James Lawton: Real Madrid boss Jose Mourinho revels in the drama when pushed to the edge

Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson's blood was surely chilled by what he saw at the Nou Camp

His bottom lip drooped with magnificent petulance and his sarcasm was blistering, worthy of a spurned, outrageous diva. Jose Mourinho coming in for the kill is not the prettiest sight but who can look away for a moment?

With Pep Guardiola already a memory of more imperious days and his former right-hand man and successor Tito Vilanova marooned in a New York clinic, the man minding Barcelona's suddenly dishevelled image, poor Jordi Roura, must have been tempted to sue for surrender long before Mourinho's resurrected Real completed their work of destruction at the Nou Camp.

What a piece of work it was – singled-minded, multi-talented and, with Cristiano Ronaldo unassailable at its heart, capable of bringing intimidation to any corner of football.

Most specifically, of course, this was surely true of Old Trafford next Tuesday night, and though you do have to get up very early in the morning, and formidably armed, to bring any of that oppressive commodity into the life of Sir Alex Ferguson, his blood was surely chilled by so much of what he saw.

It was, after all, definitive Mourinho. It was the most compelling of reminders that this man operates almost entirely on his own terms. Some men crumble when they get pushed to the edge of the precipice. Mourinho simply revels in the drama of it – and the new opportunity it provides for him to prove that you do not hoard trophies as he does if you are not capable of reinventing yourself – and your team – when the pressure reaches the highest levels.

Mourinho's Real didn't merely beat an increasingly uncertain, even distraught Barça in the second leg of the semi-final of the Copa del Rey. They persecuted every one of their new uncertainties. The young and driving Milan harassed and hustled Barça in the 2-0 San Siro defeat that so imperilled their Champions League favourites' status. Real, by contrast, picked them off in the most withering style.

Ronaldo was largely unplayable. Angel di Maria worked exquisitely and Xabi Alonso again produced a degree of power and authority at the back of midfield which reminded us yet again of Liverpool's loss when he said adios to Merseyside.

The entire Madrid team seemed to be emboldened by Mourinho's assertion that such games against Barcelona are the ones you have to live for, the ones that define the level of a team's commitment.

Yes, Barça have run away with La Liga, just as United have laid waste the Premier League, but can either of them relish the idea of exchanging cold steel with a team capable of hitting the heights of Real when they are at peace, however briefly, with themselves and their extraordinary coach?

Ferguson was understandably elated when last week he left the Bernabeu with a 1-1 draw. It was indeed testament to the best fighting qualities of his team. But in the heat of the Nou Camp action, with the great Lionel Messi rendered as anonymous as he is ever likely to be on any football field, United's achievement was inevitably scaled down.

Suddenly it looked like a small deposit on survival in the battle for a place in the quarter-finals of the tournament which Mourinho has so plainly earmarked as a suitable point of departure at the end of his turbulent stay at the Bernabeu.

It is hard to imagine a more spectacular exit line, a unique place in the game as the only coach to win the European title with three separate clubs and the most enduring evidence of a capacity to turn any situation to his advantage.

Real's former coach John Toshack gave Mourinho some ultimate praise. He said that he might well have created the momentum for another stunning triumph, because since arriving in Spain he had always seen the breaking of Barça, rather than any routine compilation of silverware, as his greatest challenge.

La Liga might provide random ambushes in places like Seville and Granada but always there was the gut-check of the games with Barcelona. And how better could Real feel after going to the Nou Camp and so ruthlessly working on every new doubt about the ability of the world's most revered team to win a fourth Champions League in seven years?

By the end of Tuesday's game the Nou Camp was in mourning and for Ferguson there was the cold contemplation of the threat of a Real who had achieved near-perfect counter-attack. He can only hope that his team will find the best of its competitive character, that Robin van Persie will be at his most predatory and Wayne Rooney can do more than apply himself to the rigours of midfield containment.

There is, it has rarely been more evident, so much to contain. None of it, Ferguson would surely agree, is more threatening than the unique and apparently unbreakable will of Jose Mourinho.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk