THE temptation was to listen out for what Jose Mourinho didn't say.
The Real Madrid coach took his seat in front of the media yesterday to discuss a Champions League group match with Ajax but the focus was fixed on a date a little further down the line. A report in Spanish newspaper Marca – which traditionally has strong links to the club – had published a report which stated that Mourinho had agreed to leave Real at the end of the season. This was his chance to respond.
The questions were loaded but the Portuguese refused to present a target. Had he agreed to go? Has his relationship with Real's president, Florentino Perez, finally cracked? Is his future still at the Bernabeu? Mourinho saw each query coming and knocked them aside with the disregard of a man who has founded a reputation on refusing to do what others expect him to.
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"My future is tomorrow, which is my 101st match in the Champions League," he said. It was as if the Real coach was daring the inquest to continue just so he could carry on being difficult.
He has grown adept at that during his time in Madrid. Almost as soon as Mourinho suffered his first hiccup at Real he was being linked with a move away, usually to England. His former club, Chelsea, was a popular destination although the current tumult at Stamford Bridge has made it less desirable, with a club spokesperson stating that there is no truth to reports that Avram Grant, who succeeded Mourinho in 2007, was to return as a consultant to the new man in charge, Rafa Benitez.
Mourinho has had to contend with contention at the Bernabeu too, and his relationship with Perez has often been the thorniest issue. It has bloomed into pointed media reports which follow the same theme: they don't get on and it can't continue. "Ask him. I don't have to tell you what I talk to the president about," said Mourinho. "My relationship with him is good and I've already said that. I'm not going to feed this situation."
He was more accommodating to supporters. Well, in his own way. Real are already 11 points adrift of Barcelona but are also in third place behind city rivals Athletico, despite securing a win over their neighbours on Saturday. The result proved less significant than the actions of Mourinho, though, who – after being jeered by fans during a Copa Del Rey win over Alcoyano last Tuesday – approached the stand 40 minutes before kick-off so that fans could unburden themselves properly.
"I went out there because whistling was expected," said the Portuguese. "The best thing is that it comes out before the match so later on they can support the team and there won't be an opinion, but support."
It was a striking gesture but, given that only 5000 fans had made their way into the ground at the time, it was perhaps a hollow one, too. Whether he stood in front of Perez and agreed to walk at the end of the season – as Marca claim – is another matter but not one Mourinho felt like talking about. Not at the moment, anyway.
He was coaxed into discussing one coaching position, though: Manchester United. His success at Chelsea – which comprised two Barclays Premier League titles and a FA Cup – engendered a mutual respect between Mourinho and Sir Alex Ferguson and the Scot appeared to appoint his former rival as his successor yesterday. "I'm not going to put any forecasts on what is going to happen at this club," said the Scot. "I won't last forever, but Jose can manage anywhere."
It is a good reference to have should Mourinho need one in the summer.