James Lawton: Mourinho lit this acrid bonfire of the vanities but Barça added fuel

On Wednesday night the talented Busquets' behaviour was of the same despicable order as last year's semi-final with Inter as he clutched his head in mock agony

For once it is too easy just to demonise Jose Mourinho. We can only do this if we ignore the fact that the execution squad which put football to a substantial death at the Bernabeu this week was hardly dressed exclusively in the white of his Real Madrid.

Too many of them represented Barcelona, which is supposed to be the font of all the modern game's virtue, to permit another facile denunciation of the man who will apparently do anything to win.

True, Mourinho produced another doomsday gameplan. True, also, that even his own players – and most notably Cristiano Ronaldo – made clear their desire to be playing in a style more in keeping with the tradition of the club which has nine European titles against its name.

Another irrefutable charge against the Special One: he fell victim to a game that the great Alfredo di Stefano, who contributed magnificently to so many of those triumphs, claimed he was playing before last week's relatively small coup against Barça in the Copa del Rey. He was beaten without giving his players the chance to make a proper fight.

Yet if the stadium where Lionel Messi ultimately reminded us of his genius was in need of fumigation at the finish, it was absurd that Mourinho, having been banished from the touchline, became in so many eyes the sole occupant of the dock.

Nothing that came as a result of Mourinho's tactics was more disfiguring of football than the wretched play-acting of Barça's Dani Alves, Sergio Busquets and Pedro. When Real's Pepe was dismissed by referee Wolfgang Stark and any chance for the early second-half stirrings of a Real counter-offensive was smashed – for a crime that demanded no more than a yellow card – Alves' performance reached a theatrical level that was grotesque. It became even more nauseating when, as his stretcher crossed the touchline, he reached out and tapped the thigh of one of the bearers. The order was to put down the stretcher and let him get on with the game.

This was not, however, the worst thing we saw from Barça. That distinction belonged, for a second straight Champions League semi-final, to Busquets. At the Nou Camp last year he shamelessly feigned serious injury, before glancing up to see Internazionale's Thiago Motta raging at the red card he had just received for the slightest of collisions. On Wednesday night the talented Busquets' behaviour was of the same despicable order as he clutched his head in mock agony.

We know about all the glories of Barcelona, of Messi and Xavi and Wednesday's absentee Andres Iniesta, but then we also saw again the sickening cynicism of Busquets and Alves. By all means, give to Barcelona what is their due: credit for an extraordinary few years of success, a massive contribution to Spain's World Cup, but if Messi redeemed them this week he did not altogether reinstate the idea that they should be heading for some entirely jubilant coronation at Wembley next month.

Certainly the idea of a wonder team, one capable of going into a European final and producing the mastery of Real in 1960 or Celtic in 1967 or Milan in 1994, was hardly advertised by Barça this week until they had a man advantage and the space which Messi can, with a speck of encouragement, so easily devour. But then how much of that had to do with the grim pragmatism of Mourinho? Quite a lot, you have to believe, before the shocking ejection of Pepe.

It can be no comfort for Mourinho – and nor should it be. If he lost a match he had placed on such a fine edge of calculation, he also lost his argument with Di Stefano. In his coach's vanity to neutralise the feted Barça, to make a victory that could only add lustre to his reputation for dark alchemy, he sacrificed the potential of Ronaldo to compete on equal terms with his rival Messi, the possibility that Kaka might rediscover some of his creativity, the finishing power of Karim Benzema and the aggressive instincts of Gonzalo Higuain.

Di Stefano said to Mourinho, "You have great players, use them, make them play to their ability. That is what great coaches do."

Yet rather than arming Real, Mourinho was plainly more intent on disabling Barcelona. Last year it worked, but then Internazionale were not Real; they were under-achievers who may have corralled a diminished Serie A but had made no kind of impact beyond the borders of Italy. Anything they achieved on the wider stage was striking progress and Mourinho unquestionably played a modest hand with mesmerising acumen.

