VALENCIA - Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho has answered his critics in the best possible way by adding an 18th King's Cup to the club's trophy cabinet and ending a two-year silverware drought on his debut season.
The Portuguese, who has now won domestic cups in his native country, England, Italy and Spain, had earned sharp criticism from honorary Real President Alfredo Di Stefano for his tactics in Saturday's 1-1 La Liga draw against leaders Barcelona at the Bernabeu.
However, the fact that Wednesday's King's Cup triumph, courtesy of Cristiano Ronaldo's 103rd-minute header, came at the expense of arch rivals Barca has cemented Mourinho's status among Real fans and had them singing his name long into the warm Mediterranean night in Valencia.
Thousands of ecstatic fans gathered at the Cibeles fountain in Madrid for the traditional title celebration and captain Iker Casillas draped a club flag and scarf around the goddess's neck at around 4:15 am. local time after the victorious team arrived back in the Spanish capital.
Casillas and Sergio Ramos were effusive in their praise for Mourinho, who joined Real after leading Inter Milan to an unprecedented treble of Italian league and cup and Champions League last season.
"He is a phenomenon," Casillas told reporters in the depths of Valencia's Mestalla stadium as the Real fans continued their celebrations in the streets outside.
"He is the captain of the ship and with his philosophy he tries to instil values in us that have served us extremely well," added defender Ramos.
Real President Florentino Perez hired the outspoken 48-year-old and has spent hundreds of millions of euros on players to try to end Barca's recent domination.
And, more importantly, bring the nine-times winners success in the Champions League again after six seasons of failure.
Real are still in with a slim chance of matching Inter's treble, although Barca's eight-point lead in La Liga with six games left looks to have put the title beyond the Madrid club's reach.
Wednesday's cup triumph, their first since 1993, will nonetheless lift the players for the two-legged Champions League semi-final against Barca at the Bernabeu on April 27 and the Nou Camp on May 3.
Former Chelsea and Porto coach Mourinho was at pains to underline who was in charge when asked at a post-King's Cup final news conference what he made of the criticism.
Di Stefano, who won five consecutive European Cups with Real between 1956 and 1960, was scathing in his newspaper column on Monday about Mourinho's strategy of instructing his players to sit back against Barca and try to catch them on the break.
By contrast, he said watching Pep Guardiola's Barca side was a "delight".
"People can say what they want but I am the coach and I decide how we play," a weary-looking Mourinho said.
"Working as a coach is hard as there are a lot of things at play," he added. "I try to create the best possible situation for my players."