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.

News
David Beckham
peopleFootballer joins No campaign
Sport
Angel Di Maria
Football
News
Piers Morgan tells Scots they might not have to suffer living on the same island as him if they vote ‘No’ to Scottish Independence
news
News
i100Exclusive interview with the British analyst who helped expose Bashar al-Assad's use of Sarin gas
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game
film
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script
tv'Thomas comes right up to the abyss', says the actor
News
newsIn short, yes
Sport
Angel Di Maria celebrates his first goal for Manchester United against QPR
Football4-0 victory is team's first win under new manager Louis van Gaal
News
Denny Miller in 1959 remake of Tarzan, the Ape Man
people
Arts and Entertainment
Cheryl despairs during the arena auditions
tvX Factor review: Drama as Cheryl and Simon spar over girl band

Arts and Entertainment
art
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris claimed the top spot in this week's single charts
music
Sport
BoxingVideo: The incident happened in the very same ring as Tyson-Holyfield II 17 years ago
Caption competition
Caption competition
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

These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week
The fall of Rome? Cash-strapped Italy accused of selling its soul to the highest bidder

The fall of Rome?

Italy's fears that corporate-sponsored restoration projects will lead to the Disneyfication of its cultural heritage
Glasgow girl made good

Glasgow girl made good

Kelly Macdonald was a waitress when she made Trainspotting. Now she’s taking Manhattan
Sequins ahoy as Strictly Come Dancing takes to the floor once more

Sequins ahoy as Strictly takes to the floor once more

Judy Murray, Frankie Bridge and co paired with dance partners
Wearable trainers and other sporty looks

Wearable trainers and other sporty looks

Alexander Wang pumps it up at New York Fashion Week
The landscape of my imagination

The landscape of my imagination

Author Kate Mosse on the place that taught her to tell stories