Prompting me out of months and months of blogging hibernation is the issue in football that bothers me, disappoints me far more than any loss ever can. I’m no brilliant writer and someone else who is would be much better at conveying the ideas that I so strongly feel but struggle to put into words, yet I have to take a stab at this anyway because things have gone too far and I just have to put this out there. So I’m going to try to say this as best as I can and hopefully my point goes across.
No team, no player, no manager is perfect, they all have their faults that we tend to defend because we love them, but this cannot stretch to any extent. When it stops being about football and starts being about morals, those rose-colored glasses have to come off and the ones at fault have to be recognized. I’m not casting allegations against anyone in defense of my team or in opposition to another; I’m saying this as a human being, as a person recognizing wrong from right, black from white. Because it really is black and white; there’s nothing in between and anyone who sees otherwise is seeing rose. I’m talking about Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho, and before you accuse me of favoritism, because I do love Barca to death, read me out.
Pep has been managing Barca for three years and that’s no picnic, and over the past three years this team has been through a heck of a lot and Pep has never, not that I can recall, ever done anything other than keep his head down and work on his team. Barca win, he praises the players. Barca lose, he says they need to work harder. He doesn’t talk about anyone else, he doesn’t blame anyone else, the only thing he’s ever had to say about the opposition is that they’ve done well, and as for the referees – for three years Pep has not blamed a referee for any result. Even when Barca have come out of games in which they had goals cancelled, penalties denied, players fouled without any cards shown, Pep has flatly refused to discuss referees, saying they do the best they can, we should not talk about them, we are only concerned with ourselves, we need to work harder.
Pep shows enormous class in refusing to talk about anything other than Barca, whether a referee or another coach or anyone else, and at the end of the day, what else does it come down to? Who is going to get Barca anywhere except Barca? It’s our game that defines us, it’s our game that gets us places, and the rest is marginal. This has set him apart from a number of other top-tier coaches who will jump at the chance to divert the blame from their team to the referee. The Premier League, for instance is full of famous examples; but even they, with the fines we see handed to them because of their comments against referees, cannot compare to what Jose Mourinho is doing.
I would normally try to avoid any sort of comparison, but as I mentioned before, things have spun far out of control, to an extent that sadly prompts this. So I’m sticking my neck out there and saying this: I have never seen a manager who complains as much as Mourinho does. Instead of looking at how his team is doing, he constantly looks for blame anywhere else he can – and I mean literally anywhere.
Earlier in the season when Barca went ahead of Real Madrid on the league table, Mourinho accused other Liga teams of letting Barca beat them. How he determines this I’m sure I don’t know; and the only time I’ve heard a coach clearly saying that he had his players throw a game because he thought they had no chance was Pellegrini, coach of Malaga, after his team went down 7-0 against Real Madrid. Mourinho even goes on to complain about the match calendar, saying that it’s designed to Barca’s full advantage and not to Real Madrid’s at all. But none of that compares to what he says about the referees.
He’s been complaining extensively about them all through the season, reaching a point where his claims are nothing short of ridiculous. It’s one thing for him to say that his players are picking up cards for fouls that are “nothing,” when they are actually some of the most rough and even thuggish fouls to be seen, and the examples are clear and countless.
It’s another thing for him to say that he’s forced to train with ten men in preparation to face Barca because he always finishes with ten men against them, a statement with which he’s accusing referees of both Spain and Europe of favoritism towards Barca and again insinuating that his players are doing no wrong to deserve the reds. Oh yes, obviously, the fact that his team always goes down a man against Barca certainly has more to do with Spain and Europe conspiring against him and less to do with his own approach on the field.
But for him to go so far as to plainly say that Barcelona control all the referees and control all aspects of football in Spain and Europe – that is beyond ridiculous. I could sit here and list example after example of how things have not gone in Barca’s favor, even just over the past three years in which Pep has been coach, but I won’t, because this claim is complete nonsense; I know it, you know it, and Mourinho knows it too.
Mourinho is no idiot. He’s not blind. He’s not delusional. He knows there’s no conspiracy against him or Real Madrid, he knows exactly how his players are playing – he’s telling them to do it – and he knows that the fouls are ugly and the cards are deserved. He just doesn’t care. This man is not here to play football; he’s here just to win – by any means necessary. This is a man that will do anything for his team to get ahead, no matter how deceptive and immoral it may be. Yes, I said immoral. Completely so.
He’s had his team do the dirty and then complained about everything he could possibly complain about, and complained and complained and complained until he hit the climax and got what he was always after; the referee at the Copa Del Rey final was too intimidated to give out cards for anything short of murder and Real Madrid got away with foul after disgusting foul, essentially robbing Barcelona of the chance to compete fairly – of their right to compete fairly.
That was the ultimate outrage, but did Pep open his mouth about it? Did he say the referee was unjust, did he highlight on the blatant fouls that went unnoticed? Even with the most obvious example of what Ramos and Arbeloa did to Villa – something that Vicente del Bosque, manager of the Spanish national team and former manager of Real Madrid, described as “against the principles of a football player, even against their own morals,” and one of the lowest things I have personally ever seen in football – Pep did not complain.
