Two very famous quotes of Vince Lombardi
“(American) Football is like life – it requires perseverance, self-denial, hard work, sacrifice, dedication and respect for authority.”
“Individual commitment to a group effort — that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.”
Vince was talking primarily about that great American pastime – that sport of padded shoulders, helmets and oval-shaped balls. But his quotes make just as much sense across the Atlantic pond, in Europe, where ‘real’ football (as the rest of the world, knows it) rules the roost.
Page 3 Prima Donnas
This Copa Del Final required all of those qualities in more than ample abundance from Real Madrid. From ‘Los Galacticos’ to ‘Neo Galacticos’, Real Madrid have always been slated for their overpaid superstar personas.
Celebrity girlfriends, page 3 lifestyles, mega salaries and unwillingness to work hard on the pitch have all been the hallmarks of any Real Madrid side. Even before Perez arrived on the scene to make Real Madrid the cynosure to the whole of media, Real were already looked upon as prima donnas: talented but with immense tantrums. Even Raul had once famously remarked when McManaman was about to come: “If he thinks he is joining a top team, he is mistaken’.
The Spanish sides have always been associated with flair and flamboyance than hard work and grit. When the push comes to shove, they can’t push back; or so it was said.
But this Copa Del Rey final was different. This night, ‘the mice’ tamed ‘the lions’.
As the referee’s whistle blew to signal the end of second chapter in the epic clash of Spanish titans, the Real Madrid section erupted. The Catalan section left the stadium and hit the bars as the capital city prepared for festivities at Cibeles.
One for all, All for one
This night was truly for the ‘true’ Madridistas. Madridismo stands for honor, sacrifice and willing to work hard. “One for all and all for one”. Combined, united and persevering. Real Madrid won, through strenuous sacrifice, solidarity and desire, probably because there was no other way to defeat an opponent as formidable as the Catalan club.
Di Stefano may feel that this team has no personality. But with all due respect to the honorary president, there is more to football than flair, flamboyance and swashbuckling moves. Nobody can put it better than Mourinho, the master of soundbites:
“Some people believe great football has to be great passing and lots of possession but for me the defensive work and covering space zonally is very important, which is what we did.”
One could see the desire in this Real Madrid side. The desire, the hunger to win that had been missing for so many seasons. Real wanted to win and win at any cost. CR7 missed one chance and then another. Yet his head didn’t drop and his arms didn’t flail. He didn’t look irritated. Instead he looked more determined with every miss. The jaw clenched, the muscles became taut, the looks became more intense and runs became more purposeful. Finally the deserved moment arrived: in the form of a towering and a thunderous header at the far post to seal one of the most memorable victories in all times for Los Blancos.
Ozil looked humiliated, when he was the first one to be substituted. For this was not ‘just’ the Copa Del Rey. It was much more than that. It was a battle of wills. A battle of nerves. A preparation for what was about to come, than what was happening right now.
Playing to one’s strengths
Prior to this match, Real had taken a lot of flak for playing defensive football. Barcelona had taken a moral victory, despite playing with a man more for 45 minutes and despite Real Madrid fashioning more chances than the Catalan side during this time when they were handicapped.
But what is a defensive side? A side that does not seek to pass their opponents out of the game or side that that never seeks to attack the opponent?
For all the possession, for all the completed passes and for all the supposed ‘dominance’, Real fashioned better chances against their fancied rivals, in both games. They looked to play to their strengths than their opponent’s; which is not a bad thing at all. Why not ask Barcelona to play counter attacking football than a possession based one? Can they do it? Doubtful.
Even if a Madridista, along with the entire world, demands a spectacle, Real are not here to please Barcelona with their style of play. Even in the words of Perez, “Madrid is about winning“. First Real need to start winning against Barca. If it requires them to slog, so be it. Domination and spectacles can come later.
To play possession football, the whole team needs to know each other inside out; to have a coach who has been inculcating a certain style of play for several years; to have a core which remains constant. Real have none of these.
The victory last night brings out challenges into limelight more than ever before. The challenge is not just to win trophies. It is much more than that. And, thankfully, the man who matters realizes it more than anyone else.
“Winning a title at Real Madrid is nice but my job here is not just about winning trophies, it’s about changing the structure of the club and the mentality of people. If we had not won the cup today, the only difference would be that we would be sad.”
This is the “Real” challenge before Casa Blanca: to change their mentality. Real is too big a club to go trophyless for too long. Sooner or later they will manage to win something, with or without Mourinho. But the page 3 culture has to go.
Manchester United had a huge pub culture before Sir Alex Fergusson(SAF) came in. The first thing that he did was to stamp out this boozing and partying. Fun is good, but not at the cost of the club. The club is the supreme institution. This is what Mourinho is trying to instill and this is what is required.
Iron Man with an Iron will
Mourinho is a strong man. He knows that there is no point in playing to your opponents’ strengths. It is good that he stuck to his guns rather than be swayed by the negativity around him.
But this victory is meaningful only if it acts as a base for the future. It is meaningful only if the ‘collective’ replaces the ‘individual’.
Mourinho is a wanderer; a travelling bard if you please. He has never made any secret of his desire to go back to England. He is not here for the long haul or make a dynasty like SAF. He will win and move on. But this victory of his has thrown up more questions than answers. Will the lessons he is trying to impart remain? That is the million dollar question.
This victory has brought Real to a crossroads. One way leads to the old ways: back to square one.
The other is ‘road less travelled’ by Real: the one of unity, sacrifice and humility. Standing for each other and working collectively. This will demand a lot from everyone. Egos will have to put aside, training ground will no longer be a formality to stay fit but will be a springboard for the higher leap.
‘When’ Mourinho goes and go he will, the second road is the only one which will lead to enduring success. With the advent of technology, the games are no longer decided solely on the field. Off field preparation is equally important. One more trophy changes nothing. Real can no longer afford to live on past glory.
Talent is no longer enough. It has to be combined with diligence and application of mind, body and soul to the collective cause. Individually they cannot win anything. Collectively they can beat the world. Only then the hunger to win continuously will remain insatiated.
Real are very fortunate that they have a man with an iron will such as Mourinho to guide them. He knows what needs to be done and how to do it. He is not afraid to launch himself into pitched battles and win them. He knows how to protect his players and how to make them better. Just ask Marcelo and Benzema.
Stay hungry, Stay foolish
One only hopes that Real learn their lesson from this victory and make full use of Mourinho till the time he is here. That is of paramount importance. However, this is not the final lesson. There are many more to come: both good and bad.
The important thing is that Real stay hungry and stay foolish. So they can always keep on learning and keep on winning, never losing their desire and forever progressing.