He could have celebrated, he could have expressed relief, he could have run over to his teammates or made a bee line to the visitors' bench to embrace his manager. Instead, when Cristiano Ronaldo scored his 73rd-minute game-winning goal (his 42nd in 34 La Liga 2011-12 matches), he made an iconic gesture of self-worship and arrogance, aimed right at the hearts and minds of Barcelona fans.
I don't know if I've ever been more impressed with him.
On Saturday, Real Madrid will play Barcelona in El Clasico. The prize, ostensibly, is the Spanish Primera Division title. (If Madrid wins, they go seven points clear of Barca; lose and their lead shrinks to one.) Jose Mourinho will gesticulate. Pep Guardiola will walk around the technical area in a suit woven by actual angels. Lionel Messi will pinball around the pitch and Cristiano Ronaldo will make lots of sarcastic faces. But the match could very well be decided by Real Madrid's Pepe.
Jose Mourinho has pulled off some pretty impressive feats in his time — winning the Champions League with both Inter Milan and Porto, going unbeaten at home for 60 games as boss of Chelsea — but perhaps the greatest trick he's ever pulled was getting his Real Madrid team to ignore Barcelona. And this season, that trick has worked. Almost. Because Wednesday in Madrid, in the first leg of the Copa Del Rey quarterfinals, Barcelona, despite Mourinho's best efforts, simply would not be ignored.