Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A CLASICOL Encounter

Posted by: Ashay K, India

December 13, 2008

“The runaway league leaders beat Madrid 2-0 at the Camp Nou. Every cule tonight is proud of this team. This team is comparable to the legendary Dream Team or Rijkaard’s 05-06 team, for the sheer quality of football they play, even though they haven’t won anything till now.”

“Real Madrid played ugly football with systematic tactical fouling on Messi.”

“We proved we are not in any kind of pressure from any team. Our 12 point advantage proves that”

“We have one hand on the league with this kind of a lead. Real Madrid is not good enough to win it this time.”

Real Madrid:

“We played well given the circumstances. We did what was necessary to contain Barcelona and we almost succeeded. The world will remember that Madrid dint throw in the towel and instead tried to make a game out of a forgone conclusion.”

“We will fight and win the league. The race is still on.”

…That was some months ago. As we arrive at the eve of probably the biggest football match on the planet, known for the intense rivalry between both sets of fans and players, it’s only logical to go back and revisit the post match comments and compare them with the pre match comments of the upcoming El Clasico.

Present Day

“Even if we lose to Real Madrid, we’ll still be 1 point ahead and also remember that Real Madrid have more difficult upcoming fixtures than Barcelona”

Real Madrid:

“We will fight and win the league. The race is still on”

…The difference in the tone of the comments is very perceptible. From self-proclaimed winners back to title contenders under serious pressure, the mood of Barcelona has been akin to that of having a saving account of pressure, where more and more pressure has been deposited by their friendly neighborhood rivals since the dawn of the new quarter. On the other hand, for Real Madrid, the journey has been pretty much stable. No one expects them to win anyway, and yet winning is probably the only thing they’ve been doing amidst healthy doses of Capello now and then.

Twelve points in December 2008. Four points in April 2009. The ferocious tenacity shown by Madrid in chipping away the huge point deficit has been really commendable, even though their style of play hasn’t. Games like this, the one against Sevilla, the one against Getafe define how a season ends and Madrid has surely come out tops over Barcelona in that aspect.

The Tactician vs The Prodigy

Juande Ramos has a lot of plaudits under his belt. He’s one of the reputed coaches around, inspite of his disaster of a season with Spurs. His achievements in Spain cannot be forgotten though. He is the coach responsible for taking a modest Sevilla outfit to one of the potential title contenders grabbing two consecutive UEFA Cups on the way, making them a force to be reckoned with in Europe as well. What counts against him is the fact that the injury prone Madrid squad is also not balanced with too many reinforcements in one area and none in the other.

On the other hand, Pep Guardiola is the rookie having no silverware under his belt. What he has on his side though is a motivated squad with all the players having hit top form simultaneously; not to mention the fat cash incentives that the Barca management has promised him in his contract for each of the silverware he wins.

The last time these two went head to head was on December 13 last year. Ramos had barely one training session to assess his team before rolling the players out in Camp Nou. On the other hand, Pep had a team which was demolishing every team they played in excess of 3 goals scored and none conceded. On May 2, Ramos will go into the Clasico on the back of a record breaking unbeaten streak for Real Madrid. Pep will go into the Clasico having a highly motivated and treble dreaming, albeit fatigued squad. It would be interesting to see how these two lay out their pawns on the green chess set of the Bernabeu.

Barbarians vs Ballerinas?

Real Madrid received a lot of criticism from Catalunya and football purists for their ultra conservative approach towards the match they last played. Some sects of fans in Barcelona went as far as labeling them as “Barbarians” for marking Xavi out of the game and the tactical fouling on Messi. Madridista retaliated by branding Barcelona as “Ballerinas”, for being so delicate that they took offence to physical contact in a contact sport. And they did have a case. A footballer knows how to get a player injured and set back home. But all the fouls on Messi were directed at his shins where there is protection. It was a desperate tactic; albeit a very ugly one, employed by a team clutching at straws to try and disrupt the Barca attacking flow and their mentality so that their concentration was disturbed. The tactic did pay dividends as Barca was unable to score till the 83rd minute with Iker Casillas grinding out one of his best performances in a Madrid jersey.

Only days ago, Valencia demonstrated that the mighty Barca can be halted by using a modified version of the tactic Madrid employed and last night Chelsea used the tactic to hold Barca to a goalless draw at the Camp Nou. That is evidence to show that Barcelona are indeed the Ballerinas of football. Exquisite, attractive, but shy at physical contact. Pep doesn’t seem to have too much tactical initiative when posed with a team which disrupts their normal style of play, and this chink in armor could b exploited to devastating effect by Madrid. On the other hand, Madrid with their defensive frailities in big matches (2 goals against Athletico, 5 against Liverpool, 2 against Sevilla) could be exploited if they allow Barcelona into the game.

