Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Mindgames at the Molinon… and 3 points of course


Higuain scored YET ANOTHER important goal for Madrid
Last Sunday, Real Madrid walked into one of Spain’s toughest stadiums, Sporting Guijon’s El Molinon, and came away with a gritty 1-0 win. It was the kind of win one would expect from a Jose Mourinho team (not the goalfest massacres we’ve been conducting in weeks past). It was an unusually supercharged match brought about by a series of unnecessary circumstances: all the brainchild of Jose Mourinho’s mindgames.
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Pre-match Mindgames
Mourinho for many years been revered for his calculated statements in the press and in the way he has made use of his public persona as part of the psychological war he wages with his opponents to get the upper hand. Last Sunday however really had that unusual smell of miscalculation on the part of the Portuguese tactician.
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Many weeks before, he had called out Sporting’s Super-Mario lookalike manager Manuel Preciado in public: criticizing him for choosing a lineup filled with second-stringers to face the mighty Barcelona i.e. for ‘laying down’ on Barcelona in much the same way other clubs have been accused of doing against his own Chelsea during his Premier League days. It was rebuffed with the ‘I’ll worry about him when we’re about to face Madrid’ reply from the normally fiery Preciado.
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Days before the match, Mourinho stirred the pot in the public again by asking the Bernabeu to ‘honor’ the Copa Del Rey by showin gup to the game and supporting the team as they pursued the task of vanquishing the Copa Del Rey ghosts of seasons past. They did indeed only to see him earn himself a sending off and a 2 game suspension that would see him out of the game for the Sporting and Bilbao match (albeit reachable by walkie talkie). The Bernabeu essentially fried the Murcians live with the team’s ‘Kill ‘em all’ mentality, the fans’ delight at seeing first teamers enter the fray and their outrage at the referee’s sending off of Mourinho.
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This was of course followed his re-iteration of his thoughts on Preciado and Sporting prior to the trip to the Molinon: earning himself a nice cushy view of the match from a VIP box whilst protected by 4 bodyguards. Behind the glass, his team was cooked in a fiery cauldron of expletives from the fans and nasty challenges from the fired-up Sporting Players. Beyond the glass, a rallying cry from Preciado to all the other members of the coaching establishment was sounded out in an effort to go after the bully.
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An Unusual match with the Usual Result
Was this all a great, big miscalculation from Mourinho? Was he merely sending a message out to other La Liga teams not to lay down to Barcelona and things got out of hand? Out of hand to a point that his team, bereft of his presence on the touchline, actually risked dropping points against a team whose objective in the league this season is only to stay afloat?
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Or was this all part of a masterplan? To throw his club and his players into a cauldron of hostility in the public forum and on the football pitch?
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On an institutional level, Emilion Butragueno seems to be reading from a similar script: ‘We didn’t hire Mourinho to make friends.’
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On the pitch, the once-drama queen Cristiano Ronaldo is no longer clutching his face in pain after a pat on his chest… instead, he now leaps off the ground, chest puffed out, and yelling ‘is that all you got!?!?!?’ at opposing defenders and fans after red-card tackles.
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Benzema used to get minutes as a sub as part of an experiment to bring his talents out. Now he comes on to change the outcome of the games.
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On the pitch, Karim Benzema, he of the I’m-looking-for-a-nice-place-to-have-coffee-at-the-Champs-Elysees attitude on the pitch has turned from a charity case for playing time to not embarrass Florentino, into a full-fledged impact substitute. He has now come off the bench and ‘rescued’ us from the jaws of defeat or draw against Hercules, Milan and now Sporting Gijon.
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On the pitch, Gonzalo Higuain, the goalscorer whom many had dismissed as being incapable of scoring important goals scored 2 winning goals for us (albeit one wrongly flagged for offside).
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There has been talk and evidence of a Barca re-surgence in the month of November. A free-scoring Leo Messi, a ‘recovered’ David Villa and a much sharper Barcelona that has already clearly shrugged off the fatigue from the World Cup and their pre-season preparation blues. Barcelona looms over the horizon on the 29th of November. And with this string of victories over Sevilla and Villarreal, I am reminded of Pep’s first season where the ‘Tourmalet’ (the phase where a gauntlet of La Liga’s better teams such as Sevilla, Atleti, Valencia and Villarreal appear on a team’s schedule one after the other) was peaked with no fuss at all. It is clear that they are being primed to peak when they meet us on the 29th on their turf.
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Mourinho’s Machine (or Monster – choose your metaphor) on the other hand, seems to have gotten their mechanics sorted out already… not to menton having done so at a surprisingly early stage of the season. Yet this team who has yet to ‘learn to play Champions League football’ (as Mourinho himself has said) must also begin to learn how to get their head straight before walking into the Camp Nou for the big one.
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It is very clear now that the patch to La Liga glory this season can only be reached by winning almost every fixture in the La Liga calendar: any other Hercules-like performances or results against Barca can perhaps only happen by Divine Intervention. And now that we’re on the driver’s seat by means of this ‘divine intervention’, we have no choice but to live up to our end of the deal if we wish to get our hands on the trophy at the end of the season. Every now and then however, a ‘bonus’ challenge awaits us – one that can either give us that little bit of breathing room or doom us into hell. One such challenge awaits us on the 29th and it’s comforting that the ‘Mou’ is getting our heads straight leading up to it… whether he’s on the touchline or not.

1 comment:

  1. i was also thinking the same thing.. this was gr8 prep for camp nou's hostile environment

    ReplyDelete