2009, was also desperate to end the domestic and European domination of Real’s bitter rivals Barcelona.
With his repeated references to Mourinho being “the best coach in the world” during the controversial Portuguese’s presentation, it seemed that Perez, who is up for re-election this year, was digging himself a hole — and so it proved.
Mourinho’s departure three years before his contract ends comes at the end of a trophy-less season he himself labeled a “disaster” and concludes a reign marked by division, conflict and controversy.
The self-proclaimed “special one’s” major trophy haul of one La Liga title last year — with a record points tally — and a Copa del Rey the previous year is poor, given the immense resources at his disposal.
However, as Mourinho appears poised to return to Chelsea, it is not just the lack of success on the pitch that his successor — Paris Saint-Germain’s Italian manager Carlo Ancelotti is widely tipped to take over — will need to reverse.
They will inherit a squad reeling from the painful failure of their latest La Liga, Champions League and domestic Copa campaigns.
One of the first tasks will be to reintegrate players like goalkeeper and captain Iker Casillas and defender Pepe, who clashed with Mourinho and were sidelined, while attempting to prevent talent from jumping ship. The club’s demanding fans, who want entertaining soccer as well as titles, will need to be placated.
Mourinho was being whistled by sections of the Santiago Bernabeu long before he benched club hero Casillas and his style of play did not sit well with many supporters.
While Mourinho’s Real sides could be devastating on the counter-attack, with Cristiano Ronaldo, Mesut Ozil and Angel Di Maria surging forward at breathtaking speed, he was often accused of using negative tactics, particularly when the team were defending a lead.
A typical example was Friday’s bitter Copa del Rey final defeat to Atletico Madrid.
After going 1-0 up, Real sat back instead of pushing for a second goal that might have killed off their city rivals and Atletico forced their way back into the game, going on to win 2-1 for their first success against Real in 14 years.
The damage Mourinho has inflicted on the image of a club that likes to see itself as a gentlemanly institution, magnanimous in victory and defeat, will also have to be addressed, marketing experts say.
Perez appointed Mourinho “sporting manager” as well as first-team coach, an unusual step for a club in Spain, where a coach’s powers are typically more limited, and he was responsible for the development of the “soccer product.”
Mourinho appears to have failed on both counts and the list of controversies during his three years at Madrid is a lengthy one.
They include sneaking up behind Tito Vilanova, then-assistant Barca coach, during a brawl and poking a finger in his eye, repeated complaints about refereeing bias, ugly clashes with journalists and Real officials, and dark hints that Barca get favorable treatment from UEFA.
His stint at Real hit a new low on Friday las week when he was sent from the bench during the second half of the Copa final for furiously berating the referee and refused to collect his loser’s award from Spanish King Juan Carlos I.
Ancelotti is a very different personality to the outspoken Mourinho and has an impressive record, winning the Champions League with AC Milan in 2003 and 2007, and losing to Liverpool in the 2005 final.
However, he also has a reputation for fielding counter-attacking sides not immune to negativity and such tactics will not go down well with the Real faithful.
However, after the controversy of the Mourinho years, perhaps the understated Italian is just what Real need to restore calm and finally get their hands on the “decima,” or 10th European title.