“A man can fail many times, but he isn’t a failure until he begins to blame somebody else.” (John Burroughs)
The famous bunker scene in the drama about the final days of the Third Reich, Downfall, has been subjected to endless parody in recent years, Adolf Hitler’s meltdown serving as prime material for on-line comedians looking to get a few cheap laughs. If we forget the spoofs and focus on the original, however, we see that the Führer is in a delusional state, infuriated that his non-existent armies have been unable to hold back the Soviet masses. Still believing in his own infallibility, he points the crazed finger of blame at all but himself.
I was reminded of that scene on Saturday when I read the comments made by José Mourinho after his Real Madrid team drew 0-0 with Deportivo La Coruña at the Riazor. Refusing to acknowledge the home side’s admirable defensive performance or the possible flaws in his own team selection, the Portuguese instead chose to barrack the authorities for not giving Madrid enough time to rest after their Champions League tie last Tuesday.
“I don’t know what would have happened if we had played on Sunday, but it would have been fairer.” he said, “We could have given an extra day off to those who were most tired, we could have trained an extra day.” Mourinho then finished by implying that the RFEF (Spanish Football Association) is engaged in a conspiracy against his team, adding “The calendar is set by people who know what they are doing.”
Of course, such behaviour is hardly surprising coming from Mourinho. Ever since his emergence as a top-level manager he has made outlandish comments in the press, belittled the achievements of others and criticised opponents and officials with his characteristic swaggering confidence. It’s just what he does, so they say.
However, as was pointed out on Twitter last night, the tone of these comments seem to have changed over time. Where some of Mourinho’s sound-bites once had a certain jocular charm about them, they now come across only as the desperate rantings of a very bitter man. Since arriving in Spain the double European Cup-winning manager has stepped up the frequency of his protests, again cultivating that famous “us against them” mentality within his squad, but doing so in a more regularly embittered fashion than he has in the past.
On Saturday evening he also tore into Deportivo’s tactical approach to the game, stating that “Only one team wanted to win, the other worked with all their strength to defend.” Of course, the inconvenient truth that his Inter team made no attempt to take possession of the ball at the Camp Nou last season was expediently ignored, as was the ridiculous logic behind the expectation of Depor to go all-out against an eminently better team than themselves.
We could just dismiss his outbursts as “Mourinho being Mourinho”, but ‘The Special One’ shouldn’t be afforded the luxury of preferential treatment when other managers are widely criticised for doing and saying similar things. Lest we forget, the Portuguese was once responsible for precipitating the death threats which eventually forced referee Anders Frisk to prematurely retire from the game.
Of greater relevance in the present is how Mourinho’s comments are stoking the fires of a Spanish sports press which is already riddled with bias, rumour and innuendo. As Sid Lowe wrote for Sports Illustrated last week, “[Major Spanish sports papers] support their team and campaign on behalf of them. They are fanatical and manipulative. They like to see themselves as an arm of their clubs – part of the fabric. They have become propaganda outlets, not newspapers.”
With football reportage in Spain in such a desperate state, surely the game requires less divisiveness at the top level if this culture of blame and rabid rivalry is to be at least partially eradicated? Mourinho, through his continual criticism of referees and governing bodies, is pandering to this ‘journalistic’ approach, doing the jobs of Marca and AS for them and dragging the international reputation of Real Madrid through the mud in the process.
Arguably the saddest part of the whole scenario is that Mourinho is endangering his own reputation. The Portuguese is without question one of the finest coaches of his generation, perhaps even all time, but his actions could well result in the alienation of swathes of those who admire him for his remarkable achievements in the game. Granted, there have been great managers in the past that have had a similar attitude, but few have been as consistently belligerent as Mourinho.
For the sake of his own reputation and the gnashing teeth of the Spanish football media machine, Mourinho would do well to extricate himself from the insularity of his bunker and stop tediously assigning the blame for his own flaws to others. Until he does that, it looks as though news from La Liga will continue to be dominated by the persecution complexes and narratives of supposed injustice that have polluted it to a greater extent than ever before this season.
The unpleasant sideshow continues.