It’s rare to hear soundbites from Barcelona midfielder Andrés Iniesta but when they come, they’re typically cautious, soft-spoken comments that rarely spark controversy.
That wasn’t the case on Sunday when El Pais newspaper quoted Iniesta as saying that Jose Mourinho did more harm than good to Spanish football during his three-year tenure at Real Madrid.
“You just have to look at the facts,” Iniesta told El Pais. “Yes he damaged Spanish football, in general more harm than good. But I don’t like talking about that person at all. So if you don’t mind, we’ll leave it at that.”
Mourinho and Madrid agreed to mutually part ways back on May 20th after a tumultuous 2012-13 campaign where the Portuguese manager failed to claim Los Blancos a major trophy. Mourinho has since put pen to paper on a deal to return to Chelsea, where ‘The Special One’ feels “loved” after famously managing the side to two Premier League titles from 2004-07.
Mourinho’s three year stint at Madrid was filled with a series of ugly incidents, which included eye-gouging Barcelona coach Tito Vilanova on the touchline of a Madrid-Barcelona match in 2011, benching club captain and goalkeeper Iker Casillas and most recently claiming that Cristiano Ronaldo can’t be coached because he “thinks he knows it all.”
That being said, is Iniesta’s criticism of Mourinho valid? Or are these just sour grapes remaining after three years of El Clásico fixtures?
It’s tough to say without hearing more from Iniesta. But at the very least, accusing Mourinho of “damaging” Spanish football seems a bit rich. If anything, many would claim that Mourinho’s presence and antics only added to the drama surrounding the El Clásico, solidifying its reputation as the most watched rivalry in world football.
The argument that Mourinho’s antics – while at times, childish and crude – soiled the purity of El Clásico feels a bit over-stated. After all, it’s not like that match has not had its fair share of notable events, including, team buses being pelted with bricks, a long rap sheet of racist incidents and dangerous projectiles being thrown onto the pitch (including a pigs head that was thrown at the feet of Luis Figo in 2002).
Iniesta’s argument feels even less valid when one considers the financial state of La Liga. If anything has “damaged Spanish football” it’s the financial mismanagement (not to mention the outright corruption) that the league suffers. This year alone, eight out of 20 La Liga clubs are either in administration or have had to drastically restructure their debt.
Much of that blame is due to a system that allows clubs to sell their television rights individually, which disproportionately favors Madrid and Barcelona, leaving smaller clubs in shackles.
Of course, Iniesta’s comments could simply be referring to the mental strain that Mourinho inflicted on Casillas by benching him at Madrid. We’ll see much of a toll the benching has taken on Casillas later this month when La Furia Roja heads to Brazil for the 2013 Confederations Cup.