Mourinho machine denies Spurs dream
Maybe, just maybe? Not this time, not a bit of it and not against a Jose Mourinho-model Real Madrid. Tottenham's adventure is ended, and Harry Redknapp knew that it was never likely to happen.
Compared to the flair of Barcelona, and to the Zidane-Figo era, Real Madrid do not offer a wealth of artistic impression. They are rather more pragmatic than galactic. Just as at Porto, Chelsea and Inter, they are based on the systematic approach of their coach.
Real were never likely to offer to Spurs the fragility that has too often been their downfall in a competition they still regard as their own, despite a nine-year wait to return the outsized trophy to the Bernabeu for a tenth time. Others may be more special to watch, but Mourinho is in the results business. Always has been, always will be.
"I have been in the game a long time and I know that you are ultimately judged by results," he said as he steeled himself for four matches against Barcelona, across three competitions, with Saturday providing the first of them before the Copa Del Rey final in Valencia next week, and two matches to decide which Spanish giant travels to Wembley and the Champions League final.
For the moment, his dream of being the first coach to win the European Cup with three different clubs is breathing and in rude health, despite the familiar and daunting challenge that awaits in Real's Catalan rivals.
For Tottenham Hotspur, the damage was done before this evening, as a result of Peter Crouch's out-of-character attempts to 'mix it' in Madrid, and through the devastation that a Mourinho team is capable of when an opponent is weakened. The death knell sounded once Heurelho Gomes had lived up to a reputation for wavering concentration with a horrid fumble of a Cristiano Ronaldo shot that was more hopeful than too hot to handle. It killed the tie dead, and the second half was a funeral procession for the Londoners.
Thereafter, it was time for defiance and a getting behind of the lads for those Spurs fans who had once dared to believe. In the build-up, the White Hart Lane big screens had shown footage of Spurs' glory, glory nights from earlier this season, though footage from the Bernabeu just eight days previously was not in evidence. It reflected an end-of season revue mood that permeated much of a low-key evening that deflated on Gomes' pratfall and after a frustrated first half that increased the depth of their task to near impossibility.
It eventually descended into a cheery wake, as thoughts began to turn to a domestic overhauling of Manchester City or Chelsea that, if tough, looks eminently more possible than this assignment. It was time to look back on the good times, and remember a taming of two Milanese giants and some heroes of the past too, with Gary Mabbutt one of the names sang to the rafters as time and a hugely entertaining European campaign ebbed away.
"It's been great," said Redknapp in good-humoured but resigned reflection in which he said he could offer nothing to complain about. "We've seen some great football at White Hart Lane. To come as far as we have has been great for everybody. We've all enjoyed it very much."
Real march on with a smattering of collateral damage. Not for Jose Mourinho a safety-first approach of hiding his players from a possible ban from a double-headed clasico in the semi-finals. Only Angel Di Maria, and on tactical grounds rather than a cautionary decision, was omitted of those on yellow-card sudden death. Cristiano Ronaldo, Raul Albiol, Sergio Ramos and Ricardo Carvalho were required to walk a tightrope and the last of those fell to his fate when booked for a silly hack at Tom Huddlestone. He will miss the first leg in Madrid, a fact lamented by his boss, who is still stinging from the punishment he received for that night in the Amsterdam ArenA when Sergio Ramos and Xabi Alonso were too deliberate in getting themselves sent off and suspended for a dead rubber.
In a barbed reference to Barcelona and the authorities' perceived lack of reaction to Andres Iniesta's sitting out of a second leg with Shakhtar Donetsk after a similar incident, Mourinho played the injured party. "Mourinho cannot clean yellow cards and other clubs can," he said. "To be honest, when we scored the fourth goal in the Bernabeu, my assistant told me 'Cristiano, yellow card' and I said 'no'. I would be banned for the semi-finals. The day after, another club did that."
Mourinho's grey coat had prowled the touchline throughout, his animated exhortations never reflecting a man in possession of a four-goal lead. Only after Ronaldo's 52nd minute clincher did he thrust his hands into his pockets, and look anywhere near relaxed. And even in post-match, his focus on stopping the Barcelona juggernaut affected his mood. He remained in game mode, and would not give away any information about personnel or tactics for the quadruple header.
Gareth Bale was last to leave the field as appreciative applause rained down on him and his team-mates, though suspicions will be aroused by a warm embrace shared with Mourinho as his final act before departure. He and Luka Modric are likely to be the players transfer targeted by the elite should Spurs not return to this stage next season.
Redknapp laughed off tabloid-esque questioning on that tender moment, with a derisory "did he? By Christ" and a shrug as he refocused on his remaining task this season.
"If we can make the top four, it would be a top achievement. It's even harder because of the improvement Man City have made with the money they have spent," he said. "But it's much better than being 12th in the league. It's the makings of a great end of the season again."
Mourinho has his own domestic matter to attend to, and dropped his guard just once to wistfully remind of his intentions of one day returning to England. "It's my natural habitat," he flirted. "It's where I want to come. After Real Madrid. I stay in Real Madrid next season, unless the press sacks me."
He remains as good at writing headlines as he is at getting results.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Sami Khedira. The German water carrier made it a frustrating evening for Tom Huddlestone in particular, while Luka Modric's flutterings through midfield were only fleeting. Real Madrid may finally have a successor to Claude Makelele in a player that does the simple things very well.
TOTTENHAM VERDICT: Real's core strength meant that the expected waves of attack never materialised in the first half, as Aaron Lennon and Gareth Bale too often found themselves outnumbered and low on options. Gomes is this week's fall guy, but his manager was quick to defend him.
REAL MADRID VERDICT: "A s*** Barcelona," say the White Hart Lane choir while Ronaldo is "a s*** Lionel Messi," according to the same school of thought. They will have the chance to put that to the test four times. They may not offer the fantasy of their avowed rivals but over two legs performed a deadly demolition job on Tottenham's dreams.
WHITE HART LAME: Spurs' owners continuing efforts to scramble something from the Olympic Stadium affair were put to one side while actual football was being played but it still registers as a shame that Daniel Levy and co are looking to leave this area and the classicism of this old-style ground with its heartening noisiness in a world of nu-stadium tedium. A search for a Spurs fan in favour of decamping to Stratford was abandoned due to the needle-in-a-haystack principle.