Much was made of José Mourinho's "anti-Barça" tactics and formation after last Saturday's clásico at the Bernabéu. Johan Cruyff used his column in El Periodico de Catalunya, as he does every week, to launch an attack on the Portuguese after the 1-1 tie. "Mourinho is a coach for titles, not for soccer," the architect of Barça's early 1990s "Dream Team" opined. "Or, better said, he is not a soccer coach if we understand this sport as a spectacle and entertainment for those who watch it."
Choice words indeed. But Cruyff conveniently overlooked the fact that he was the fulcrum of the finest team never to win the World Cup. Perhaps Cruyff believes Helmut Schön was also a coach who employed negative tactics. Holland's "Total Football" technique won it many plaudits, but zero trophies. Would Cruyff have exchanged that style for some substance? Spain hardly set the world ablaze as it marched to triumph in South Africa, with semifinalists Holland, Germany and Uruguay playing more attractive soccer throughout the tournament. The star on Spain's national shirt today justifies the means.
And there is little for Mourinho to gain by eschewing pragmatism in tonight's King's Cup final (TVE-1, 9.30pm), the first between the two sides since 1990. Real's performance at the Bernabéu may not have raised many pulses, but it did put to rest a run of five consecutive defeats - 5-0 and 6-2 thrashings included - against Pep Guardiola's team. Arsenal remained true to its ethos against Barcelona in the Champions League this season and last but it was the Catalans who progressed. Few teams have even bothered trying to play Barça at its own game, and none has succeeded.
Ask an Arsenal fan if he would swap Arsène Wenger's attractive 21st-century homage to total football for the days of soul-crushingly dull 1-0 wins under George Graham and the answer would be no foregone conclusion. Those famous 1-0 wins brought success. Arsenal has won nothing for the past five years, since Wenger placed his faith in youth development and left the club's check book in a drawer to gather dust.
Real's drought stretches back three years to its last Liga title, secured by Bernd Schuster with a team inherited from the sport's least effervescent coach, Fabio Capello, who won the league the previous year.
Mourinho is a coach for titles. That is why Real hired him. One in his debut season would suit all at the Bernabéu and if on the field of Mestalla he perfects his formula to thwart Barcelona, a Champions League final may be Real's reward. It is an alluring prospect for a club starved of continental success and the volume of eyes alighting lovingly on Barça's play will not turn Mourinho's head.
The Portuguese coach has won 12 of 17 titles contested with Porto, Chelsea and Inter and while few may linger in the mind as classic encounters, the annals record them as tangible successes. Guardiola enjoys a perfect record in finals with Barça: six for six. Tonight's final is the first between the two coaches and a chance for a spot of one-upmanship Mourinho will not lightly dismiss.
A repeat of his formation last Saturday is likely, with Pepe reinforcing the midfield with a remit to track Leo Messi's every move. Mesut Özil's introduction when Real was reduced to 10 men in the league encounter heralded a period of Real ascendancy and a recognized striker may be omitted to accommodate the German international, with Cristiano Ronaldo tasked with opening up Barça's back four.
Guardiola's line-up will feature few changes, unless Carles Puyol is judged unfit to play. Javier Mascherano is available after suspension and either he or Sergio Busquets can drop into defense in place of the captain, with the other anchoring the midfield. The sole novelty will be the presence in goal of José Manuel Pinto, Barça's back-up keeper who plays in cup matches. Real will stick with Iker Casillas, as it does even in a tournament normally reserved for fringe players, but Pinto is no novice. He won the Zamora trophy, awarded to the league's least-breached keeper, while at Celta. Spain captain Casillas also has a Zamora to his name.