He did make mentions of referees after that match though, virtual firsts for him. Asked what he thought to the possibility of a Portuguese referee being appointed to Barca’s Champions League semi-final meet with Real Madrid, Pep simply replied “that should make the manager of Real Madrid happy.” In regards to the Copa Del Rey final, Pep talked about the positives of his team’s performance and noted that they came close, and might have won if Pedro’s goal had not been ruled for a close offside call that he attributed to "the linesman's good eyesight,” praising the referee and simply meaning that small details can decide a match.
Now you tell me. Has Pep said anything out of line? Can his ‘ref comments’ even being to compare to all of Mourinho’s ranting?
Well, according to Mourinho, they can.
"A new era has begun,” says Mou. “Until now there were two groups of coaches. One very, very small group of coaches that don't speak about refs and then a big group of coaches, of which I am part, who criticize the refs when they have mistakes – people like me who don't control their frustration but also people who are happy to value a great job from a ref. Now there is a third group, which is only [Guardiola], that criticizes referees when they get decisions right! There is a new meaning to [football] now. In his first season [Guardiola] lived the scandal of Stamford Bridge [in the semi-final], last year he played against a 10-man Inter. Now he is not happy with refs getting it right. I am not asking the referee to help my team. If the referee is good everyone will be happy – except Guardiola. He wants them to get it wrong."
This – these words that spew from his mouth, this is just cheeky. This is taking his mouthing off to a new level entirely. The height of hypocrisy, the height of disrespect. Do I even have to say that Mourinho’s so-proclaimed ‘third group’ is an exact description of himself?
Mourinho has said a lot, but this brings things to a critical point, the point where things just can’t be ignored anymore and you know that’s true when Pep, for once, has allowed himself to address Mourinho. It was not Pep ‘breaking under pressure’ or anything of that sort – what he said, he clearly intended to say and frankly, it needed to be said. I quote the translated comments as they appear in The Guardian:
"As Mourinho has spoken so candidly about me and spoken about me by name, and using tú [the informal form of you], then I will do the same." He then asked which of the gathered cameras was "Mourinho's camera" and began.
"Tomorrow at 8.45 we will play a match on the field. Outside of the field, he has won the entire year, the entire season and in the future [it will be the same]. He can have his personal Champions League outside the field. Fine. Let him enjoy it, I'll give him that. But this is a game. When it comes to sport we will play and sometimes we will win, sometimes we will lose. We are happy with smaller victories, trying to get the world to admire us and we are very proud of this.”
"I can give you an immense list of things [that we could complain about]: 300,000 things. We could remember Stamford Bridge and another thousand things but I do not have that many people working for me. Secretaries and referees and people writing stuff. So tomorrow, 8.45pm, we will take to the field and we will try to play football as best as possible."
"In this room [Real Madrid's press room], he is the chief, the fucking man. In here he is the fucking man and I can't compete with him. If Barcelona want someone who competes with that, then they should look for another manager. But we, as a person and an institution, don't do that. I could talk about [Olegario] Bequerença [the referee from last season's Barcelona-Inter semi-final first leg], about the offside goal from Diego Milito or the penalty of [Dani] Alves, but I don't. Well, until tonight!"
"If you think after three years, that I always moan, always make excuses and always complain, then there is nothing I can do about that."
"We worked together for four years. He knows me, I know him and that's all. If he wants to go by things written after the Copa Del Rey by friends from the written press or Florentino Pérez, with his milkmaid's tales, then fine. If that matters more than our relationship, then that's up to him. I am not going to justify my words. It leaves a bad taste in your mouth when someone you had a relationship with does [what he has done]."
"I always thought that when people didn't understand me, it was because I had explained myself badly, but now I don't. I said the referee [in the cup final] had been smart and very attentive. I said it was right. I pointed out simply that the result can be down to small things, that's all. It was not a complaint."
"After victory I congratulated Real Madrid and that is what Barcelona does. We congratulated Real Madrid for the cup that they won on the field against a team that I represent proudly."
… Is there anything left for me to say after those words? Pep put everything out there exactly as it is, and stressed that his words are purely in response to Mourinho after Mourinho addressed him by name. "He called me Pep, so I answered. Normally, he talks in general terms about a team, a club or a manager, but this time he named me. If he says: 'Pep,' I say: 'Hey, José.'"
In the end, I can truthfully say that in my years as a football fan I have never seen a man – in football – more honest and more humble than Pep. This is man who, when Barca went straight from two trophy-less seasons to an unprecedented six in one year once he took over, said “these players could have done it with another coach, I could not have done it with another team.” – while Mourinho was proclaiming himself “The Special One.” And this is my issue, that a man as honorable as Pep should be so wrongly accused, that his good name should be thus tainted.
Incredibly, Pep was asked yesterday at the end of his ‘speech’ if it was all a tactic, to which he replied in surprise: "What? You think my players will run around more because I looked for Mourinho's camera? It's a semi-final!" And semi-final or not, let it be known by now that Pep is not here, Barca are not here, to play mind games and media battles. That’s not what concerns us. We’re here to play football, just football, all that concerns us is ourselves and our game, and the fact that the same cannot be said for Mourinho is a shame, a sad shame that football today, the beautiful game, has to be subjected to the ugliness and the immorality that he brings to it.