Real's DNA gives Mancini a Hart attack
In five minutes of theatre at the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu on Tuesday night, Jose Mourinho traversed the full range of emotions. At 10.25pm Madrid time, his bloodshot eyes took the form of glacé cherries as he stared vacuously into space. At 10.30pm, he was sliding around the pitch on his knees in an eccentric attempt to destroy his £3,000 Armani suit.
He is such the consummate actor that his antics overshadowed the quite splendid dénouement to the Real Madrid-Manchester City match in the Uefa Champions League, which Real won 3-2 after trailing 2-1 with three minutes remaining. But in this age of celebrity, where character is more important than plot, one could only see the story in terms of its cast.
Typically, Mourinho made the story about himself with some screwball pre-match comments about Real “not having a team”, which served only to make the pressure on him intolerable. With five minutes remaining, the hyperbolists were out in force, suggesting that Mourinho could begin to think about negotiating his severance package.
Not so quick. Despite having performed with calm assurance for the most part, City found a way of turning certain victory into inevitable defeat, and Mourinho found himself saved by the vagaries of Roberto Mancini’s tactics. “No, I don’t feel sorry for Manchester City,” Mourinho told the besieged ITV interviewer. “We deserved to win. For me, this is typical of Real Madrid's DNA.”
Once Alexsandar Kolarov had scored to put City 2-1 ahead in the 85th minute, an attitude of all-out defence seemed axiomatic, but the English champions became intoxicated by the ease with which they were making the Real defenders vulnerable. Mancini, usually so cautious, either did not want to kill the match stone dead or, in the cauldron of the Bernabéu, could not get the message across to his players.
City crumbled like a cheap cake, and one thought back to their form last March when they did their best to finish runners-up in the Premier League, only to fail miserably in May by winning the title. In Madrid, Karim Benzema equalised in the 87th minute, Cristiano Ronaldo scored the winner in the 90th minute, and Joe Hart, the City goalkeeper, stormed off with the look of agony engraved on his youthful features.
“It's not on,” Hart told the besieged ITV interviewer. “You cannot go 2-1 up and lose the game. We can only blame ourselves. We dug deep, got a lead twice and threw it away. It's hard to come off the field after losing 3-2 and be positive.” It was a car-crash of an interview, because the besieged ITV interviewer did not know how to handle Hart's honesty, but it was only in keeping with the nature of City’s car-crash performance in the final few minutes.
The steam was still emanating from Hart’s ears when his manager, Mancini, wearing the same £3,000 Armani suit as Mourinho (but not at the same time), tried to sum up in words the abstract thoughts that must have been giving him a headache. “Joe Hart should stay in goal and make saves,” Mancini told everybody except for the besieged ITV interviewer. “If anyone should criticise the team it should be me, not Joe Hart. I am the judge, not Joe Hart.”
In refusing to conceal the truth, Mancini had made every member of the British television audience pleased that they were not Joe Hart. But Mancini would have had no need to tell the truth if Hart had not first told the truth. Too much honesty: that was the problem.
After that, the characters went their separate ways, and it remained for Adrian Chiles, the chirpy ITV football anchorman, to consider the implications of the previous two hours. Chiles, an observer par excellence, seemed pleased to point out Mourinho’s predilection for speaking about himself in the third person. “The first sign of madness,” Chiles said, chuckling, but then looking perplexed that neither Roy Keane nor Gareth Southgate saw the joke.
Perhaps it was because Keane and Southgate knew that Chiles was mistaken. The first sign of madness is trying to destroy a £3,000 Armani suit.