Euro 2012: If Spain Fail to Win, Is Jose Mourinho to Blame?
The last four years have been a golden era for Spanish football. On the club level, Barcelona have reached the Champions League semifinals in each of those four years, while Real Madrid have rekindled the magic that made them into one of the top football clubs in the world.
Both Barca and Madrid have been able to utilize that strong fortune to recruit many of the best players on the planet to play for their respective clubs. In fact, both clubs possess sides that are capable of defeating any club or international side in a game.
But neither side would defeat the Spanish national team if they were afforded the chance to play them. That is due to the large amount of players on both respective giants' clubs that are of Spanish nationality.
Those Spanish players have been on top of the world during the last four years in the international game. After winning Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup, Spain are undoubtedly the best international side on the planet.
There are plenty of reasons why Spain has become so successful on the international stage. But the two most obvious examples are the skilled players and the tiki-taka system that Spain employs.
Both of these examples are due to the influx of foreign knowledge that Spain has captured during the last several years. By copying parts of the games of European giants such as Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and France, Spain has built a power that is designed to dominate the international game for years to come.
That foreign aspect that has infused into the Spanish game is strong. But at the same time, the use of weak foreign ideas (such as England's long ball strategy) could cause regression.
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For the most part, that regression has not happened to Spain. This is so because Spain has primarily relied on domestic minds to formulate a thesis to play their football. Managers Luis Aragonés, Vicente del Bosque and Pep Guardiola have all brought an attacking flair to the Spanish game and are the characters responsible for any success that Spain may have.
All three are these men are fantastic tacticians who all share a common character trait—they are non-combative.
Spanish football had long failed to succeed due to the fracture between Madrid and Barcelona players. But Aragonés and del Bosque were able to resolve that issue and form a unified Spain, which has made them the best side in the world.
But it appears that the harmony has ended. Days before the 2010 World Cup, Real Madrid brought on Jose Mourinho as their new manager. Mourinho is among the top managers in the game and it was a smart move for Los. Mourinho had a record of success with his prior clubs and just defeated Barcelona a month earlier to put Inter Milan into the Champions League final.
After knocking off Barca, Mourinho infamously sprinted across the Camp Nou pitch and raised his hands to the sky in delight, which in turn angered Barcelona's fans and players. Mourinho's actions were also not viewed in a positive way by Barcelona's groundskeepers, who turned on the stadiums sprinkler system while Inter's players celebrated.
This was not the first time that the Portuguese manager celebrated an improbable advancement in the Champions League. Five years earlier, Mourniho celebrated a late goal by Porto at Old Trafford by running down the touch-line with his fists raised in jubilation. That Porto side went on to win the Champions League and earned Mourinho a spot managing Chelsea.
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Mourinho elevated Chelsea to new heights, but continued to do so by causing more controversy. After Didier Drogba scored a winning goal in the 2007 FA Cup final, Mourinho was seen celebrating by nearly replicating the same celebration he had at Old Trafford three years prior.
The legacy that Mourinho left at Chelsea still reigns to the present. Chelsea's players were given a win-at-all costs mentality, which works great at the club level, but has been proven to be harmful. That mentality was carried onto Inter Milan, but it didn't prove as effective there like it did with Chelsea following Mourinho's departure.
A major reason why is that Mourinho spent more time (40 months) than he did with Inter (slightly less than two years).
But since Mourinho has taken the reigns at Real Madrid, that mentality has taken on a life of its own. That was apparent during the first La Liga fixture between the new clubs toward the ending of 2010. Barcelona famously won that fixture 5-0 but that was not the story following the conclusion of the match. Instead, the fight that ensued at the end of the fixture was remembered much more.
Sergio Ramos, who was red carded for a terrible challenge on Lionel Messi, attempted to choke Carles Puyol before pushing away Xavi following a red card.
Just months before, Ramos started alongside Puyol on Spain's defense, which conceded just two goals in the entire tournament. Xavi also was a starter alongside Ramos in the 2006 World Cup and Euro 2008 in addition to the 2010 World Cup.
In 2011, escalated tensions continued to mount between Madrid and Barcelona, thanks to a three week window in which both sides faced each other four times in La Liga, the Copa del Rey and the Champions League.
