Early Doors

Mourinho words can’t obscure Messi deeds

Early Doors

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Last night's third instalment of this mini-series of Clasicos went from the ridiculous to the sublime and then back again as Barcelona won 2-0 at the Bernabeu.

Real Madrid's spoiling tactics and Barca's play-acting gave way to a burst of match-winning brilliance from Lionel Messi, only for Real boss Jose Mourinho to once again hog the limelight with a bizarre, paranoid and slanderous post-match rant which, to all intents and purposes, alleged a UEFA conspiracy to help the Catalan side succeed.

Quite frankly, after already meeting twice in the preceding 11 days, Los Merengues and the Blaugrana looked sick of the sight of each other.

Following their 1-1 draw in La Liga and Real's Copa del Rey final triumph, this clutch of fixtures appeared to reach its nadir in the Spanish capital as they met in the first leg of their hotly-anticipated Champions League semi-final.

Rather than being an exhibition of footballing purity by two of the biggest teams in the game - between them boasting the World Player of the Year, the most expensive player ever and a dozen World Cup winners - it was a niggly, bitter and spiteful affair. And that was just on the field.

Off the pitch, Barca's reserve keeper Jose Pinto was sent off by referee Wolfgang Stark for his part in a half-time melee before Mourinho was sent to the stands for his reaction to Pepe's contentious red card for a high challenge on Dani Alves.

Mourinho had teased opposite number Pep Guardiola before the match for complaining about referees. Afterwards, the Portuguese could barely talk about anything other than officials.

"One day I would like Josep Guardiola to win this competition properly," Mourinho said afterwards in a press conference he claimed he shouldn't have been allowed to give, referring to the 2009 semi-final in which referee Tom Henning Ovrebo denied several penalty claims from Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.  

"If I tell UEFA what I really think and feel, my career would end now. Instead I will just ask a question to which I hope one day to get a response: Why? Why Ovrebo? Why (Massimo) Busacca? Why (Frank) de Bleeckere? Why Stark? Why? Because every semi-final the same things happen."

Mourinho has a history of, in his eyes, naming and shaming referees. It was his criticism in 2005 of Anders Frisk following his then Chelsea side's clash with Barca which led to the Swedish official having to retire after receiving death threats from Blues fans.

Not satisfied with using the names of officials as ammunition, Mourinho then went on to pontificate as to the reasons for the 'plot' which always apparently comes to Barca's aid.

"Congratulations to a fantastic football team," he said. "But congratulations for all they have as well, it must be difficult to get all this power. Where does this power come from? I don't know if it's because they give UNICEF publicity (on their shirts)?

"They have to get to the final, and they'll get there, full-stop."

Barcelona's legal department is going through Mourinho's words before deciding whether or not to make a complaint to UEFA, and the governing body itself will have to plan its actions very carefully. Do nothing and risk Mourinho crowing that he must be right otherwise he would be punished, or hit him with a charge and simply enhance his status as a martyr.

Barcelona did not fully play their part as the innocent party of this piece, of course. Alves and Sergio Busquets in particular over-played the slightest contact at every opportunity - as substitute Emmanuel Adebayor said afterwards: "Whenever you touch them they are crying on the floor. Their manager, their fans, the players on the bench, they are always crying." - but it is no different to the way in which Porto slyly duped and connived their way to UEFA Cup and Champions League trophies under Mourinho.

Mourinho has now had players sent off in each of his last five meetings with Barca, stretching back to last year's semi-final as Internazionale manager. Is it, as he claims, the powers that be acting as Barca's 12th man? Or is it the way he sets his teams up to play against them which makes them so susceptible to ending games a man down?

As the man says himself says, he won his two European Cups with "work, effort, sweat and fight", so when Pepe shows plenty of the latter by leaping in and catching an opponent on the thigh with his studs, Mourinho is only getting what he asked for. Playing a nominal centre-back in midfield may have been the way to go away from home or on a neutral ground in a final, but on your own patch you would hope that such a stellar side would be willing to try and beat their rivals by playing football rather than grinding out a result.

There seems to be no consensus over what the right punishment, if any, should have been for Pepe's challenge. Should he have gone off for a reckless high challenge? Was it only worthy of a booking? Should it even have been a foul at all? But, in any case, it was one man's decision, not that of any conspiratorial organisation.

Thank goodness, then, for Lionel Messi. Yes, Real were down to 10 men when he darted on to Ibrahim Afellay's near-post cross to open the scoring and yes, Xabi Alonso did not track the little Argentine as well as Pepe might have when he zipped and jinked his way through four white shirts to score a wonderful second goal, his 52nd of the season; but long after Mourinho's latest bitter outburst has disappeared from the back pages, the memory of that strike will live on.

After filling the air with vitriol and allegation in his press conference, Mourinho lamented: "It is a world that sometimes disgusts me to live in and earn a living from, but it is my world." Tell that to the World Player of the Year, Jose.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY: "You know, when I look back at it now, I'll say it again, how wrong was I? I'm willing to admit that. I've apologised and ever since then I have wanted to try to prove myself again to the fans. I feel I am doing that now. I'm delighted with my form at the minute and I'm grateful to the fans for supporting me through it. I hope I've repaid the fans now. I am a lot happier in my life, a lot happier with the way I'm playing. It's almost been like having to settle down again and I've done that now." - Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney admits he made a mistake handing in a transfer request towards the end of last year.

FOREIGN VIEW: "To me, Pele is the best. Nobody did what Pele did. Being champion of the world at 17 years old, won three World Cups, scored more than 1,208 goals - only him! Then until now, nobody did this... to me, Pele is the best." - Who is this former player lavishing praise upon legendary Brazil striker Pele? Why, Pele himself, of course.

COMING UP: There is plenty of Champions League reaction, with post-match player interviews, our Team of the Week and the verdict on who was hot and who was not following the semi-final first legs.

QPR manager Neil Warnock answers your questions, and we look at the stunning impact of Manchester United's Javier Hernandez on his first season in the Premier League.

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