Big two can become a greater one
Angel Maria Villar, the president of the Spanish Football Federation, fumed as he left the Camp Nou directors' box following the recent ill-tempered Spanish Super Cup second leg between Barcelona and Real Madrid.
"This isn't only about the Portuguese [Jose Mourinho]," he was reported to have said as he exited the stadium.
Villar's most important employee, Vicente Del Bosque, the Spain coach, was equally ashen faced. They had watched a brilliant game descend into chaos in the final minutes, with players from Spain's two biggest clubs fighting right in front of their seats, while the Real coach Mourinho pinched the ear of Barca's No 2, Tito Vilanova.
Three players were sent off and the leading lights of Spanish football considered the implications for the national team that is largely comprised of players from the two giants.
Years of cliques within the Spanish camp had always held back Spain's prodigious footballers. The Catalans, the Basques and the Madrilenos kept their own counsel on away trips.
Claims of disharmony were routinely denied, but Spain floundered and under-achieved with depressing regularity. Such problems were largely overcome in the late noughties as Spain began to realise their glorious potential.
European champions in 2008 and World Cup winners last year - this is a golden age for Spanish football, with the national team succeeding in uniting the country in their support.
That unity in the camp is threatened and almost everybody blames Mourinho for the problem. They accuse him of turning his players against Barca, for refusing to let them talk to the media unless they have been briefed by him. For encouraging a siege mentality: Real Madrid against the world, even when on international duty.
There is no bigger Madridista than Del Bosque. A Real legend as a player who has spent the majority of his life at the club. He was also hugely successful as coach.
He could have been accused of bias by Catalans when he replaced Luis Aragones as coach of the national team in 2008, but you never hear such accusations. His side is filled with Barca players and he did not recall Raul - a fellow Real legend, and a player and person he likes - to the Spanish set up.
Del Bosque gave debuts to emerging Barcelona talents, and that continues to this day with the presence of Thiago Alcantara and Martin Montoya, both 20, in the squad for Friday's friendly 3-2 victory against Chile and Tuesday's Euro 2012 qualifier against Liechtenstein.
Montoya is not even a regular in Barca's first team, but a Barca B team player who impressed as Spain's Under 21s triumphed in the European Championships in Denmark in July.
Villar's comments about the fracas not solely being the fault of Mourinho hold some weight. He was not the one fighting and Villar felt that the players needed to take responsibility and see the bigger picture of what their manager was trying to do.
Some players used their own initiative. Goalkeeper Iker Casillas called over Xavi and Carles Puyol. Casillas wanted to show that their were no hard feelings. When Casillas was dropped for Real's De Stefano trophy friendly against Galatasaray a few days later, it was viewed as Mourinho's way of getting him back for his conciliatory gesture with Barca.
Mourinho yields an immense amount of power at Real. He has seen off sporting director Jorge Valdano and you now seldom hear the previously very vocal president Florentino Perez in the media. Mourinho is calling the shots. He controls his players and briefs them on what to say, but there are two he cannot fully manipulate: Cristiano Ronaldo and Casillas, the best player and the captain of the club and the national team.
Spain's players are not stupid and Xavi and Casillas put on a united front as they trained this week. Del Bosque also said: "There is no problem within the national team. The players know the difference between the league and the national team, they know they represent Spain."
Critics may say that they have already been knocked off the top of the Fifa World rankings by Holland, but that's after a couple of friendly defeats Spain have seldom performed particularly well in friendlies.
Relative harmony in the Spain dressing room is vital to future successes. It is up to the players to provide it, no matter what Mourinho thinks and wants.
Published: September 4, 2011 04:00 AM