The key to this encounter for both teams would be to simply continue what they’ve been doing and how they’ve been playing. Any deviation from the normal would spell doom. So, its back to Barbarians vs Ballerinas? That remains to be seen.

A Distinct Madridismo

Madrid have an advantage of playing the reverse leg at their fortress, the Santiago Bernabeu, where in inspite of their disaster of a seaon, they can boast of the best win record of this season for any club, and the better win record against Barcelona.

To make matters worse for Barcelona, only 800 tickets have been granted to Barcelona to be distributed amongst their travelling fans. And if this was not enough, a giant white mosaic has been prepared by the club fans to intimidate Barcelona. Each fan will find posters on their seat, which when raised simultaneously will blanket the stadium white.

The expected attendance at the Bernabeu is 80,000 which means a sell-out. Barbarians or Ballerinas, this colossal event guarantees to be a sell-out worldwide; something every football fan will tune into for.

Hala Madrid!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A “7EGENDARY” Comeback

Posted by: Ashay K, India.

Real Madrid is a brand name. But in this team, every player is a brand name in his own right. The 06-07 season saw the team branded quite differently from the usual Los Blancos, Los Galacticos to “Capello’s Boys”. Capello symbolizes an abstract for the Madrid faithful (players, fans and management) rather than a person. Capello is determination, grit, pride, the “never say die” attitude for a madridista.

“Jonarda 33: Sevilla – Real Madrid” saw yet another chapter written into the scripted comeback that only Real Madrid with their “Capello” can orchestrate.

Rewind the clock to December 13, 2008. Juande Ramos had landed in Madrid 48 hours before and proclaimed that the back 4 of Real Madrid (S. Ramos, Cannavaro, Pepe, Heinze) – until then the leakiest defence in La Liga – could grace any top team in the world and was one of the best. Pretty strong claim, if one considers the last season, but not this one. Real Madrid played one of most defensive games in their entire career as a professional football club to stem the Barca juggernaut. And they almost succeeded. Drenthe spurned a one-on-one chance with Valdes, Casills wared off an Etoo penalty kick at the other end and the goal, when it came in the 81st minute, came from a corner (that ever reliant scrappiest source of goals). Real Madrid lost 0-2 to Barcelona at the Camp Nou and the point gap widened to 12 points, but it silenced those who were expecting a manita. A team which was going to be doubtful to make it to the Champions League next term went down fighting like lions, fighting for pride. There were flashes of Capello in that match; but not enough Capello. We declared the next day that we would fight for the league and win it. Everyone in Barcelona had a patronizing grin on their face and the so called football pundits had the disposition towards Madrid which a father has towards an errant child.

Fast forward the clock to Present Day. Real Madrid has been unbeaten on the trot since that fateful encounter with Barca. We have won 17 out of the last 18 matches. We have one of the meanest defence in the league since the turn of the new year but our play lacks the necessary eye candy element, which is still fine given that there are no extra points for attractive football There’s enough of Capello in our squad though and we’ve clawed our way back from a 12 point deficit to just 4 after being virtually written out of contention for the league; which all brings us down to the last concluded match.

Barcelona had a lucky draw against a resurgent Valencia at the Mestalla on the previous day and got 1 point out of an encounter that was destined to hand them none. This was the chance for Madrid to shorten the now 7 point gap to 4, provided they won against Sevilla at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan; a venue where they hadn’t won for the past 6 years. Unlikely? Very Much. But the team, especially El Capitan had other ideas.

Juande-Dollars and Judas Chants

The Andulasian crowd greeted Real Madrid on the back of a 4-0 defeat to Barcelona with dollar bills having Juande Ramos’ mugshot on them and chants of “Judas” directed at Juande Ramos and Sergio Ramos. Ironically, it was Juande Ramos who led Sevilla from being a mediocre mid-table club to European glory before departing for his disaster of a season with Tottenham Spurs. The Andulasians seemd to echo a distinct anti-madrid feeling by whistling at the two Ramoses, though they dint seem to take any offence to Dani Alves, who had departed for exactly the same reason as the former two did, but to Barcelona.

Referee Alfonso Burull (the awarder of the infamous decisions in Madrid’s favor against Osasuna) kicked off the match in front of a 45,000 attendance and Sevilla immediately hit top gear. Sevilla had the lion’s share of possession in the opening 10 minutes. Adriano, Renato, Kanoute, Perotti, Jesus Navas dominated the midfield and kept the ball moving around the park through Romaric and Duscher. Quite predictably, Sevilla had all the initial chances. Romaric and Renato blasted in early chances which were saved by San Iker. Sevilla kept up the pressure with Madrid really struggling to string passes together. Sergio Ramos, in particular was having a very poor game (by his own high standards) and soon, Perotti wrong footed Ramos and unleashed a beautiful cross. Torres was caught napping as Renato nodded a free header into the back of the net. Sevilla were one goal up in 15 minutes and showed no chances of relenting as Kanoute sprayed an easy effort wide of the goal. Barely a minute later, Perotti broke free of the offside trap and bounded down the park. But his left-footed shot was tame and easily parried away by Casillas.

