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Football | Spain

Jose Mourinho © Action Images

Mourinho ends Barcelona's reign



In June 2010 Florentino Perez, ambitious president of Spanish giants Real Madrid, brought in the world's most expensive and controversial coach, Jose Mourinho, in order to end the domestic domination of Barcelona.

Perez knew that Mourinho would cost him a packet, in terms of salary for him and his troop of assistants, as well as transfer fees, and this is exactly what has happened.

He also knew that the Portuguese "Man of War" would ruffle a few feathers both in Madrid and in Barcelona - and he has certainly done that.

Perez also knew that Mourinho would demand more power within the club than any previous coach had been given. When these demands were made, a year ago, Perez quickly complied, sacking general director Jorge Valdano, Mourinho's internal enemy.

According to media reports, Perez has been exasperated with Mourinho's endless demands, with his persistent threats to leave - and with his countless scuffles with Valdano, the media and referees.

However, Perez was prepared to put up with all of this "sturm und drang" in order to end Barcelona's reign, and on Wednesday this objective was finally achieved when Mourinho guided Cristiano Ronaldo and company to a 3-0 romp at Athletic Bilbao - and Real's first Liga title since 2008.

It was the whites' 32nd league title, and left them 11 ahead of Barca.

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It has been achieved on a flood of goals, with Mourinho laying to rest his label as a defensive coach by establishing a new Spanish record of 115 goals, 44 of them put away by the remarkable Ronaldo.

The "Mou Team", as Ronaldo and company are known, might also establish a new Liga points record. If they win their last two games - away to Granada and at home to Mallorca - they will be the first Spanish team to reach the previously considered impossible total of 100 points.

Mourinho has managed to build a fast, young, physically strong team capable of soaking up pressure for long periods - then of hitting back powerfully and incisively on the break.

The spine of this team has been goalkeeper Iker Casillas - in excellent form despite his allegedly poor relations with Mourinho - centre-backs Pepe and Sergio Ramos, midfield anchorman Xabi Alonso and Ronaldo, winning games almost single-handedly with his astonishing bursts and drives.

Add to the mix four elegant artists like Marcelo, Mesut Oezil, Angel di Maria and Karim Benzema, plus hard-working artisans like Alvaro Arbeloa, Sami Khedira and Gonzalo Higuain, and the end result is a sharp side capable of winning almost at ease in places like Bilbao, Osasuna, Malaga, Mallorca, Valencia, Atletico Madrid and, most importantly, Barcelona.

"Never before in Spain," commented Radio Marca early on Thursday, "has a team been so effective away from home, silencing the hostile crowds with a mass of goals."

The April 21 2-1 win at Barca virtually guaranteed Real the title, and saved them from having to endure a nail-biting. It also - according to sports dailies AS and Marca - convinced Barca coach Pep Guardiola that his reign was over, and that it was time to step down.

On Monday Guardiola denied that Real's impending triumph was a factor in his decision to stand down. However, the prospect of having to face Mourinho's keen team at least four times next season - twice in La Liga and twice in the Super Cup - could hardly have been an attractive proposition for him.

The only negative element on Real's balance sheet this season was their failure to reach the final of the Champions League. As Casillas admitted on Wednesday, "the only pity has been what happened in the Champions."

Ronaldo and company were 2-0 at home to Bayern Munich in the semifinal second leg on April 25, only to let the Bavarians back into the game and eventually crash out on penalties.

Mourinho's old defensive, cautious instincts seemed to betray him that night. Instead of going all out for what would have been a killer third goal, Real went backwards after taking the lead - and paid a heavy price for their conservatism.

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