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New Real era starts with Mourinho


"If they buy another striker, I'm going to have to write to FIFA to ask them to let us use only just half the pitch." That was the exasperated, private conclusion drawn by one former Real Madrid manager who had seen the club sign another attacking player he didn't need and sell a couple of key players that he did. The key word was 'they' -- far from going hand in hand, the inescapable sensation was that coach was one thing, the club another -- and it wasn't a one-off.

Mariano García Remon was once asked who he thought he was to leave the Brazilian Ronaldo out of the side, to which he replied: "the coach." Within a few days he was the ex-coach. Manuel Pellegrini complained last week that Madrid turned a deaf ear to his pleas. "No one asked me anything about how to build the team," he muttered. "Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder were vital players but they left -- and they ended up in the Champions League final."

Then there's Carlos Queiroz, the man who took over from Vicente del Bosque as coach in 2003. As soon as he arrived, so did David Beckham. Before pre-season training was over, defensive midfielder Claude Makelele had gone and Queiroz noted that however brilliant his forwards there were serious problems. "A Ferrari," he insisted, "can't run without tires." But the tires had been sold off to pay for the spoiler.

Laughing, the former sporting director Arrigo Sacchi revealed: "One day I said to the president Florentino Perez: 'what would your ideal starting 11 be?' He put Beckham at right back, and Zidane at centre back because he had so many attackers." Sacchi claimed that he walked away because he didn't want to keep on "stealing" from the club, getting paid handsomely for performing an irrelevant role. "The president never let himself be advised by anyone," he said.

Whatever went wrong was the coach's fault. "If a player turned up drunk, it was the coach's fault. If a plane went down in Colombia, it was the coach's fault," Sacchi said. Yet the coach couldn't control the plane. Or, importantly, the player.

The galactico model was non-negotiable and demanded that the players be untouchable. The players were the stars -- in Perez's own words, they are "investments," necessary for the financial success of the whole project. They are Madrid's patrimony. The model demanded style as well as success, glamour as well as guts. Perez talked about winning converts, about the "evangelization" and "universalism" of the club. They were a fantasy football team.

Often, fantasy was the word. For the coach it could prove a bitter reality. In four seasons between 2003-07, Madrid had seven of them.

In his book, Steve McManaman revealed how Del Bosque once admitted to him that his hands were tied: certain players had to play. Sitting in a restaurant not far from the club's Ciudad Deportiva training ground, now the site of four gigantic towers informally known as Beckham, Figo, Zidane and Ronaldo, another ex-Madrid coach waved at his surroundings. The restaurant provided a metaphor for Madrid. "It's as if everyone here was the Maitre d'," he said. "No one wants to wash the plates, or cook the food, or wait on the table."

There was little he could do to prevent that attitude because the players had a direct line to the president. He didn't. When one superstar player snapped during training "who are you to tell me what to do?" the conclusion was inescapable: no one. "I am just an employee," Del Bosque used to insist. They used to called Vanderlei Luxemburgo 'Luxe', but as Tina Turner so nearly sang: what's Luxe got to do with it? "Florentino," Sacchi recalled, "always removed the coach's authority."

All of which helps to explain why the arrival of Jose Mourinho is such a big deal. There has been a seismic shift in Madrid.

Perez has gone four successive seasons without winning anything as president -- from 2003 to 2006 during his first mandate and during 2009-2010, the first season of his second spell in charge. Madrid has not won a knockout tie in the Champions league, the tournament that defines them, for six years. Now, it has sought guarantees. And the conclusion is that few offer guarantees like Jose Mourinho does. But for Mourinho to do that, Mourinho has to do what Mourinho does.

During his presentation this week he announced, in the third person: "Jose Mourinho will always be Jose Mourinho." That means getting his way. And that is the crux of the issue. Madrid has turned to Mourinho as it turned to many coaches, but this time is different. This time he will be able to do it his way. This time he will have authority. This time, it is all about the coach. The answer to Tina Turner's question was nothing. But Mourinho? Mourinho's got everything to do with it. The new Madrid is Mourinho's Madrid.

Perez had reached the point where it had to be this way. Forget all the romantic rhetoric of before, when he announced the arrival of Mourinho, Perez said simply: "Madrid's identity is about winning." That is what Madrid must do now and to do that it must allow a new approach. Mourinho is all about results. Perez bought the best players in the world, now he has bought the best coach. And that coach comes with conditions.

Other coaches bent over backwards and snapped. For the media and for the club. Mourinho won't be swayed. Mourinho's arrival represents a sea change, right down to the director general Jorge Valdano grovelling before him at his presentation.

Everything he has said over the last few days screams New Madrid at you. Every utterance has been a rejection of what went before. Like a slugger smashing galactic balls out the park. From his blunt "no" in response to the question "were you born to coach Madrid [just as Pérez claimed that Figo and Zidane were born to play for them]?" to his comments on the construction of the squad. To the fact that he will be constructing the squad. Unlike those who proceeded him.

Not only will there be cooks and waiters and washers, but even the Maitre d' will be expected to wash the occasional dish: asked about Cristiano Ronaldo, Mourinho insisted that he "has to learn that the team matters most." Asked about the media obsession with getting Spanish players to give the team identity, he shot back: "identity doesn't come from your nationality." Asked to have a huge, dramatic presentation, he said no. Asked about style, he said the team needed "balance."

Every galactic ball launched at him went the same way -- out the park. Whallop! Whallop! Whallop!

Asked about his signings, he ignored the superstars to announce that he needed "three or four defensive players." And asked about the stars, he insisted: "I'm less interested in names than the profile of players." "This summer," he said, "is going to be a quiet one." In other words, forget about galacticos. The new Real Madrid only needs one true galactico. And he arrived on Monday.