There was a time when all Jose Mourinho's players would run through a brick wall for him (see John Terry) but at Real it's all public spats and overt criticism. What's the plan?
One of the characteristics of José Mourinho is that his footballers, especially the big hitters of the team, would walk through walls embedded with doggy-do and drawing pins if their manager made the request. Marco Materazzi was a blubbering mess when the Portuguese boss left Inter Milan in 2010. "He was a friend. Everyone felt very sad when he left," admitted John Terry in an interview with Marca from May 7.
However, go and ask Read Madrid captain, World Cup and European Championship winner and marketing manager dream Iker Casillas for the footballer's honest thoughts on the potential departure of José Mourinho and a response veering between hysterical laughter and a stream of foul-mouthed abuse is quite likely.
The reaction of the goalkeeper would not be isolated. Sergio Ramos has had the hump with the boss this season for both dropping the defender earlier in the campaign and giving up on the league title back in December. Even the ever-loyal Pepe has joined the rebellion against the manager by suggesting Mourinho's relegation of Casillas to the bench showed a lack of respect for the club captain.
The manager's response to the footballer was to suggest more than a bit of bitterness from a figure whose first-team place has been usurped by Raphael Varane. "It's not easy for a footballer with a status, who is 31 (he's actually 30) to be taken over by one of 19," was the barb from Mourinho on Tuesday ahead of Madrid's 6-2 win over Málaga the following day.
Iker Casillas was not spared further public humiliation either with a follow-up probe from the press on why the Madrid boss felt he regretted not bringing in current Madrid number one Diego López after his first year at the Bernabéu. "I like Diego López more than Casillas, and while I am in charge Diego will play."
In the past, fielding Karim Benzema up front has been referred to as hunting with a cat. The talents of Pedro Léon have been scoffed at. "You talk about him as if he were Maradona or Zidane but only last month he was playing for Getafe," said Mourinho rather unkindly. Then there is this season's criticism of the attitude of Angel di María, Marcelo and Fabio Coentrao. Heck, Mourinho even picked a squabble with the coach of the side's second team, Castilla, and the quality of the club's youth team players.
There is no doubt that Mourinho would have had such rumbles with his footballers at all of the coach's clubs throughout his career. Indeed, it would be unusual if a big stick were not needed from time to time. But what is so bizarre about Mourinho's spell at Real Madrid has been the manager's willingness to call out his footballers in a very public manner.
Blaming the referees, UEFA, UNICEF, the Spanish FA, Pep Guardiola, pitches and fixture compilers have always been a favourite diversionary tactic of Mourinho. But in a troubled year, the Madrid boss has picked fight after public fight with his footballers. Not being a hypocrite and being honest has been the frequent defence from Mourinho for such stances.
There are three ways of looking at the reasons for this change in approach to his working ways. The growing and increasingly vocal anti-Mourinho camp in the Spanish capital will see the coach using his footballers as a shield to his reputation after a season which has seen the side taking a big step back. Whilst it is true that the Madrid players had been lacklustre, disinterested and disorganised for the first half of the current campaign, the role of the manager must play some part in any decline in morale. Writing off the the league campaign with over half the season still to play, as Mourinho did, cannot have helped matters either.
The theory of Mourinho trying his hardest to get himself sacked, or at least transferable without a penalty clause, is a strong and attractive one too. "I'm thinking about carrying on," announced the Madrid boss to such a suggestion on Tuesday in a provocative press conference that came just a day after a call for unity from Florentino Pérez with next Friday's Copa del Rey match still to play.
Mourinho has picked a fight with supporters by challenging them to boo him before a game and by declaring the desire to go to a club where he is loved. He suggests that everyone in the press room hates him. He ignores calls for peace and quiet from Pérez, a president who gave the coach unprecedented powers of autonomy at Madrid and has quite a few footballers who probably aren't speaking to him, including a fairly influential goalkeeper who could force a move abroad this summer, should a miracle occur and Mourinho stay on.
The final thought is that Mourinho is merely doing what we have always wanted from our footballers and managers and offering honesty in his communication. Why bluster and bother about having a great squad when you can admit you simply prefer one footballer to another, as in the case of Casillas?
Why take the hit from the media when hours of tuition and training during the week are completely ignored by your charges?
Why not call out the fan favourite footballer who barely bothers in training and does even less on the pitch?
All these questions are what is making Mourinho's behaviour over the past six months, and especially the past two weeks, so entertaining. There have been so many breaks of previous traditions for the Portuguese coach. Fans will never be calling for his return in Santiago Bernabéu when he leaves as happens in Italy and England. There will be few weeping players lamenting his departure from the Santiago Bernabéu.
Perhaps it is only then that we will know what Mourinho's end game at Real Madrid really is, and what's causing so many breaks with past habits.