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The first two matches saw much of the same hostility that exists in El Clasico matchups. Madrid could claim that they were victorious in the final of Copa del Rey, though they did lose two players to red cards.
But the third and arguably the most important fixture between the two sides saw any peace that may have existed between the two sides disappear. Before the start of the Champions League semifinal first leg, Guardiola went into a tirade against Mourinho and his accusations that he influenced referee decisions, which was a major reason why Barcelona were winners.
Guardiola's response ended any good will that existed between himself and Mourinho. And it also ruined any tranquility that may have existed between the two clubs.
A intensifying first half saw Jose Pinto get sent off for starting a brawl while many players went back to their training rooms.
Chaos broke in the second half after a Pepe challenge on Dani Alves, which deservingly got him sent off. Mourinho would later be suspended by UEFA for claiming Barcelona cheated their way to a win after he got sent into the stands following the red card.
Barcelona went on to advance and won their second Champions League title in three years.
But that did not stop Mourinho. In the first match between the two sides in the Supercopa, Mourinho was caught and later suspended for two matches after he purposely poked then-Barcelona assistant Tito Vilanova in the eye.
With tension at an all-time high, Iker Casillas tried to bring peace with Puyol and Xavi before two upcoming international matches. But the goodwill that the Madrid keeper attempted to create caused Mourinho to suspend Casillas for the Bernabeu trophy match.
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Since this latest incident, tensions between the two sides have cooled off, but they still have not disappeared. During a recent interview with John Carlin of the Financial Times, del Bosque acknowledged that tensions still existed.
These tensions have Spain's biggest problem since winning the World Cup. Since September 2010, Spain have lost four matches. In the previous four year stretch after suffering elimination from the World Cup and before they became world champions, Spain had lost four matches.
To make matters more unsettling, all of the losses that Spain has suffered have come against opponents that they should be defeating. Sides like Argentina, Portugal and England should be sides that Spain should handle.
Using the FIFA World Rankings as a guideline, the best national side that Spain has defeated since the World Cup is the Czech Republic, who is currently ranked 26th and is not expected to advance from their group at Euro 2012.
All three of Spain's opponents in the group stage, Italy, the Republic of Ireland and Croatia are all ranked higher than the Czech Republic. Granted, Spain should win their group, but controversy is still finding a way to create problems in the Spanish camp.
In an interview with Canal+, Xavi said, "That is sport at the end of the day. We have been very respectful with them [Real Madrid]. However, I have noted that it wasn't the same in reverse." Xavi's comments may not mean much, but they are clearly ill-timed and should not be discussed mere days before a European championship.
This also comes on the heels of a quarrel between Ramos and Barcelona's Gerard Pique, which caused del Bosque to quip, "If Pique and Ramos do not get along, they'll be dropped."
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During the 2010 World Cup, both Ramos and Pique started every match and were critical for the Spanish defense. There was never any evidence of a conflict between the two in South Africa, which means that this tension had to be caused within the last two years.
Altogether, 12 of the 23 players that are on the Spanish squad for Euro 2012 play for either Real Madrid or Barcelona. The same amount of players from both squads played in the 2010 World Cup, while the Euro 2008 side had only five players combined from each El Clasico camp.
In 2010, those 12 players were able to put their differences aside, which allowed Spain to capture their first World Cup trophy. But Mourinho's impact did not exist in any way with these players.
Now it appears that the exact problems that Spain had overcome four years ago when they won Euro 2008 are back. Whenever you have national team players fighting and calling out each other due to their sportsmanship, odds are that you will have major problems.
Spain do have one of the best squads at this European championship. But if the squad either stays this fractured or continues to get worse, then they won't win.
The opponents that Spain could face are more daunting than they were in the 2010 World Cup.
Germany are a stronger side than they were two years ago when they bowed out to the Spanish in the World Cup semifinals. The Netherlands possess some incredible attacking options and will be tough to stop. France, who could be Spain's opponent in the quarterfinal, have a strong core of young players and have played strong football leading into this tournament.
On June 10, Spain will start their quest to remain champions of Europe. But with a fractured squad and the shadow of Jose Mourinho overlooking several key players, it may take a miracle to make Spain the first repeat champion of the tournament.
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