LONDON – It was all so sadly predictable. Real Madrid vs. Barcelona, a Champions League semifinal “Clasico” with many of the world’s finest players on view.
And who stole the headlines? Lionel Messi for scoring two goals, the second a mesmeric effort that will stay long in the memory?
No, it was inevitably Jose Mourinho who, even by his standards (some may say lack of them), plummeted to a new low as he was sent to the stand, Real again reduced to 10 men with Pepe’s dismissal and after-match quotes that gave the impression of a man with acute paranoia.
Why on earth would any Premier League club want to employ Jose Mourinho? Would Roman Abramovich really want to bring the Portuguese back to Chelsea? How would the Old Trafford faithful feel about Mourinho being the successor to Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United? Yes, Mourinho virtually guarantees success but equally the self-styled Special One brings the sort of unwanted controversy he seems to crave and comes with more baggage than Imelda Marcos’ shoe quota.
While at Stamford Bridge, Mourinho was found guilty by the Football Association on more than one occasion of bringing the game into disrepute; the Premier League fined him £75,000 for his part in an illegal approach to Arsenal’s Ashley Cole; UEFA called him “an enemy of football” for unfounded allegations that Anders Frisk went to the dressing room of Barcelona coach Frank Rijkaard which saw the Swedish referee announce his premature retirement. He even accepted a police caution for quarantine irregularities involving his dog. In short, Mourinho was punished by every authoritative body possible during his time in England.
At Inter Milan, Mourinho was regularly in trouble with the Italian federation; since arriving in Madrid, he has been no stranger to watching games from the stand. Ferguson has incurred similar punishments from the F.A. but nobody does it worse or more often than Mourinho.
His latest outburst, claiming Barcelona’s success was down to preferential treatment from referees and even that they have Unicef on their jerseys, will surely have made any would-be employers have second thoughts (pre-supposing they had initial thoughts) while Real president Florentino Perez has a serious decision to make. Mourinho was hired at enormous expense to win the Champions League, not the Copa del Rey, and bar an unlikely turnaround at the Nou Camp on Tuesday the coach will have failed to deliver the trophy he was employed for.
Thankfully the chances of Real playing United at Wembley are as likely as Mourinho being gracious in defeat. I cannot remember a more bitter, twisted, in-denial coach than Mourinho, who blames everyone but himself for his own or team’s disciplinary excesses.
Outside of Madrid and Gelsenkirchen, football lovers will be delighted that the Champions League final will almost certainly be between Manchester United and Barcelona, who few can deny are the two best sides in Europe.
WEMBLEY is set for a mouth-watering showdown between undoubtedly the finest player in the world — Lionel Messi — and the born-again Wayne Rooney, who is back to playing his best football after a turbulent season.
Rooney will never be too far from a red mist but we must accept that as part of his overall makeup and without the aggressive, at times over-aggressive, streak the England international would be half the player he is. With the good comes some bad and ugly. He is at least embarrassed by the transfer request and the ill-advised comments about Manchester United where he questioned its ambition. “When I look back, how wrong was I?” he said after scoring in United’s easy 2-0 win over Schalke.
German sides tend to have inbred qualities such as organization, tactical nous and determination. Schalke hoisted the white flag against United, and had it not been for one of the truly great goalkeeping displays by Manuel Neuer, the scoreline would have been as embarrassing as the home side’s gutless performance.
Rooney is clearly enjoying his new role behind Javier Hernandez, whose £6 million transfer fee must give the president of Guadalajara nightmares. It is like selling an old vase your granny gave you for a few dollars and then finding out it is a valuable antique.
Dimitar Berbatov, the Premier League’s leading goal scorer, is now a bit part player at Old Trafford, starting only three of United’s last 14 games. The Bulgarian’s demotion has allowed Rooney to assume a role where “I can influence games a lot more,” and against a Schalke side that seemed allergic to tackling he was superb.
When Barcelona beat United in the 2009 Champions League final, United was second best in every respect. That is unlikely to be the case again on May 28.
Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.