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Can Mourinho make a difference to Real Madrid?

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Phil Minshull | 18:36 UK time, Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Last week's arrival of Germany's World Cup revelation Mesut Ozil from Werder Bremen took Real Madrid's spending this summer to 74m euros (£60.8m), a not inconsiderable amount even by the extravagant standards of fellow European high rollers Manchester City.

Clearly, Real president Florentino Perez is once again hoping that success can be bought.

In addition to Ozil, Perez has lavished his money far and wide, purchasing Argentine winger Angel di Maria from Benfica, Ozil's compatriot Sami Khedira from Stuttgart, Portuguese defender Ricardo Carvalho from Chelsea as well as, and making a rather shorter journey than his fellow newcomers, Pedro Leon from Getafe.

Waving a chequebook around wasn't a tactic that worked for Perez and Real last season, though.

Kaka, Cristiano Ronaldo and all the other expensive signings were embarrassingly unable to lift any silverware as they were outshone by Barcelona domestically and out-thought in Europe by Lyon.

However, last season Real also looked rudderless from the start under coach Manuel Pellegrini, who seemed perpetually overawed and unable to cope with the magnitude of the task that confronted him.

Pellegrini was predictably jettisoned as soon as last season came to an end and Perez brought in Jose Mourinho to steer his team, adding to his outlay by making him the most expensive coach in the world on a salary believed to be about 13m euros (£10.6m).

Real Madrid manager Jose Mourinho
Mourinho will hope to work his magic with Real Madrid

So, ahead of the start of La Liga this weekend, the big question is: can Mourinho justify the staggering amount of cash that has been spent on himself and his squad and turn Real Madrid into title contenders again?

"To not win La Liga or the Champions League this season will be a disaster," said Mourinho, his usual bullish self upon his arrival in the Spanish capital at the end of May.

Perhaps his words will come back to haunt him, and personally I have a feeling they will, but then Mourinho has also shown time and time again that he is capable of producing title-winning performances from his players.

Some of the Spanish media, particularly those based in Madrid with a certain loyalty to the club, have predictably hailed Mourinho as the second messiah, especially in the wake of his success with Inter Milan.

Other pundits feel that, with a nod from me to Monty Python, he's more of a naughty boy: a cheeky Portuguese chappy with a mischievous sense of humour and an inflated opinion of himself who will be inevitably brought down to earth by Barcelona and their coach Pep Guardiola.

Guardiola has shown no signs of being intimidated by Mourinho, although the anticipated mind games between the two men have yet to start in earnest.

"The good thing is that this (Barca) team has not just started to play well but has done so for a long time," said Guardiola, at a news conference on Tuesday which effectively acted as a prologue for the new season.

"However, not making the final of last season's Champions League also served as a useful lesson. We still need the humility, even after all these years, of knowing that we must work hard. We must work harder than the previous year and we know we can do things better."

Inevitably, Guardiola was also asked about his opposite number and, because of his Champions League triumph two years ago, he is one of the few men that Mourinho has to accept as an equal.

Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola
Guardiola has shown no signs of being intimidated by Mourinho

"We must keep our eyes wide open, this Real Madrid is very strong," he said. "They are always scary whoever is there and we're not so superior. I might feel differently if we had won the La Liga by 20 points (in the end it was five) or reached the final of the Champions League.

"It's a pleasure to have Mourinho here [in Spain]. The best players make the league better and great coaches do that too," added the Barca coach respectfully.

Looking for hints that Mourinho is able to work the same kind of magic that he did at Porto, Chelsea and Inter Milan, the newspapers have focused on the fact that Madrid have gone undefeated through the pre-season.

However, what virtue there is to have beaten the likes of the LA Galaxy (not to mention newly-promoted Hercules) and then fought out two unimpressive draws against Bayern Munich and Standard Liege remains to be seen.

At least in these friendly matches there were a few early hints about the changes that Mourinho is likely make when things get serious.

One of them appears to be that Ronaldo will work more behind the two strikers, a role that could allow him a lot more freedom, just as Mourinho utilised Wesley Sneijder at Inter and Frank Lampard at Chelsea.

Sadly, from a neutral's point of view, it looks like no other La Liga team will still be able to challenge the two Spanish giants.

Worryingly for many, including myself, who would dearly love to see some uninvited guests to the annual 10-month long Real and Barca party, the gulf may get even larger. There was a yawning 25-point gap between Real and third-place Valencia last season.

In the last six years, Barca and Real Madrid have occupied the top two spots every season, apart from the hugely surprising second place achieved by Villarreal three seasons ago, but the days when Valencia and Deportivo La Coruna were able to challenge for the title in the early years of the 21st century are rapidly becoming a distant memory.

Barcelona and Real Madrid start with away games at Racing Santander and Real Mallorca on Sunday, outings which should theoretically generate three points.

It probably will not be this weekend when the relative merits of Spain's perennial two top teams can be compared closely, but there is not too long to wait until 'El Clasico', with the Camp Nou playing host to the first one of the season on 18 November. Put it in your diary.

Comments on this blog in the space below. Other questions on European football to: europeanfootball@hotmail.co.uk. I don't need your full address but please put the town/city and country where you come from.

Q) Mesut Ozil has become instantly popular after the World Cup. What would you say about the move of young player, of Turkish origin, to a Spanish giant?

Malik Sajid Qayyum, Lahore, Pakistan

A) I don't think his origin is important, although he is a practising Muslim and so it will be interesting to see what he does during Ramadan. Real's Mahamadou Diarra fasts during this period and previous Real Madrid coaches have said they believe his performance has been impaired by this, while other Muslim players tend to be less strict.

It seems that once Real Madrid started courting Ozil, he demanded a transfer and apparently told Werder Bremen to sell him or he would refuse to play. The Spanish media are getting very excited about his arrival, referring to him as the 'German Zidane' and he was impressive in his debut during last weekend's friendly against Hercules but his late arrival, only two weeks before start of the season, may count against him at the outset as he bids to adapt to the different demands of Spanish football.

Q) I'm a long time Valencia fan, having been born over there. What are your thoughts on the club's health in general?

Richard Denton, Bromley, England.

A) I'm not a doctor so I can't think of a suitable medical description about Valencia's health, however the prospects have to be mixed, to say the least. The sale of the two Davids, Villa and Silva can't have anything but a negative effect on the club. I can't see them repeating their third place of last year, which was astonishingly achieved against the backdrop of their huge debts which are currently estimated to be around 500m euros.

The new stadium which has caused all these problems is still only half-built and its construction is hardly progressing owing to the cash flow problems. The arrival of Roberto Soldado, once of Real Madrid, from Getafe and Artiz Aduriz from Mallorca should ensure that Valencia can still score goals but players' morale will inevitably slump if wages are not paid, as was the case some months last season.

Coach Unai Emery did a fantastic job last season but I can't help wondering whether he will be able to achieve another miracle, having lost his two best players, along with Nikola Zigic and Carlos Marchena, and with the financial issues no closer to being resolved.

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