As soon as the draw for the UEFA Champions League last-16 was made way back in December, it was clear that this was the match that everyone wanted to see. Manchester United versus Real Madrid.
It was to be a classic on so many levels: the return of Cristiano Ronaldo to his former hallowed turf, the resumption of the respectful battle between Sir Alex and Jose Mourinho, Robin van Persie’s first big European night in the red of United. Sky Sports dubbed it ‘The Perfect Match’, but the Special One himself summed it up perfectly by simply stating “The world will be watching”.
However, after the game, amid all the anger, disbelief, discussion and debate, I couldn’t help but feel as if this night should’ve belonged to Mourinho. Post-match, we witnessed a show of humility, something we are not used to associating with the Portuguese 50-year old. In 2004, he sprinted down the touchline in celebration of Porto’s progression in Europe at Manchester United’s expense. In 2010, the Camp Nou was witness to his extravagance in celebration when his Inter Milan side withstood an onslaught from the defending champions Barcelona to reach the final of Europe’s elite competition.
On Tuesday night however, we witnessed no such acts. In fact, Mourinho seemed as if none of the night’s events had affected him in any way. Perhaps it was because he has too much respect for his Scottish counterpart, a man he claims to call “The Boss”. Or maybe this was the first part of Jose’s interview for the Manchester United job and he didn’t want to disappoint?
It is no secret that Mourinho is admired by Sir Alex Ferguson and is seen to be his successor once the Scot retires. If he does take over, he will have huge boots to fill, but Mourinho has shown time and time again that he can succeed at any club. He has won a league trophy in four different countries (Portugal, England, Italy and Spain), and has won the Champions League twice, with Porto and Inter Milan. Once, when asked in an interview if he has a love affair with the Champions League, he replied, as only he could, by claiming “The Champions League has a love affair with me”.
In terms of how well he performed last week against United, it was his decision to introduce Luka Modric which really paid off. United had suffocated much of Madrid’s flowing play in the first half, mainly due to their strangulation of Xabi Alonso but the former Spurs man began to take hold of the game and capped off a great performance with a stunning goal to level proceedings.
The Croatian’s introduction into proceedings was inspired. Arthur Schopenhauer once said, “ Talent hits a target no-one else can hit; genius hits a target no-one else can see” and I think this summed up Mourinho’s night. As soon as the Red Devils were reduced to ten men, the Special One capitalised.
The week leading up to the game was the most important in Mourinho’s time with Madrid. A Copa del Rey semi-final with Catalunyan giants and bitter rivals Barcelona, a reunion of the two clubs in La Liga later that week, and finally the game in Old Trafford.
He came out of that week with three victories. Mind you, it is still believed that he will be sacked. Though as he walked down the tunnel after the game last Tuesday night, you can’t help but think that he was smiling, knowing that he wont have to wait long for another one. And perhaps he knows that the next time he comes to Old Trafford for a game, he’ll be sitting in the coveted seat on the bench where Sir Alex once sat?