Overshadowing progress, Mourinho’s Madrid exit becomes increasingly contentious

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When José Mourinho left Porto, he did so triumphantly. Same at Inter Milan, and while the mood was more somber when he left Stamford Bridge, there was still the acknowledgement that Mourinho had been integral to Chelsea becoming a true Premier League power. Everywhere he’s gone, he’s not only won. He’s moved the club forward.

The same is true at Real Madrid, even if Mourinho’s impending departure is becoming more contentious by the moment. When The Special One arrived from Inter Milan after the 2009-10 season, the Merengues were on the wrong side of an ever-growing gap between themselves and Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona. They’d also been eliminated in Champions League’s Round of 16 in six straight seasons. In year one, Mourinho got El Real to the semifinals and won the Copa del Rey. In year two, he again reached the semis and added a league title. He had moved another club forward.

That’s not enough at Real Madrid. He was brought in to win Champions League, and with last week’s elimination at the hands of Borussia Dortmund, Mourinho will end his three-year tenure without a European Cup. He ended Real’s second round curse and reversed a trend that was saw the Merengues romped whenever they faced Barça, but bringing to Madrid a bombast that matched his resume, Mourinho knew: No Champions League, no success in the Spanish capital.

They’re ridiculous standards, but they’re ones Mourinho embraced when he moved from Milan. That was part of the challenge – the prospect of being the man who returned El Real to European glory. So as the Portuguese saunters off to Stamford Bridge this summer, don’t waste your time passing judgment. Better to spend your time witnessing the growing carnage being left in his wake as the Spanish season winds down.

Take today’s press conference, an opportunity José Mourinho used to stoke some fires.

source: APOn Iker Casillas (right):

For me I prefer Diego Lopez as a goalkeeper to Iker Casillas. It’s simple. It’s not a personal decision. I like a keeper that is good with his feet, who is dominant in the air and who is a phenomenon between the posts.

I prefer this other profile of keeper. In the same way that Casillas can say that he prefers another type of manager, like Del Bosque or Pellegrini. While I am the coach of Real Madrid, Diego Lopez will play in goal.

Seems rather innocuous, but in the context of Real and the Madrid media, it’s still anathema, despite the fact Casillas hasn’t been the No. 1 in four months. There’s a reason Casillas’s nicknamed “Saint Iker,” and while Mourinho’s winter handling of Casillas and Sergio Ramos can be seen as a step that helped offset the club’s player power culture (and get the team re-focused after a terrible autumn), many see the move as affront to the club. How do you bench the captain for club and country?

It’s a sentiment with which Pepe probably agrees. The Portuguese international was thought to be one of the most pro-Mourinho players in the squad, yet he recently claimed the team’s captain “deserved more respect” from the coach.

To which, Mourinho noted one possible motivation for Pepe’s sudden forthrightness:

It’s very easy to analyze Pepe. His problem has a name, and that name is Raphael Varane. It’s not easy for a man of 31 years of age to be overtaken by a kid of 19.

Regardless of motivation, Mourinho seems to have lost Real’s Portuguese contingent, with Cristiano Ronaldo also offering some off-putting words about Mourinho in the wake of Real’s Champion League exit. Take Diego López and Michael Essien out of the picture, and almost anybody around Real Madrid could be next to kick Mourinho as he’s going out the door.

All of which is a bit silly. Just as Mourinho knew what he was getting into when he moved to Madrid, the club knew who they were getting when they bought him from Inter Milan, and while it’s the media and the players (not the people who hired Mourinho) that are taking these parting shots, there’s still an element of the greater Real Madrid community rushing to condemn a man who moved them forward. Media, fans, players are all trying to get on record before he leaves, as if this type of perverse “say it to his face” logic can mask the underlying dissonance.

To the media, Mourinho is a selfish “I” instead of “we” type of guy, but he’s always been, and while his inability to deliver a “decima” opens him up to second-guessing, critics should be mindful of context. That selfishness has driven more successes than failures, and after mid-May’s Copa del Rey final, Mourinho could leave Madrid with three trophies and three successive trips to Europe’s final four. Given that relative success – achievements that transcend the context into which he was dropped – Madridistas would be better served asking what endemic factors at the club meant Mourinho’s latest successes where ultimately limited ones.

Perhaps Madrid would have never made another Champions League semifinal if Casillas and Ramos hadn’t been checked, leaving the club to continue their autumn descent?

But in the face of a person as combative as Mourinho, counterpunches are inevitable. And it’s hard to begrudge a community’s chance to fire back at a man who seems to have had his bags packed for months. But those countermeasures will be meaningless if Madridistas don’t stop and consider what really went wrong. It would be wrong to use these last, contentious weeks as reason to blame a man who was a relative solution.

Galaxy’s Cole admits he enjoys Arsenal struggles

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LA Galaxy left back Ashley Cole left Arsenal for Chelsea more than a decade ago, but that hasn’t erased the bitter memories of the departure from his boyhood club.

Cole was famously involved in a “tapping up” meeting with Chelsea without Arsenal’s permission in 2005, but signed a contract extension with the Gunners. Still, he was gone a year later in messy circumstances.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

As the most capped fullback in England’s history who boasts both Premier League and Champions League titles with Chelsea, Cole easily could rest on his own laurels and move on from the divorce.