In Madrid, as Di Stefano has felt obliged to say, the nature of the challenge has been profoundly different. Mourinho may have imagined himself with some justice bigger than Chelsea and Inter, but Madrid? No, not the club who pay beyond reason to support their dreams, not the club of Di Stefano, Zidane and Ronaldo; they do not skulk in the shadows of second place.

It will be fascinating to see what he does now in the Nou Camp. What can he do? Fiddle in the face of Barcelona's full court press and hope, outlandishly, to nick some kind of result? It is hardly feasible.

No less intriguing now is the reaction at Old Trafford to the sudden crisis of the man who is so widely believed to be the natural successor to Sir Alex Ferguson. If Mourinho has yet to convince Real that he is bigger than their tradition, if he struggles for the results that alone justify the arrogance of his belief that he can always operate on entirely his own terms, it is hardly the most compelling case for the United succession.

United have some priorities of their own. They have, after all, been known to play a bit of football in their time. Mourinho offers no more than the promise of winning. Though there are few more beguiling enticements in the game, unfortunately it does not come with a guarantee.

It is why the good name of football and Real Madrid is, even after this week's acrid bonfire, in rather less peril than Jose Mourinho.

Do Barcelona get special favours? How contentious red cards have helped the Catalans - especially against Mourinho

Didier Drogba

Barcelona 2-1 Chelsea, 23 February 2005, Champions League. Referee: Anders Frisk (Swe)

Challenging keeper Victor Valdes after a weak back pass, Drogba got an even weaker second yellow card. Verdict: Wrong

Asier del Horno

Chelsea 1-2 Barcelona, 22 February 2006, Champions League. Referee: Terje Hauge (Nor)

A clumsy bodycheck on Lionel Messi was met with a red card for Del Horno. Verdict: Correct

Thiago Motta

Barcelona 1-0 Internazionale, 28 April 2010, Champions League. Referee: Frank de Bleeckere (Bel)

Motta went for raising his hands to Sergio Busquets, despite minimal contact. Verdict: Wrong

Sergio Ramos

Barcelona 5-0 Real Madrid, 29 November 2010, La Liga. Ref: Eduardo Gonzalez (Sp)

A deserved dismissal as a frustrated Ramos shoved Carles Puyol's face in the dying moments. Verdict: Correct

Robin van Persie

Barcelona 3-1 Arsenal, 8 March 2011, Ch League. Ref: Massimo Busacca (Swit)

Not against a Mourinho side, but Barcelona profit as Van Persie is given a second yellow for kicking the ball away, claiming he did not hear the whistle. Verdict: Wrong

Raul Albiol

Real Madrid 1-1 Barcelona, 16 April 2011, La Liga. Referee: Cesar Muniz Fernandez (Sp)

Last-man Albiol wrestled Barcelona's David Villa to the ground inside the area. Verdict: Correct

Angel di Maria

Real Madrid 1-0 Barcelona, 20 April 2011, Copa del Rey. Referee: Alberto Undiano (Sp)

Second yellow for Di Maria, as he tripped Messi at the end of extra time. Verdict: Correct

Pepe Real

Madrid 0-2 Barcelona, 27 April 2011, Champions League. Referee: Wolfgang Stark (Ger)

Pepe given harsh red for raising foot on Dani Alves. Verdict: Wrong

Michael Butler

Battle of the Bernabeu

46 Fouls committed by the sides on Wednesday, 19 more than in the other semi-final on Tuesday.

72 per cent The amount of possession Barça enjoyed on Wednesday.

129 Passes made by Barcelona's Sergio Busquets. Real Madrid's highest passer was Xabi Alonso, with 25.

4 The number of passes completed by Cristiano Ronaldo in Barcelona's half.

7 The number of red cards awarded to a Jose Mourinho team against Barcelona, including one in each of the last five meetings.

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