Diego Lopez or Iker Casillas? Under pressure at Real Madrid, Jose Mourinho comes out swinging…

The temperature continues to rise for Jose Mourinho in Madrid. After elimination in the semi finals of the Champions League courtesy of a brilliant Borussia Dortmund side, and with the league title all but conceded back to Barcelona, the pressure on Mourinho is building as speculation increases that this will be his final few weeks as head coach at Real Madrid.

With sections of the Spanish media supposedly against him (so Jose would have us believe) and the number of player/manager spats at the Bernabeu multiplying on a near daily basis, it seems the knives are sharpening for the Portuguese master of feather ruffling.

His fallout with Iker Casillas has split the dressing room and divided Madridistas in general. Furthermore, a perceived tendency to overstress the ‘I’ over the ‘we’ has irritated fans and pundits alike, many of whom did not take too kindly to Mourinho referring more to his chase for a third Champions League trophy than Real Madrid’s hunt for ‘la decima’ (their tenth) and cryptic hints of a possible move to Chelsea immediately after Real’s bitter defeat to Dortmund.

Ahead of Real Madrid’s game against Malaga tomorrow however Mourinho has come out swinging, once again using his favourite stage – the press conference – to point the finger defiantly at his detractors. Some of the tastier quotes he offered:

On Iniesta, who told the Spanish programme Onda Cero he could not understand why Iker Casillas was not playing, Mourinho replied: “He can think what he likes but I only want to say to him that without Messi his team is so different that it did what it did in the semi finals of the Champions League (7-0 aggregate defeat to Bayern Munich).”

On Pepe, who had commented that Casillas ‘deserved more respect’ and that some of Mourinho’s comments ‘had not been appropriate’, Mourinho hit back.

It’s very easy to analyse Pepe. His problem has a name, and that name is Raphael Varane. It’s not easy for a man of 31 years of age to be overtaken by a kid of 19. And this kid is fantastic.

I had the courage to put the kid in. The problem is simple. Very simple. Pepe’s life has changed. He used to be guaranteed a place in the starting eleven and now he no longer is.

I understand his frustration and I don’t have any problems with him. I have to try and be honest and I don’t think many will disagree with me that the future of Real Madrid is Varane and Sergio Ramos.”

On Casillas, Mourinho elaborated on the reasons why he is no longer first choice keeper at Real Madrid:

“I am a football coach, and one of my responsibilities is to decide who plays. I do this by thinking, analysing, discussing and studying my decisions for many hours, watching videos, trying to make the right decision.

For me I prefer Diego Lopez as a goalkeeper to Iker Casillas. It’s simple. It’s not a personal decision. I like a keeper that is good with his feet, who is dominant in the air and who is a phenomenon between the posts.”

“I prefer this other profile of keeper. In the same way that Casillas can say that he prefers another type of manager, like Del Bosque or Pellegrini. While I am the coach of Real Madrid, Diego Lopez will play in goal.”

Mourinho seems to be drawing the battle lines here with some of his comments.

His analysis of Casillas makes interesting reading. The notion that Casillas has any kind of flaws to his game is one that has been rarely challenged in over 15 years in Spain as ‘San Iker’ has grown into a national icon.

Does Mourinho have a point in his assessment or is he simply using Casillas as a pawn in a game to show everyone who is really in charge at Real Madrid? (Gary Curneen’s assessment of Casillas when he went behind the scenes at Real Madrid last summer make pertinent reading.)

Furthermore, given some of Diego Lopez’s performances since joining in January (excellent saves against both Manchester United and Dortmund stick in the mind), can anyone really argue that Casillas would have done a better job?

The problem with Mourinho, as always, is that his managerial style is so confrontational, so based on Machiavellian power plays and mixed messages, that it is hard to know quite where the fiction ends and the truth begins.

A winner of league titles in four different countries, it would be wrong to assume Mourinho would put politics over winning, given his remarkable record as a coach to date (and his not too shabby win percentage at Real too, it should be noted).

That said, stubborn-minded comments like some of the above portray a man willing to take on any and everyone at Real Madrid, with scant regard for diplomacy or the potential consequences.

Given the amount of compensation he may be due in the event of a possible contract termination, is Mourinho doing his best here to burn bridges?

(photo credit: meiling_bedard via Flickr Creative Commons)

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