SPAIN, Madrid : (FromL) Top row, Real Madrid's defender Raul Albiol, Malian midfielder Mahamadou Diarra, midfielder Esteban Granero, French forward Karim Benzema and Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo and bottom row, Polish goalkeeper Jerzy Dudek,Brazilian defender Marcelo, defender Alvaro Arbeloa, midfielder Pedro Leon, French midfielder Lassana Diarra and Portuguese defender Ricardo Alberto Carvalho pose prior to the UE
After a quick glance at the Spanish league table, one would be forgiven for making the assumption that things are going fairly well at Real Madrid.
After all, the whites are just two points behind one of the most exuberant and efficient football teams ever put together - the Barcelona side guided by coach Pep Guardiola.
However, a look below the surface shows that tensions are rising daily at the Estadio Bernabeu and could boil over at any moment.
The root of the problem is an ugly, divisive feud between coach Jose Mourinho and general director Jorge Valdano.
The two men are chalk and cheese, or water and oil, to use a Spanish expression, completely different and incompatible.
Mourinho is the supreme pragmatist, an egocentric win-at-all-costs warrior who likes to play the victim and who doesn't seem to care whose feathers he ruffles in his mission to bring success back to the "White House."
Valdano, in contrast, has literary pretensions and a convoluted style of speech. He is obsessed with the aesthetic side of football and with protecting Real's image as an elegant club on and off the field.
Valdano did not want Mourinho appointed as Real coach last May, especially with the highest salary in football history.
But he was powerless to prevent it because club president Florentino Perez was determined to bring in a coach capable of ending Barca's domination, and was sure that Mourinho was the man after seeing his Inter Milan side eliminate Barca from the Champions League.
Most people expected Valdano to resign when Perez insisted on Mourinho, at the same time as sacking Manuel Pellegrini, Valdano's choice for the bench. The Argentine had always been extremely critical of Mourinho's style of football in his newspaper columns and television comments.
Instead, Valdano stayed put, and publicly apologized to Mourinho for having been "very aggressive" towards him over the years.
Needless to say, relations between the two men have been frosty. And the issue came to head on Sunday after the scrappy, fortunate 1-0 home defeat of Sevilla.
In an angry post-match press conference Mourinho accused Valdano of not "defending the team" vis-a-vis the media, and said that he was "really tired" of having to defend the players on his own.
He also demanded a personal meeting with president Perez "in order to sort this out."
It is still not clear what Mourinho intends to say to Perez, and what the response will be. It is believed that he will also demand the club signs a top-level striker in the January transfer window, to cover for the injured Gonzalo Higuain.
On Monday the club helds its annual Christmas lunch. Perez insisted on Mourinho sitting next to him - in what has been interpreted as a public show of support - and made sure that Valdano stayed a safe distance away from the explosive coach.
The Mourinho-Valdano feud was front page news in all of Spain's sports pages on Tuesday, with Catalan dailies Sport and Mundo Deportivo revelling in the Real crisis.
Sport quotes former Barca captain and coach Johan Cruyff as saying that "Mourinho is a good coach, but he only thinks about himself." Mundo Deportivo said that Perez was "fed up with Mourinho's demands."
In Madrid, AS said in an editorial that Perez will back Mourinho in his feud with Valdano because "he has really put all his eggs in one basket" by hiring the controversial coach.
The Portuguese tactician has gone down badly with the other coaches in La Liga and has had countless touchline scuffles with them.
Valencia's Unai Emery called Mourinho a "crybaby" on Monday while Manolo Preciado of Sporting Gijon two months ago dismissed him as a "scoundrel."Author: Duncan Shaw