CARSON, Calif. – The LA Galaxy were musing on the eve of Thursday night's friendly against Real Madrid about what makes the Spanish champions so special.
There's the history, to be sure: winners of a record nine European Cup/UEFA Champions League titles, including the first five, and a record 32 league titles, too. The great players, past (di Stéfano and Puskas, Raúl and Zidane) and present (Cristiano Ronaldo and Iker Casillas). The enormous cultural impact los Merengues have made, not just in Madrid and Spain, but around the globe.
What stands out most today? How about José Mourinho?
PREVIEW: LA vs. Real Madrid, 10:30 pm ET on ESPN2
“I think the manager, what he's done,” says forward Robbie Keane. “The last few years people were saying no one's going to touch Barcelona, that Barcelona is going to win the league basically every year.”
Mourinho guided Real Madrid to La Liga’s crown last season, posting a 32-2-4 record to beat Barça by nine points with, as Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena put it, “arguably maybe the best team in the world.”
“He's done the job, not just at Madrid, but everywhere he's been,” Keane said. “I've seen him fairly closely at Chelsea when [Tottenham Hotspur] played against them on numerous occasions. What he did to turn that club around. He's doing the same thing at Real Madrid. He's bringing a group of players together and melding them into a great team. His tactics are probably the best in the world.”
Arena was asked if Mourinho, who has won Champions League titles with Porto and Inter Milan and has spent two seasons in Madrid, was the world's best manager.
“There's a lot of good managers in the world, but there's no question that every conversation, Mourinho would come up ...,” said Arena, widely considered the finest soccer manager the US has produced. “Mourinho's record is exceptional. I don't think many people have had the success he's had in England, Spain, Portugal, Italy. Very impressive credentials.
“I like everything about him. There's nothing I don't like about him. I think he's an outstanding coach and an outstanding personality.”
David Beckham, who played at Real Madrid before joining the Galaxy, considers Mourinho a great man and a friend.
“I've spoken about my admiration for José,” said Beckham, who says the Portuguese tactician was among the first to contact him following his 2010 Achilles' rupture – then kept in close contact through his rehab. “I think he's an exceptional manager. I think he's an amazing human being as well. What he does for teams and what he does for players and individuals, he's very special. There's not many managers that can do that.
“I think what he's achieved in his career – in his very short career so far – he's amazing. And I'm looking forward to seeing him again.”