Andy Mitten

Mourinho’s near-miss highlights risks

Andy Mitten

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When Real Madrid played in La Coruna recently, Jose Mourinho stopped to sign some autographs in the arrivals hall at the airport. Hundreds of fans were waiting, as is the norm when Madrid or Barca play away in Spain.

What happened next is open to conjecture, but a security guard with the Madrid team realised that he had a 4cm wound in his back caused by a sharp object. News of that didn't leak out for eight days when the story was actually bigger in Britain than Spain.

In Britain, it was front page news in one tabloid newspaper. An accompanying headline read: 'Jose Mourinho's terror after crazed fan tries to stab him as he signs autographs.'

The story continued that Mourinho was "badly shaken up after an apparent attempt on his life." Except he wasn't, because he knew nothing about the incident.

"I don't know anything, I didn't see anything," the Portuguese said after being asked about events, other than the security guard telling him that he "had something on his back done with something sharp."

Perhaps we'll never know the truth. What the incident did show, however, was the difference between how Spanish teams travel to away games compared to English teams.

When Premier League teams travel, they do so in near secrecy. Nobody has any idea which train Manchester United get to London Euston for an away game in the capital, nor which hotel Chelsea stay in when they play in the North West. It's not public information. Of course, you hear anecdotal evidence of autograph requests being made at train stations or in hotels, but little more.

When Barca or Madrid travel, almost every detail about their trip is in the public domain. Diagrams appear in newspapers illustrating which trains or planes the players are getting.

Armed with such information, fans wait at airports, train stations and hotels. So do the media, who also use the fans as a backdrop to their stories to illustrate how popular Barca or Madrid are in Almeria, Santander or Seville.

When Barca played in Gijon last season, so many people came to see local hero David Villa that roads had to be closed. Clubs wear their popularity as a badge of honour and boast that several hundred fans were waiting for them. And when the players return to Barcelona or Madrid Airport after a particularly memorable away defeat, fans will often wait for them into the early hours.

The information can be used in another way. When Luis Figo finally ventured back to Barcelona with Real Madrid, fans screamed abuse outside the team hotel for 24 hours before the game. They wanted to make Figo's life as uncomfortable as possible and they succeeded.

When Madrid's team coach drove to the Camp Nou, even Figo's closest friends in the team made their excuses and moved so they weren't sat next to him because they knew objects would be launched towards him from angry fans outside. Such events, however, are a rarity.

Other Primera Liga clubs will publish travel plans. Valencia might play in Bilbao and fans will be told that they can come to the players' hotel for autographs or photos at a certain hour. Such actions strengthen the bond between fan and player, but there's always the risk of someone abusing the privilege.

Barca and Madrid employ security teams who travel with the team. It's their job to keep any crazed fans at a distance, but as recently as two weeks ago a fan was able to run up to Lionel Messi as he left a coach in Mallorca and put his arms around his head as he attempted to take a photo of himself with his hero.

A security guard pushed him away, but you can understand why - privately - the players hate such intrusions. Publicly, they speak about the wonderful fans and they often mean it, but there are limits.

Such is the price of popularity, eh? And how some clubs would love to be loved.

When lowly Almeria reached the Copa Del Rey semi-final after a second leg away triumph recently, their joyous players returned to the city's airport. There wasn't a single fan waiting for them.

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