But when asked whether he’s enjoying Arsenal’s current struggles, Cole couldn’t help himself.

“If I’m honest, yeah, I still think to this day. I laugh to myself. I had a lot of history there and I think the way I left was maybe a bit dodgy but the lack of respect they showed me as well.”

Cole accepts a share of the blame for his time ended at Arsenal, but says he doesn’t regret it. Still, his response is not a picture of class.

Next time, just laugh and say, “Next question,” Ashley.

“I’m not a bad guy” – Convicted murderer, new club defend signing

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A week ago, we brought you the story of goalkeeper Bruno Fernandes finding a new club despite a conviction for ordering the torture and murder of his mistress, whose body was then fed to dogs. The two were having a disagreement on child support.

Fernandes, 32, was set free from jail on a technicality and has since been signed by Boa Esporte in Brazil. He said he couldn’t “throw in the towel” on his career because he believed in himself.

Fans were outraged with the team, major sponsors pulled their funding, and an activist group even hacked Boa Esporte’s web page.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

And the club is digging in its heels.

Boa Esporte’s president, Rone Moraes da Costa, reacted to protests by saying he’d rather move the team than not give Fernandes a chance to resurrect his career.

As for Fernandes, he clearly is having trouble explaining why he’s getting another chance. From The Guardian:

“What happened, happened. I made a mistake, a serious one, but mistakes happens in life – I’m not a bad guy. People tried to bury my dream because of one mistake, but I asked God for forgiveness, so I’m carrying on with my career, dude. I’m starting over.”

One mistake. Wow. There are few clubs in the world which fit the bill of being the majority of fans’ least favorite team, but Boa Esporte could get there. Surely there must be more to the story?

Nothing new about the challenges facing USMNT

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This next week may define a generation of USMNT players, but only if it goes poorly.

That may sound overly dramatic, but it isn’t. The United States started 0-2 in the final round of World Cup qualifying, earned its coach a firing, and now stares down its status in the confederation.

Honduras is coming on Friday, far from a pushover. Then it’s off to Panama for another tricky tie. In a vacuum, coming up short in one of the two isn’t the end of the world, but the Yanks will be expected to take a minimum four points. Even that would be a disappointment to many.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

The crutches are gone, aside from any being used by injured players back in Germany (Bobby Wood and Fabian Johnson chief amongst them). Fifteen of Honduras’ players play domestically, and Panama isn’t much better in overall quality.

Frankly, and it’s been written before, the United States should outclass both of these foes. If Bruce Arena’s bunch doesn’t, well, it spells woe for the country’s soccer development as a whole.

For now, supporters and players have been able to cling to the thought that Jurgen Klinsmann was responsible for the Yanks’ struggles. In some ways, he most certainly was to blame for setbacks like the CONCACAF Cup loss to Mexico and the pathetic performance against Costa Rica that earned him a firing.

Several of the United States’ current elder statesmen have built legacies that can survive big hits. Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey may go down in history as the two biggest stars in program history (There will be an argument for both as No. 1 along with Landon Donovan and Claudio Reyna). DaMarcus Beasley is an all-timer, too.

Michael Bradley, Geoff Cameron, and Jozy Altidore are on track for that, too, and there’s an argument to be made the trio is already there, especially for Cameron, who’s a mainstay in the Premier League. Each has found success in Europe after getting their starts in Major League Soccer, and have etched their names into the national record books.

There’s still very little reason to believe the USMNT will miss the 2018 World Cup even with the 0-2 start. The class is just too much to consider the Yanks will finish below Panama, Honduras, and Trinidad and Tobago over the course of 10 matches (The fourth place side gets a shot at an Asian side like Saudi Arabia, UAE, or Uzbekistan in a two-legged affair).

But turning it around has to start now. The Yanks have to handle their business in these qualifiers, and make at least the Gold Cup final to build momentum toward Russia. Anything short of that is abject failure.

Again, this absolutely should happen, starting Friday. Even given the poor start, losses or even a pair of draws this week would be legitimately shocking, and set the program back ages. Howard set it up well Tuesday when he pointed out that the U.S. has gotten to points like this before, and they always belly up to the bar and outlast all comers.

A lot of fans have this nagging voice in their heads, asking nefariously, “What if they don’t?”

Podolski after golazo finale: “This is like a great movie”

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Lukas Podolski has won a EURO, a World Cup, and the Bundesliga with two different sides.

Only Lothar Matthaus and Miroslav Klose have been capped more than Germany’s Polish born Podolski, and he received a hero’s send-off from the home crowd at Germany’s 1-0 win over England on Wednesday.

And of course he sent himself off in style with a gorgeous goal.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

Podolski said there were more than 30,000 people from Cologne at the match, where he won one of his two Bundesliga titles.

“That’s when you know where you home is, and that you’ve done a lot of good, also off the pitch,” Podolski said. “That makes me very proud.”

It was a perfect night to say goodbye, and the goal made it almost surreal (Thomas Muller called it “cheesy”).

From Goal.com:

“This is like a great movie,” he told ARD. “We win 1-0 and I score the goal.

“I know I have a left foot that was probably gifted to me by God, or someone up there, and I can always rely on it. I am proud of these last 13 years.”

Feel good hit of the Spring.