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Apr 29, 2011

In defence of Mourinho

It looks like Jose Mourinho will be sanctioned by the all-mighty UEFA for commenting on its representative in Wednesday's match at the Bernabeu, Wolfgang Stark, and a perceived pro-Barcelona conspiracy. Even worse, probably, is the fact that Mourinho had the audacity to be critical of the Catalan club. In this day and age, it no longer seems an acceptable course of action.

UEFA charges Barca and Real
• Mourinho: Victory is impossible
Mourinho determined to stay on
• Adams: Barca's shame hidden

Let's have a look then at what exactly Mourinho is deemed guilty of.

First of all, he claims the referee's decision to send Pepe off changed the game in Barcelona's favour. Now take any game which, with all 22 players on the pitch, has 0-0 on the scoreboard with none of the teams likely to score any time soon, not even the team which is obviously playing the best football on the night. If the referee then decides to send a player off from either team, does that change the game in the other team's favour? Of course it does. More so when said player has so far nullified any threat from the opposition's - and the world's - best player, thus justifying his manager's tactics. Spot on there, then.

His claims that the red card was unjust are also far from incorrect. Both Pepe and Dani Alves go for a loose ball. They both go in hard, with their foot raised. Evidence now suggests there was no contact but, on first viewing, it would be difficult to criticise the decision to award a foul against Pepe. However, the referee certainly didn't look like he was going for a red card before Alves turned on the method acting (with one flaw: would you roll about if your leg was really hurt?), the stretcher came out and he was surrounded by the rest of Barcelona's squad. Watching from the sideline, Alves had to be stopped from jumping straight off said stretcher once he got what he wanted. Also, shortly before, Javier Mascherano was late with a challenge and kicked Pepe full in the shin with the ball nowhere near. Surely that should also have been a red?

Mourinho also says that Barcelona's win in 2009 was tainted because of that game at Stamford Bridge. Now I think the vast majority would agree that Chelsea were robbed in that game by a referee who made a number of incredible mistakes. The home team were better than Barcelona on the night but had four penalty claims turned down, two of them clearly valid or, as is now the appropriate expression, stonewall. Anyone with a decent pair of eyes, unclouded by the current atmosphere of Barcelona deification, can see that the 2009 final should have been Chelsea v Manchester United. Again, it is hard to see what is wrong with that statement.

It isn't even a dig at Pep Guardiola, as many seem to have interpreted it. Mourinho begins by stressing that he thinks of the Barcelona boss as "a fantastic coach". He merely points out that he would be ashamed to have won the Champions League in such a fashion. That is, of course, rubbish. Manchester United will surely have a thing or two to say about a game against Porto, then managed by Mourinho, in 2004. But it is not in any way an insult towards Guardiola. I am certain that Mourinho has a lot of respect for his nemesis, just as he had for Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger. He has a knack of winding people up, but again I cannot see the problem here. For Barcelona to ask for charges against Mourinho smacks of a lack of grace in victory.

Where Mourinho does of course go wrong is when he draws Unicef and UEFA into the whole debate and goes off on a conspiracy tangent. It is merely a rant by a manager who feels he has just been robbed of a result, a result he could well have got. By negative tactics, granted, but football is about results.

Let us not forget that, a mere week before, Real won the Copa del Rey, beating Barcelona using exactly the same tactics they were now unable to fully deploy. It would take a very big person not to be frustrated and angry straight after that game. Mourinho was unable to be magnanimous in this case, but maybe UEFA should try for once to look at this with some perspective. Again, though, UEFA does not respond well to criticism.

All this seems to be papered over by a large proportion of press and public, who merely point out the fact that "the best team won". But first of all, apart from having their usual massive percentage of possession, Barcelona weren't very good at all before Pepe was sent off. And secondly, if the best team should always win, shouldn't we just abolish all competitions and give all the cups to Barcelona from now on? They may be the best squad in the world, but surely that shouldn't imply another squad should be forbidden to try to stop them.

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