Forty minutes prior to kick-off at the Estadio Bernabéu against city rival Atletico Madrid, Jose Mourinho walked out onto the pitch alone and allowed Real Madrid fans to boo, whistle and jeer at him. Los Blancos supporters were agitated that their team was already falling well out of the La Liga title race and Mourinho wanted them to be focused on supporting the team once the game started.
Real Madrid went on to win that match 2-0 and while the league is all but lost, it's becoming more clear that it was never in the cards for Mourinho this year anyway. Had things worked out to where his side could challenge Barcelona for that trophy, I doubt anyone would have complained, but it didn't.
Instead, Jose Mourinho knew that his team's goals needed to be shifted to accomplishing two key goals. Winning the Copa del Rey and winning the team's 10th European title. Back on December 1st when he allowed Madrid fans to boo him, there were serious doubts that either of those goals could be accomplished given the team's form. Now nearly three months later, things are looking much better on those fronts.
Madrid's masterful elimination of Barcelona at the Camp Nou on Tuesday has the team in the Copa del Rey final. More importantly they are flying high ahead of their Champions League Round of 16 second leg match against Manchester United. Mourinho's side performed so well against Barca that you'd be hard pressed to find anyone, other than hardcore United fans, who's not thinking that Madrid will go into Old Trafford and get a result.
One has to wonder if this was the plan all along, or at least a modified plan that Mourinho came up with sometime last last year.
Maybe Mourinho knew that in order to reach one set of goals another set had to be sacrificed. Having won the league last season, perhaps Mourinho decided that focusing on the Champions League would be the smarter move, even if fans demand that their team win everything started getting riled up.
Competing consistently on three fronts (league, league cup and European competition) will wear even the deepest team out. It's almost unfair to ask even the most fit and well supported professional athletes to shoulder that load season after season.
Just look at Barcelona, who are struggling with form and fitness at the moment after years of competing on multiple fronts deep into every season. It sure looks like they've hit a bit of a wall, and as the season's biggest matches are happening, they're playing their worst soccer.
Madrid, on the other hand, are firing on all cylinders at the right time. When the results matter the most, they're playing their best soccer. Maybe that's what Mourinho planned all along, because he realized that while people love to talk about trebles, in the end, consistently winning silverware is just as emotionally fulfilling.
With the insane demands that club and international play puts on the modern players, perhaps there is something to be said about how Mourinho is handling his Real Madrid side.
Perhaps I'm giving him too much credit. Some might say I'm just fawning over Mourinho, but you can't deny the results he's had not only at Madrid but at his previous jobs. One might even say that his time at Madrid has been not only his toughest challenge but potentially his greatest performance as a manager. We'll have to wait a couple more months to talk about that but if Madrid are lifting their 10th European title on May 25th, that would be a full vindication of Mourinho's plan, at least in my mind.
If Mourinho walked out alone on the Bernabéu pitch after that, he would hear nary a boo.