As the time wore on and the initial exuberance faded, Madrid slowly started getting into the match. Marcelo had a half hearted shot which was well wide of the goal. Higuain slowly started getting into the groove and had two back to back chances, one which Palop parried and the other which could only make the side netting at the near post. The match soon disintegrated into a midfield tussle with destroyers taking precedence. Lass was having yet another of his best games as he ran all over the park, working tirelessly to cut down openings and nip attacks in the bud. At the other end Duscher received a yellow card for a bad foul on Guti and nothing came out the ensuing free kick. The ball continued to bob around in the air as the Madrid defenders started tracking back after the non-productive free kick. All of a sudden it landed at Ramos’ feet who backheeled it to a back tracking Metzelder. Metzelder beat Navarro to the ball and accelerated down towards the end of the pitch before unleashing a dangerous, low cross into the middle of the box. All of a sudden, Raul beat Prieto to the ball and flicked it away into the far post from 3 yards out, past an onrushing Palop.

The Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan went silent just as the clock read 45 minutes and the scoreboard read 1-1. Real Madrid was back into the game. The stage was set for the next 45 minutes, which promised to be much more entertaining than the first.

“Raul” Madrid

As soon as the teams came out of the tunnel, each had shots at either end. Marcelo had a brilliant run into the box and he laid off the ball for Higuain to finish it, but the in-form striker’s 1st time shot with his left foot (and incidentally the same foot which helped Madrid win against Getafe) let him down as the ball went harmlessly wide. On the other end, Jesus Navas drilled a low, power strike to the bottom right corner which Casillas spilled initially but gathered later before Kanoute latched on to it.

Sixty-three minutes into the game, Higuain combined with Torres who sent in a tame cross into the box which took a deflection off Escude. Almost against the direction of play, Raul came in from behind Prieto and volleyed the ball into the far post at his right. Palop was absolutely clueless and so was Prieto. It was one of those touches which only Raul can manage. Suddenly Real Madrid was leading 2-1 and the Pizjuan went silent once more. Only 3 minutes later, Palop made a criminal error in spilling Higuain’s low cross. Raul, on the prowl, darted forward and guided the ball into an empty net. Its times like these which make one to never count Raul out of the game. El Siete took just 3 chances to score only his third hat-trick in La Liga, and it was more to do with the fact that Sevilla had got their tactics horribly wrong. They had labeled Raul as a “has been” and concentrated on marking Higuain out of the game. But this strong reminder from El Capitan would always serve the Andulasians to remember that one never under estimates Raul.

The game dragged on with Madrid enjoying more possession, and substitutions happening at regular intervals. Almost at the death, as the clock struck 82 minutes, Jesus Navas sent in a tempting cross and Ramos completely miscued it to allow Diego Capel to strike it home at the near post. The Pizjuan came back to life as Sevilla announced that they would not go without a fight. Madrid then closed up shop and chose to defend and hit on counters. Sevilla could not penetrate Real Madrid and though they tried their best, their attack simply lacked enough conviction. In injury time, Madrid made a slick counter attacking move which saw Huntelaar (on for Raul) and Marcelo up front with two defenders to beat. Huntelaar drew away one defender and sent in a pass to the surging Marcelo who went one-on-one with Palop. 1..2..3 fakes and still Palop dint go down; but Marcelo having had enough of the little game slot the ball past Palop beautifully for the 4th goal and final nail in the coffin for Sevilla.

Madridistas world round were celebrating the further reduction in the point deficit. Things, as they stand now, Real Madrid are 4 points behind leaders Barcelona with El Clasico coming up next week. Should Real go on to win the Clasico, the gap would close down to 1 point; a very realistic chance there on of winning the league. The way Barcelona is playing, no one expects Madrid to win against them. But in Madrid, they believe in miracles. An abundance of Capello is what drives this miracle team. At Madrid they have a right to dream…

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Of Pandemonium,Pain,Panenka and Pipita

Posted by Shibarjun Ghosh, India

Some moments are special. Special enough to write about them even if it is 4 in the morning and you have work to attend to early next day. Jornada 32: Real Madrid Vs Getafe was surely one such match. “Game of Three Thirds” as Terry Gibson stated. It certainly was one... Like Marc Anthony’s rendition in the motion picture “The Mask of Zorro” …

”heroes rise, heroes fall and they rise again with it all…”

The game tonight followed a somewhat similar note.Just as an autobiographical synopsis of any great legend.

