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Will Mourinho's Tactics Win Over the Fans?

Real Madrid's fans are often said to be the most demanding in the world. It is not enough to win; one must also win well. Fabio Capello learned this harsh lesson not once but twice as he was sacked after winning the league title. In the stands of the Ultra Sur where the most ardent and fanatical of the merengues faithful gather, trophies are nothing if the fans are not to taste the humiliation of their foes at the Bernabéu, to exalt in the incisive, fluid attacking football that has always been the mark of the legendary teams of Chamartín.

José Mourinho is indisputably the best and most talented coach in the world. No neutral observer could deny this. His teams play with a discipline matched only by those of Guus Hiddink, he is indisputably the finest tactical mind in the modern game and he inspires a kind of loyalty from players and staff that raises the level of all who work with him. Mourinho has won nearly everything that there is to be won already and by the time he retires from the game he will no doubt be recognized as the most successful and probably the best manager in history. But fairly or not, the name of José Mourinho is associated with winning at all costs and not with beautiful, idealistic football.

We might first choose to look at the charge of whether Mourinho's teams really do play unattractive football. This, I think, is rather unjust. True, Inter hardly caught the eye, but they were frankly a side that Mourinho dragged up from mediocrity and transformed into world-beaters through pure tactical discipline. They were never going to become the kind of spectacular side that this young, vibrant, talented Madrid team has the potential to become. We have seen already that in the absence of Mourinho Inter has already begun to fall apart, while Chelsea, a club that the Portuguese actually bothered to develop for the long term, continues to be successful.

Chelsea was often accused during Mourinho's reign of eking out dull wins and playing too defensively. While aesthetics in football as in everything are subjective, Mourinho often played an aggressive 4-3-3 with dynamic wingers such as Arjen Robben, as well as a flowing 4-1-2-1-2 diamond. Too many fans confuse tactical discipline for defensiveness and lack the patience and footballing intelligence to appreciate teams like Mourinho's Chelsea. At Porto, Mourinho certainly could not be accused of being boring as his exciting team won the Champions League despite being massive underdogs.

But assuming that Mourinho's tactics are viewed unfavorably by the blanco faithful from an aesthetic point of view, what must he do to win them over otherwise? The simple answer is that he must win. Under ordinary circumstances, the public and the media might turn on the manager if the football is not attractive enough but that is highly unlikely here so long as the wins keep rolling in. Most Madrid managers fear the wrath of Marca and AS, not so much the crowd, and the papers adore Mourinho. Indeed, he probably helps sell more papers for them than anyone with the possible exception of Cristiano Ronaldo. And Mourinho is no ordinary manager. He is widely considered to be the best in the world, so there is no chance of a step up from him. The attitude may be among the public that if he cannot win with the merengues, then no one can. His style was also well-known before his hiring and the public supported him regardless.

The Madrid fans are tired of seeing Barcelona's success, which has carried on too long. If Mourinho can end the Culés' reign or bring La Décima back to the capital, he will be a hero to the fans. They have gone too long without a trophy and without humiliating their hated enemies and they bay for blood. The pain of seeing Barcelona win and defeat their team over and over again has erased any resistance to Mourinho's methods, as most fans now want Madrid to win at any cost.

To his credit, Mourinho has not had his Real Madrid playing as conservatively as might be expected. He has perhaps the finest arsenal of attacking players in Europe at his disposal and he is making good use of them. In the game against Ajax, Madrid showed real attacking intent, hammering in an incredible 35 shots on goal and dominating across the pitch. Madrid have conceded only one goal in four competitive matches and notched three wins and a draw. They are not yet firing on all cylinders but the goals will come once the attackers settle into their rhythms. Ronaldo in particular has looked off since returning from injury and some more training will do him good.

However well Mourinho intends to play, some games will require a firmer resolve and a less adventurous approach and it is clear that the Portuguese does not intend to take much risk defensively. If he can keep winning, however, and bring home at least one major trophy this year, no one at the Bernabéu will mind. If not, Pérez seems determined to stick with his man and with the support of the media he may endure another year regardless. I, for one, would not like to bet against the Special One winning.

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