Jose Mourinho before the first leg of this year's Spanish Super Cup match in Madrid. (AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa de Olza)
Asked about the incident at the end of the Spanish Super Cup second leg (when he poked Pep Guardiola's assistant Tito Vilanova in the eye), Jose Mourinho replied: "I don't know who this Pito is..."
To seasoned watchers of the Real Madrid coach, who attempted to belittle Barcelona further by noting how "there were no ball boys in the second half, which is something typical of small teams," the mispronunciation of Vilanova's name will surely not come as a surprise.
After a Serie A match against Lecce during his first season at Inter, Mourinho was criticized by his opposite number Mario Beretta for sending his assistant Beppe Baresi to appear in front of the media, a tactic he has used frequently with Aitor Karanka at Real Madrid.
The unorthodox dressing down Mourinho subsequently gave Beretta, which came after 'io non sono un pirla' and before 'zeru tituli' quickly became part of his legendary glossary in Italy.
"Barnetta spoke to me in the stadium and said nothing," Mourinho scoffed, deliberately mangling Beretta's name. "Perhaps he has to work on his personality if he doesn't know how to speak with colleagues and then sends messages through the press."
Beretta, to his credit, later invited Mourinho to dinner and offered to pay. Then, after losing his job at Lecce, he went to study his antagonist's methods at Inter's training ground in Appiano Gentile.
At the moment, a similar case of rapprochement between Mourinho and Vilanova appears unlikely. To quote the self-proclaimed Special One from his early days at Benfica when the Lisbon club's board proposed that the young coach be flanked on the bench by the older and wiser Jesualdo Ferreira, "even if a mule works for 30 years it will never become a horse."
It doesn't take an expert in the equine field or that of psychology to detect that if Mourinho were to still think of himself as a horse then right now he'd be wild, roaming the steppe, apparently unbreakable, living according to his own rules.
The attack on Vilanova, though not his first after a clash with Andrea Ramazzotti in December 2009 for which he was unrepentant and later joked that it had made the Corriere dello Sport reporter more famous than his namesake (the Italian pop singer Eros), sparked outrage for several reasons.
First for the disgraceful eye-gouge. Second for the reputation of his unwitting victim. Vilanova is known in Spain as El Marques on account of the nobility found in his gestures.
As a player he apparently grew upset if the balls weren't fully inflated or the pitch wasn't in great condition. Thierry Henry called Vilanova "the míster's twin brother." In short, an attack on him could be construed as one on Guardiola.
El País disagreed, suggesting in a provocative piece on Friday that Mourinho didn't poke Vilanova in the eye, but rather the Real Madrid President Florentino Perez.
"Now is the most important moment in Perez's presidency," wrote Jose Samana. "It's his responsibility without delay to proclaim whether Real Madrid wants to be Real Madrid or Estudiantes de la Plata, the eternal symbol of rowdy and tough football."
Invoking the memory of Osvaldo Zubeldía's anti-fútbol side, that of the late `60s, which featured Carlos Bilardo purportedly carrying pins on to the pitch to jab opponents, is to reinforce the idea that Mourinho's football philosophy isn't compatible with the traditions of Real Madrid, a club that must win but also convince.
"You don't arrive at glory through a path of roses," Zubeldía once quipped. Many a commentator has suggested that Perez entered into a Faustian pact with the devil when he appointed the Setúbal-born tactician, stopping at nothing to end Barcelona's dominance by giving Mourinho unprecedented power at Valdebebas.
But Madrid's Mephistopheles can point to closing the gap with the Catalan giants through positive tactics not trickery. For instance, why not contrast the possession figures from the two legs of the Champions League clásico last season and those of the Super Cup this season. Real Madrid enjoyed approximately 26% and 33% of the balón in the former and 47% and 41% in the latter, an indication that Mourinho, a coach once famous for saying "we didn't want the ball", now seems to want it again.
Of course, possession as a statistic on its own is misleading. It's what you do with it that counts, as Barcelona showed when they went into half-time in the first leg 2-1 up despite being made to look as uncomfortable as they had ever been before under Guardiola.
What Madrid did differently this time was play higher up the pitch with their defense about 25 to 30m away from goal, their midfield 10 to 15m further forward, and their attack deep in Barcelona's half.
Whereas Victor Váldes had been allowed to comfortably play out from the back when the two sides met last season, the presence of seven Madrid players almost man-marking his 'short' options meant he committed five mistakes from goal kicks in the first leg and another 10 in the second.
Barcelona's center-backs, the players who start the team's moves often by shuffling wide so that the right or left-back can join the midfield line, were disrupted frequently, with the calm and collected Gerard Pique appearing particularly unnerved in the opening stages of the second leg.
Indeed, Mourinho's side looked to play more in Barcelona's half than their own, pressing the ball-carrier and limiting the passes he could make with four or five Madrid players in close proximity to cut off the supply lines then recover the ball as close to goal as possible, in a dangerous position.
The 'bloque alto' contributed to Madrid ending the Super Cup with 26 shots to Barcelona's 13, another figure which, though essentially meaningless in light of their aggregate defeat, should encourage Mourinho to persist with a positive approach in future clásicos .
With that in mind, he can allow the mask to slip a little. Machismo doesn't have to equate to Mourinhismo. Brutality can make way for bravado.
He doesn't have to be 'the enemy of football' and destroying the Spanish game, something which Pique accused him of after the Super Cup, doesn't necessarily have to be his legacy in La Liga . Nor does dividing a nation, a reality laid bare by Iker Casillas when the Spain and Real Madrid captain told TVE that "the Barcelona players threw themselves to the ground like always."
"This could end badly if unchecked," Guardiola lamented. "I can do something with my players, and make sure that they behave their best, but I do not give lessons to anyone else."
It's up to Mourinho. So what's it to be? Real Madrid or Estudiantes de la Plata? A path of roses or one of thorns?