1.The Rise(min 0 to min 9)-The first of the three thirds.The shortest of the three. Spanned for little more than 9 minutes. Real Madrid pushed along the wings through Higuain and van der Vaart. The crowd was on a high and the audience experienced some crisp passing, attaking football. Surging runs, floating crosses and tiki taka at its best The party came to a grinding halt when old cantera boys Granero and Soldado combined to silence the bernabeu crowd. Against the run of play Granero collected a pass on the right wing and crossed it to Soldado who suddenly found himself in free space enough to build a parking lot, made no mistake and headed it past a hapless Iker Casillas. Certainly making amends for the miss he has had barely 6 minutes ago and making a statement to the sporting director for a year that he wasted in oblivion.

2.The Fall(min10 to min84)- Ceratinly not as beautiful as the American “Fall” if u are a madrisimo. The 74mins were long. The only silver lining was the Higuain’s goal in the injury time of the first half. The attacking front seemed to have been cut off from the rest of the squad. There was very little activity around Getafe’s goal. An out of touch Huntelaar, an out of position van der Vaart, a confused Guti and an invisible Raul seemed late for the prom night. Lass’s presence was deeply felt as Guti and Gago failed to provide a productive midfield pairing. The modest Getafe was taking the game to their more illustrious neighbours. Playing matadors in the bernabeu is not something that many clubs can afford to do ,but Getafe surely had come to spoil the party. Attacking along the flanks, they nipped any attack that came their way in the bud. Marcelo and Cannavaro seemed wanting against the darting runs of Granero and Gavilan .

Then came the Arjen Robben cameo,who by Juande Ramos’s own admission “has had a problem or two when he plays back to back matches”. 17 minutes, four long “Forrest Gump” runs later the “man of glass” was out. Canna followed shortly after and in came Drenthe and Javi Garcia and a slew of tactical blunders. Gago as centre half and Drenthe on the wings seemed to do precious little in their positions. Uche and Albin then did what seemed at the moment to be hammering in the final nail in the coffin of real madrid’s title ambitions. On a wild run on a counter attack Uche crossed on to Casquero whose header found Albin ,and the hit man from Uruguy did what he had already done twice in the season i.e fire the ball past Iker Casillas . Victor Munoz’s super sub had thrown the spanner to real madrid’s title ambitions and there was silence in the crowd and the only sound was that of crashing dreams. That was min 84.

“Picture abhi baki hain mere dost…(the film has not ended yet my friend…)” as the Bollywood thespians like to put it.

3.The Rise Again (min 85 to min 93)- He has attitude problem, he is any coaches’s nightmare, he is the bad boy of the media, he is past his prime, he is the prodigal son of the Bernabeu, he throws tantrums, make fiery comments and he score stunners from freekick when his team needs it the most…He is JOSE MARIA GUTI.

Min 86- Guti curled the ball from the edge of the box into the top left corner of Stojkovic’s goal. Two minutes is all it took to bring Madrid into the game. The silence of dejection suddenly changed to roars of jubiliation. “Stuff of genius”, “sheer brilliance”, “scintillating” .. the commentators can go on…but for us Madrisimos its was an important equalizer from one of our favourite sons and there was little time to waste on platitudes at this juncture of the game (and the league).Compliments can wait...we have a league to win.

Min 88- Pepe pushed Casquero in the box and then mistook him for the ball which made Pepe see red.(pun intended).

Min 89-Casquero took the kick himself with one eye on the morning newspaper headlines reading out his name in bold letters applauding him as Getafe’s hero who made a fool of the world’s best goalkeeper to give his team a most unlikely victory. The other eye on the ball and the goal seemed not enough. He took a penalty kick which would certainly put him on the tabloids but most probably in the “jokes” section. A weak spot kick which even a ten year old could stop was certainly not good enough to test San Iker.

Still score was 2-2. Time was ticking on.

Min (90+3)- Breaking in through the crowd Gonzalo Higuain shoots and it’s a GOOOAL. A thunderous left footer from the edge of the box went roaring into the top left corner of the Getafe goal. Jubilation turned to delirium and it blew the lid of the Bernabeu .

Real Madrid 3-2 Getafe.

Title chase continues


Hala Madrid.

Friday, April 17, 2009

The pepper at the gates of dawn

Posted by A Spaniard in the works, Bangalore

Real have missed many tricks once again. It is that time of the season when a fan looks back and sees if the optimism and excitement at the start of the season was worth all the trouble. