Jose Mourinho has always been a topic of controversy, leading to continuous debates among the fans and critics alike. Many consider him the greatest manager of all time, thanks of his trophy-winning spree in Portugal, England, Italy and Spain, while some disapprove of his regressive style of play which focusses on maintaining a water-tight defence.
It’s brought success but eight years ago, during his tenure at Real Madrid, the Portuguese manager ran riot by instilling a pacey brand of football and elusive counter-attacking performances. The resources at his disposal included Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, Gonzalo Higuain, Angel De Maria, Mesut Ozil and Marcelo, who were fast and precise in finishing their moves.
Mourinho usually relied on a 4-2-3-1 formation with Benzema up front. Ronaldo and Di Maria took their position on the wings and Ozil was the prime suspect dictating the play, finding gaps while attacking and was assisted well by Spaniard Xabi Alonso.
The strategy was clear — retrieve the ball from the opposition in your half and pass it long. The five players who usually ran forward were Ronaldo, Di Maria, Benzema, Ozil and Marcelo. The high tempo and swift passing between the players didn’t allow much time to the opposing team to track back and stop the attack.
Mourinho was not one for keeping possession for long but instructed his players to break as soon the ball was won. His strategy was complimented by the pace of Ronaldo, Di Maria and Benzema, who didn’t stutter for a single moment while running with the ball towards the goal. Marcelo usually ran from the left flank and Alonso tracked back to cover his position.
Los Blancos were so lethal on the counter that they completely overshadowed Pep Guardiola’s majestic Barcelona during the 2011/12 season. Real were crowned champions of Spain and limited the effect of Barcelona’s dominance in the domestic league. Racking up 100 points in the Spanish league was a testament to how effective they were while scoring quick goals.
During the 2011/12 campaign, Ronaldo's confidence in his ability was just outrageous. The runs he'd make, the dribbles he'd attempt and the goals he'd score were simply superb. Everything he touched turned to gold. The Portuguese scored a breathtaking 60 goals in 55 appearances across all competitions for Los Blancos and his partnership with Ozil was incendiary.
The German midfield maestro Ozil, who won the race for most assists (19) in La Liga that season, was nothing short of exemplary. The most remembered and clinical performance came in a Champions League encounter against Ajax. Ramos won the ball in Real’s half and passed it along. What followed was unarguably the greatest spell of counter-attacking football, including just four players – Ronaldo, Kaka, Ozil and Benzema.
An end-to-end move took a mere 16 seconds till it found the back of the opponent’s net, courtesy of a strong strike of Ronaldo. It was a lightning move that should be forever applauded for its precision. Although the All Whites fell short in the Champions League, bowing out to Bayern Munich in the semi-final, it was a season marked with significant progress.
A La Liga title after four years was what the Santiago Bernabeu was rooting for and the Promised One delivered it in style. The 2011/12 season will be remembered for all the glory that Mourinho brought to the esteemed club while blossoming Ronaldo into a goal-scoring beast.
Feature image courtesy: AFP / Dominique Faget