Monday, June 6, 2011


Barcelona and Manchester United played the Champions League 2011 final. Now where does Mourinho come into this? In a way perhaps here: the MU Manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, is said to have consulted him telephonically about how to contain Barcelona. A huge compliment really to the one who calls himself the “special one” (and not without justification, by the way). One wonders whether the Real Madrid Manager, whose team had played Barcelona five times in the 2010-11 football season, had advised him to adopt a strongly defence-oriented approach; if he had, his advice was obviously not implemented. Sir Ferguson is not a manager of the “kill joy” kind.

In any case, what Mourinho said about Barca’s victory in the match or about the match itself one does not know. Did he murmur a reluctant word of praise for Barca, or more likely, did he trash Barca for having unfairly defeated his team in the semi-final? “Unfairly” in his view of course. Or did he say as his team was not playing, the match was none of his business? Whatever he did does not seem to have been given coverage enough by the media for one to take note of.

As for the final, it was good both from the point of view of the match itself and the healthy respect that the managers and players showed for each other. Hardly had any aggressive observations by either team been made before the match and there was no cynical attempt to demoralize the opponent in a manner that is euphemistically called “mind game”. And Ferguson’s words and conduct after the match set an example, worth emulating, of how dignified and graceful one could be in defeat. Both his captain and he himself paid compliments in controlled words to the team they had lost to. On the field both teams played open football, and both played to win. Although after Barca’s second goal MU might have sensed that the odds were clearly against them, they did not give up attacking; neither did, at any stage, Barca stop playing attacking football and go defensive to save their lead. There were no cynical fouls, no play-acting, and no ugliness. The game was pleasing. It was not a one-nil kind of final, the goal coming from a penalty kick or being the result of some terrible defensive error, rather than of some creativity on the part of the striker. Four goals were scored and the goals were good; one could only argue about which was the next best. The best was Messi’s for the element of surprise that it had. Barca won the match, but from another point of view, by no means inconsequential, both teams won as they played good, clean, positive football.

The match invited attention to the fact that there aren’t just two options in football, namely, (a) play attractive football and lose, and (b) play unattractive football and win. There is a third option: (c) play good, pleasing football and win. At the club level in Spain and England, Barca, Real Madrid, MU, and Arsenal, among others are known for playing interesting football, as are Brazil, Holland, Portugal and Spain, to name some, at the international level. In fact only a few teams implement the idea of winning at the cost of quality football. At the international level, it is Italy in the recent years that has done it more often than not, and at the club level any club where Mourinho has been the manager. This is not to say that he is the creator of uninteresting, defensive football; he is merely the most articulate exponent of it today. And quite importantly, he is unapologetic about it, almost unabashedly so.

We know the arguments for defensive football as we do the context in which this is seen as a need. We also know that winning is intoxicating and that it has a way of legitimizing or at least condoning the sins resorted to in the process. But at the same time we can hardly afford to forget that a healthy society cannot uphold success at any cost in any domain as a value.

We must not ignore the fact that neither the “bus in front of the goal” kind of football nor the open kind always brings success. However, when the former does, it always brings with it a sense of disappointment for football audiences. Fans might rejoice a soulless victory, but it must be remembered that a great football match or tournament today is no more a local event; it’s a global one, and the global audience looks forward to see aesthetically appealing football.

Mourinho is in charge of an excellent team with many world class players. We, who think highly of him, would look forward to his team playing bright, positive football. Mourinho is young and highly talented. We would not like him to be known as a killer of the beauty of this beautiful game.