Even one of the greatest streaks in soccer history has not saved Jose Mourinho’s position as Real Madrid boss from coming under intense pressure.
With a 2-0 victory over Levante last weekend, Mourinho’s players ensured their coach would complete nine full years without any of his teams having lost a league game at home, a remarkable run that confirms his reputation as one of the all-time greats.
The statistics are astonishing. In 148 home league games since 2002 – when Porto lost 3-2 to Beita Mar – Mourinho’s Porto, Chelsea, Inter Milan and Real Madrid teams have won 125 and drawn 23. Out of 444 possible points, they have gained 398.
Yet despite all this, the marriage between Mourinho and the Madrid hierarchy is tortured, and every passing week brings greater speculation in Spain that he will either jump or be pushed out before too long.
The complicated political structure of the famous old club has created tension ever since Mourinho walked through the doors of the Bernabeu at the beginning of last summer. The Portuguese icon feels there are factors inside the organization that are working against him, but his decision to go public with his grievances further alienated his opponents and sent some fence-sitters into the opposite camp.
Such an unstable working environment does not bode well for his future in Madrid, and the situation may be brought to a head this week. Madrid faces French side Lyon in the Champions League on Tuesday in the first leg of a round of 16 clash that could decide its season, and Mourinho’s fate.
The La Liga title may be beyond reach already, with Barcelona’s consistency such that the current five-point gap is looking like a barrier that could be too steep, even with a third of the campaign left.
The pressure on Madrid’s Champions League bid is further intensified by another streak – an unwanted one. The Galacticos have lost at this round of 16 stage in each of the last six seasons, most recently to Lyon one year ago.
Mourinho has taken a typically bullish approach this week but he knows better than anyone that failure in this competition is the biggest sore point at Madrid, especially with Barca reaching four semifinals in five years and winning it all in 2006 and 2009.
“(Lyon) are tough opponents, who know how to play this kind of match, but we are Real Madrid,” he said, at a pre-game news conference. “The statistics are against us but they are figures from the past. If we think it'll be easy, we'll be in trouble. But we don't think that. If we believe that everything will be decided (in the first leg), we'll be in trouble. But we don't believe that.
“We are ready and convinced of our qualities. We're not attached to the past and we respect our opponents for what they are today. But we are Real Madrid, the champion of champions of European football. There's pressure but also conviction that accompanies us.”
The most intriguing subplot to Mourinho’s increasingly tenuous position is the certainty that he would be much-coveted elsewhere were he to leave. Chelsea boss Carlo Ancelotti is close to the axe and Mourinho has been strongly linked with a return to West London and the English Premier League, where he won two titles and spearheaded the revolution funded by Roman Abramovich.
Such a move would be extraordinary given the way he parted company with Chelsea in 2007, yet Abramovich needs someone capable of building a squad in the manner Mourinho did several years ago.
For all Mourinho’s quirks and sometimes abrasive nature, Abramovich didn’t realize what a good thing he had until he was gone.
Real Madrid may soon be left feeling the same way.