Mourinho's finger is "one in the eye" for Real Madrid’s reputation
It was there for the whole world to see: José Mourinho, the Special One, coach of Real Madrid, when there was barely a minute left before the end of the Spanish Super Cup 2011, stuck his finger in the eye of Tito Vilanova, FC Barcelona’s second coach in the middle of a crowd of players.
The images were seen around the world and the act criticised from the New York Times, to the Times of India. It is of relative unimportance if it gives a bad impression of José Mourinho. The real problem, if you excuse the pun, is that the action puts at risk the reputation of Real Madrid and its brand value, maybe its most valuable asset with which to compete in the global markets. At the time of writing, while FC Barcelona has positioned itself as the “Good Guys”, Real Madrid has been cast in the role of “Bad Guys”. This entails assuming otherwise avoidable reputational risks and puts in danger their prestige. It is the first step on a slippery slope.
However, beyond the reputational risk, Mourinho’s action also introduces an aspect of imbalance in the behaviour and corporate culture of the Club.
Firstly, with that single finger, Mourinho defined his own leadership style, based on confrontation. This technique, that of uniting a group around a common enemy normally yields good results. The problem is when, in the confrontation, it moves from words to actions. That line had never been crossed by the coaches of Spanish teams.
Secondly, with that single finger, Mourinho defined the type of behaviour that he demands from his own players. It sends the message that “If I attack then you can’t remain neutral”. I don’t know how much fact, or how much fiction, there is in an article by Diego Torres in El País titled “El Baño de Red Bull”, (The Red Bull Shower), but in it he reveals how the coach accused his players, calling them traitors for having commented on or publicly leaked the tactics before the game. What it seems, with that single finger, is that Mourinho points at his players, demands that they are either “with him or against him” and demands the same behaviour that he displays towards the “enemy”. (Maybe it is through obedience to this rule that we heard the declarations of Iker Casillas at the end of the game that: “They got into the area and fell to the floor, as always”).
Thirdly, with that single finger, Mourinho puts into action a dangerous system to whip up the fans, almost demanding that they renounce the historic values of the Club to join the crusade. The problem is that with these calls to join a “Holy War”, you know where it begins, but you don’t know how or when it will end. Externally, he is sowing a boomerang effect of aggression that could result in future problems between the supporters of both clubs. Internally, it could create a divide between the fans: those in favour of Mourinho and those in contra. Those types of divide are never good.
Lastly, with that single finger, Mourinho, de facto, tied the hands of the President, Florentino Pérez. The President of Real Madrid, took the legitimate decision in June to give complete power to Mourinho at the expense of former Director General Jorge Valdano. That decision, which was logical according a management point of view to reduce “dysfunction”, whether the President likes it or not, now puts him directly in the firing line.
I am sure that the person who was most annoyed by the behaviour of the coach was the very President of Real Madrid. The problem, now, is that he has very few choices, beyond looking the other way, publicly supporting the coach, or getting tangled up in accusations of “who started it”. Any other option, (condemn the coach’s conduct from the Club, ask him to issue a public apology, or call for calm and common sense) would cause a cascade of unpredictable organisational consequences for the institution just a few days away from the start of the season.
Without doubt, Real Madrid is a prisoner of Mourinho and, intentionally or not, has linked its reputation with that of its coach, a professional exceptionally technically gifted, but with a prickly character. With that single finger, Real Madrid is opening itself up to serious risks regarding its reputation, aside from whether or not it wins more titles, it is moving away from its traditional image of determination, honesty, and sportsmanship in a club with a long and distinguished heritage. This is too high a price for Madrid supporters like myself, who believe that it is just as important to win titles, as it is the way in which they are won. The reputational risk is so high that it is already starting to cause damage.
The extent of the damage and its effects remain to be seen, but hopefully, the damage will stop here.