Florentino Pérez watched with horror when José Mourinho walked alone onto the Bernabéu turf on Saturday night, risking a confrontation with Real Madrid fans, according to the club directors who sat with him. Neither the derby victory over Atlético or a few hours’ sleep served to dull the sense of bitterness felt by the Real president. His colleagues said they had never seen Pérez in such a state of panic. The manager’s stunt was viewed as an attack on the ethos and the image of the club, sponsors and the fans — future voters in presidential elections.
The board had hoped that a win over Atlético would make co-existence with Mourinho easier. Now they believe that the coach was trying to get himself sacked. In his alarm, Pérez has ordered that Mourinho and the team’s performances be placed under extra scrutiny between now and the winter break. The Champions League draw, which takes place on December 20, and the identity of Real’s opponent will have significant bearing on the evaluation. The last 16 matches, on which Real’s season now largely hangs, will be decisive. If the situation deteriorates, Pérez will not rule out a summary sacking. According to club sources, Pérez has set his sights on veteran Italian coach Marcelo Lippi, currently at Chinese champion Guangzhou, if he requires a stop-gap until June.
The team’s lackluster performances and the favoritism Mourinho shows toward everything to do with the business of his agent, Jorge Mendes, the source of much of the locker-room division, has led Pérez to doubt whether his coach is suitable for a long-term project. So says a board member, who adds that Pérez only started thinking about ridding himself of his coach a month ago. Every press conference Mourinho now attends is viewed with apprehension by the club’s hierarchy lest the coach should direct one of his explosive tirades at the men upstairs.
I was expecting a bad reception and I wanted the crowd to direct it at me”
On Monday the Portuguese was asked if through his actions on Saturday he was seeking some form of approval. “I do not need approval,” he replied. “I was expecting a bad reception and I wanted the crowd to direct it at me and get behind the team. As to whether the president agreed with me or not, ask the president. I don’t have to say when I speak to the president or what we talk about.”
Mourinho then took advantage of a mention of Sir Alex Ferguson to muse on the subject of loyalty, wrapped up as a message for a recipient he did not reveal. “Friendship is always being at the side of those close to you. There are people who think that there is always room in friendship for disloyalty, that there is room for betrayal.”
The news that Mourinho was planning to walk out onto the pitch alone to provoke a chorus of disapproval met with amusement among the squad before the derby. “Who does he think he is, the Messiah?” said one player. The majority of the team believe that this sort of behavior does not help the cause.
As Mourinho prepared to go out to face his public, laughter erupted in the locker room. “Is he putting his make-up on?” When the game had finished some players were joking openly in Mourinho’s presence. They feel that Mourinho lost respect for them some time ago. The feeling of betrayal is mutual.