When the 2009-10 La Liga season closed, Real Madrid knew they had a problem. For the second straight season the Spanish giants had failed to get past their arch rivals Barcelona for the league title. Worst still they had tallied an absurd 96 points and yet still lost the league by three points to the Blaugrana. Things had to change and team president Florentino Pérez decided to bring in the one man he believed could changed Madrid's fortunes, Jose Mourinho.
Two years later, Madrid are once again champions of Spain. Mission accomplished, rival vanquished, Perez's gamble, not only with Mourinho, but with the astronomical spending on players paid off. Just don't let Sergio Ramos hold the trophy on any motorized parades.
How Madrid overcame what many considered one of the greatest club side in history comes down to many factors, none more important than consistency. With once match left in the season, Los Blancos have only lost twice in the league (once to Barca and once to Levante) and have a chance to eclipse Barca's 99-point record set two years ago. That's right, a potential 100 point season and with nothing else to play for this season, you can bet Madrid will want to finish with that record.
Madrid won by being the best road team in the league, winning 16 of their 19 matches away from home, the best by a fair amount. Purely in terms of goal differential, Madrid was better on the road this season that they were at home.
They won by not only being the best, but by being ridiculously dominant. Los Blancos passed the previous La Liga single-season team goal record of 107 with four matches left the play (they currently sit at 115). They won by having a multi-faceted attack that included three 20+ goal scorers: Cristiano Ronaldo (44), Gonzalo Higuaín (22) and Karim Benzema (20).
Madrid won because they learned from their mistakes and missteps the previous seasons. Madrid lost the title in 2010 in large part because of poor results at key moments. Lapses of focus and concentration that often left Madrid with one point instead of three. They replaced ill timed draws with wins and found ways to still get results even when it wasn't their best day (which honestly wasn't very often).
They won because they were football's version of the Hulk (the big green guy, not the Brazilian footballer) and they smashed everyone in Spain who tried to get in their way.
I don't think anyone doubted Mourinho was capable of building a champion at Madrid. Like him or not, his coaching pedigree has quickly become the stuff of legends, but after his first season at the Bernabéu, not everyone was sure he was the right man for the job.
The first time Mourinho led his side in to an El Clasico match they were humiliated 5-0. While the score lines got closer, the end results didn't improve. Sure there was the 1-0 Copa del Rey victory in 2011, but beyond that Madrid couldn't beat Barcelona. Not in the league, not in the Champions League, it was a hex, a curse, a seemingly insurmountable barrier that even the Special One couldn't break through.
Or so we thought.
Madrid are La Liga champions today because of all the reasons I've already discussed and because they finally beat Barcelona when it really counted (There's more to it of course, but who are we kidding, this is a league where the El Clasico decides the champion). When the league was on the line, when the already insane pressure was at its greatest, when the door was ajar enough for the Catalans to potentially push through, Madrid finally slammed it shut.
Not only that, they did it in the midst of a challenging late season schedule that included trips to Osasuna, Atlético, Barcelona and Athletic, all traditionally difficult places to play. Madrid not only won those matches, they dominated, outscoring those four opponents 14-3. When the pressure was greatest, Mourinho's players responded, something many doubted they might be able to do.
Now Madrid and Mourinho are champions. The Portuguese manager joins a rare club of men who've won league titles in four different countries (his seventh overall) and the Barcelona boss who'd vexed him and the club before he'd ever arrived has left as well. Mourinho stands at the top of the mountain in Spain having put Los Merengues back on top for the first time in three season. He's accomplished his mission, the question is now will he stay to try and do it again.