There has never been any secret made of the fact that José Mourinho was recruited by Real Madrid CF for one purpose above anything else: to win the UEFA Champions League.
It is easy for neutrals to forget that before the Portuguese was signed up – off the back of UEFA Champions League glory with FC Internazionale Milano in 2010 – the club with the most European Cups (nine) had been enduring a testing run of form on the continent.
Having won in 2002 – when Zinédine Zidane provided one of the iconic moments in the competition's history with his glorious volley – Madrid reached the last eight the following year but then hit a wall. For six straight seasons they went out in the first knockout round – including a 5-0 aggregate defeat by Liverpool FC in 2009. "When I arrived we weren't even a seeded club in the Champions League," Mourinho pointed out to UEFA.com earlier this season.
In theory, Mourinho was everything Madrid needed. He is one of only three men, alongisde Ernst Happel and Ottmar Hitzfeld, to win this trophy with two different clubs. In his first season with Madrid he became the first to reach the UEFA Champions League semi-finals with four different teams. He did likewise last term, but what must he do to make that final step?
Madrid have won the UEFA Champions League three times – in 1998, 2000 and 2002 – and finished outside the top two in the Spanish top flight on each occasion. History indicates that they find it hard to match triumph in Europe with domestic dominance – something in which they are hardly alone. However, the Merengues and Mourinho will undoubtedly be aiming for the title and next May's Wembley final – how they balance both ambitions will be fascinating to follow.
"The Champions League is a question of details ... but many, many details," Mourinho has told UEFA.com in the past. He will certainly be keen to improve these details, especially considering the nature of the previous two years' eliminations: set-piece goals, red cards, and late goals recurrent scourges.
The fact that Madrid's first group game on this occasion – a 3-2 win against Manchester City FC – was won in the dying embers of the match is the first sign that Mourinho and his team may have learned their lessons. They still must be considered one of, if not the team to beat.
The opinions expressed here are the writer's own and not those of UEFA.
©UEFA.com 1998-2016. All rights reserved.