Jose Mourinho is anything but daft. The Special One is one of the most revered coaches of all time having won the domestic league trophies in four separate countries and the Champions League title twice with two different teams. His decision-making skills, club management style and tactical awareness have made him the coach he is today. So how could he make such a costly mistake on Saturday by benching club captain and Spanish legendary goalkeeper Iker Casillas for the important league fixture against 4th placed Malaga? It’s quite simple. It was all part of his grand plan.
It’s not been the easiest start to the season for Jose. A rejuvenated Barcelona have returned to knock Real off the La Liga perch. Arch rivals Altetico have started strongly too and sit in 2nd place in the league with Real close behind in 3rd. Qualification for the knockout stages of the Champions League has been achieved but without the finesse or style of previous campaigns. And with a difficult two-legged fight with Manchester United coming up in the competition, Real are starting to look vulnerable once more. Added into this rumblings of a player revolts and even prize asset Cristiano Ronaldo revealing to friends , and then the world only days ago that he is planning on returning to Old Trafford in the summer, Jose faces an uphill struggle to get his team’s season back on track.
So why when your team is influx and the press are talking about dressing room disharmony would you drop your star goalkeeper for his hardly used deputy Adan Garrido in an act deemed by Mourinho as “technical decision based on better form”. The quick answer is to send a message to his players that he is in control. Whether Adan was in fact in better form on the training ground than Casillas was is a side story, Mourinho wanted to send a clear-cut message to his grumbling players that he is in control of the team and he isn’t afraid to bench anyone, even his top performing consistent goalkeeper. Granted Mourinho may have picked the wrong game to make such a statement, with Malaga eventually running out 3-2 winners but the point was made loud and clear, even if the players don’t realise it.
“It surprised us, Iker is our captain,” Madrid defender Sergio Ramos said.
A surprise indeed but one Mourinho felt confident would work. Benching Casillas said more than any team talk could. The result is somewhat irrelevant if the squad now picks its self up and gets back on the game trail. Too much in house politics and rumour milling has threatened to sink Real’s season this year before it has eve really started so Mourinho acted quickly and bravely to sort the problem before it escalated beyond even his control. The Portuguese coach thinks his job is safe after delivering the League last season and the Champions League the season before last. But perhaps that is where he is wrong. Mourinho isn’t as untouchable as it may seem. Madrid know that they must continue to improve over the seasons and unlike a lot of other clubs in Spain, Real’s more experienced players hold more weight than Mourinho can fathom. If a collective agreement is struck between the players that enough is enough, Mourinho may be out on his ear, before he realises what is actually happening. Added into this the Special Ones continuous stream to the media about job possibilities in England and his desire to one day return, the board will grow tired sooner than Mourinho will. Speculation in the press has Arsene Wenger’s name linked with Madrid once more, whether that be in an effort to get Mourinho to crack or decide to leave is still to be seen but to date they are only rumours.
For now Mourinho is relatively safe for the time being. Casillas will be returned to the starting line up for the next match against Real Sociedad on the 6th January 2013 and order will be restored. If Mourinho’s gamble has paid off, he will see signs of his more disgruntled players returning to normal and falling back into line with Mourinho’s grander plans. If not, perhaps Mourinho could have a larger fire on his hands that he will struggle to put out, knowing at the back of his mind that this could have all been avoided. But for those that know Mourinho, the backlash he has seen from the players, media and fans over the past few days will be exactly what he wants and needs for his team. He will know that this one calculated act could prove the spark he needs to reignite his domestic and European charge, just in time for the start of 2013.