Real Madrid sealed its 32nd Liga title on Wednesday night, but the shadow of controversy which has surrounded the club and its rivalry with deposed champion Barcelona still loomed large in Thursday morning’s sports headlines. After Barcelona had beaten Málaga 4-1 thanks to three more goals for record-breaking forward Leo Messi, Real’s players knew that only a win at Athletic Bilbao’s San Mamés stadium would deliver the title – the first for the Madrid club after three straight Barça triumphs – and make the last two matches of the season only relevant in terms of points- and goal-scoring records.
Coach José Mourinho’s team quickly set about showing how it has managed to claw back the advantage held by Barcelona and impose itself on every other club in the division, winning 0-3 after fine first-half goals for Gonzalo Higuaín and Mesut Özil were added to by Cristiano Ronaldo’s header after the break. The Portuguese, who saw a penalty saved by Bilbao keeper Gorka Iraizoz, is now two behind Messi (46 in La Liga) in the chase for the Golden Boot top-scorer accolade.
Shortly before the final whistle at San Mamés, outgoing Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola expressed doubts over the justice of Real’s victory at the end of a season in which refereeing decisions have been debated even more than usual, partly as a result of Mourinho’s insinuations that Barcelona has long been favored by match officials and the guardians of soccer.
“Madrid is deservedly champion but a lot of things have gone on… concealed by our silence,” Guardiola said in a press conference at Camp Nou. “Things have happened and there they are,” he added cryptically.
Madrid is deservedly champion but a lot of things have gone on… concealed by our silence”
Last week Guardiola announced that he would not be continuing as Barcelona coach next season, when his assistant Tito Vilanova will be in charge. Among the reasons he cited for his decision to stand down after such the most successful three-year period in the club’s history was the pressure of the press room. One year ago the Barça coach exploded in a press conference when asked about comments made by his Real counterpart, saying that “Mourinho is the boss, the fucking chief” in terms of press-room politics.
The bad blood escalated to the point of Vilanova being poked in the eye by Mourinho during a side-line brawl during last summer’s Supercup match between the two teams.
Last season, Mourinho’s first in charge, saw Real suffer painful defeats at the hands of Barcelona, starting with a 5-0 loss in the league and including the elimination of Madrid at the hands of Barcelona in the Champions League, which Guardiola’s men went on to win for the second time in three years against Manchester United. Real, however, did save the season with a victory over Barcelona in the King’s Cup final, and in this campaign the clásicos have been far closer affairs. Barcelona won 1-3 at Real’s Bernabéu stadium in December (one of only two defeats the champion has suffered), but Mourinho’s players got revenge and the definitive push toward the title by winning 1-2 at Camp Nou last month.
Mourinho has now won seven league trophies in four different countries with FC Porto, Chelsea, Inter Milan and now Real Madrid. After being tossed in the air the traditional three times by his players after the final whistle on Wednesday, Mourinho told Real Madrid TV that this had been “the hardest” of his league trophies. The coach eschewed the general press conference, which was attended by his assistant Aitor Karanka and Iker Casillas.
Earlier in the evening, Sevilla president Jesús del Nido again questioned whether the dominance of Spain’s big two was good for the game. Speaking after Sevilla had lost 1-2 to Real Betis in the Seville city derby, the self-appointed leader of the middle-ranking Liga teams repeated his argument that the rest could never compete with Real and Barça as long as the two top clubs continued to take the lion´s share of the income from the sale of television rights.