Nearly a Decade in the Sun

For nine years they had been trying and failing. Sir Alex Ferguson couldn't do it. Rafa Benitez couldn't do it. Harry Redknapp couldn't do it. Cesare Prandelli couldn't do it. Nor could Leonardo, Claudio Ranieri or Roberto Donadoni. Not even Big Sam could do it.

In total, 107 coaches tried to beat a Jose Mourinho team at home. On Saturday evening, Manolo Preciado did it.

Preciado: the man with the greatest moustache in football (apart from Warren Gass of course,) became the first man since Antonio Sousa to beat Mourinho on home soil. And only the second ever. Nine years, one month and 10 days the record had lasted. Porto, Chelsea, Inter Milan and Real Madrid had not lost in 150 games under the Portuguese maestro. He'd not been defeated in a home league game since 23 February 2002, when nine-man Porto lost 3-2 to Biera-Mar. 150 matches, 125 wins and 25 draws. 342 goals scored, 87 conceded. And then the record goes against Sporting Gijon!

Sporting Gijon, a team who hadn't beaten Madrid at the Bernabeau for 16 years; a team who went into the weekend's game three points above the relegation zone; a team who's best player is Nacho Novo, finally became the team to end Mourinho's unbelievable record.

It had to be a formality, surely? The start to a perfect weekend: Madrid wold beat Sporting and Barcelona would lose away to Villareal, their hardest game remaining this season. Suddenly, the gap would be down to two points with El Clasico to come later this month. Game on.

Or maybe not. It was at the exact moment when Madrid fans starting muttering and whistling at a game that had become bone-achingly dull, that Sporting scored. A wonderful move down the left-hand side; a clever dummy; a wonderful pass; a beautiful finish from Miguel de las Cuevas.

Before the game, Mourinho had insisted that one more loss and Los Blancos' title challenge would be over. At 1-0 down, Madrid launched themselves forward. Unfortunately for them, they came across Juan Pablo in the Sporting goal, who as AS put it "was an orange octopus with a thousand hands." They had 13 shots to Sporting's one. They had a goal disallowed and a penalty shout turned down. They also had a plethora of key players missing: Benzema, Xabi Alonso, Marcelo and Ronaldo. and yet you couldn't say the were robbed. Sporting's goal was an eight-pass move. No fluke.

Time and again, Madrid launched diagonal balls towards the head of Adebayor. Marca's match report even likened them to Stoke. And time and again it was predictable. Madrid are a side built to counter-attack, but as the season has worn on, teams have worked that out: before they attacked Madrid, now they wait. Mourinho's side have now been beaten by Osasuna and Sporting, and have drawn with Mallorca, Deportivo and Levante. That's 14 dropped points against teams that are all lower than ninth.

As Mourinho said after the game: "If I wanted to draw 0-0, I could have." And anywhere else in Europe that would be fine. But as I've discussed here before, in Spain that is not an option given the ridiculous amount of points Barcelona are racking up.

Saturday's defeat was nine years in the waiting and had a devastating effect on Madrid's title challenge. As the final whistle went, Mourinho was off down the tunnel. Soon, however, there was a knock on the Sporting dressing-room door. As Preciado revealed: the Portuguese coach came in and congratulated all the players individually on their win. It was a touch of class after everything that had happened.

Earlier in the season, Preciado had called Mourinho "a scumbag" and suggested that the Madrid manager should be put in among Sporting's Ultras. They both got involved in a furious argument outside Sporting's ground after Madrid's 1-0 win earlier this season. And Mourinho then accused Preciado of throwing the game against Barcelona that Sporting only lost 1-0. It was petty, it was bitchy and it was getting very, very nasty.

It probably explains why, when the final whistle blew, Preciado ran on to the pitch with his arms in the air; players spraying him with water, as if they'd won the league. He was still dripping when he spoke to the media after the game, reminding the gathering journalists what he told Mourinho in November: "if you spit upwards, it always comes down eventually."

Nine years is an unfathomably long time to remain unbeaten at home. A record that will probably never be beaten again. But as Juanma Trueba put it: "Football is as capricious as a platinum blond and as merciless as the Mafioso that keeps her."


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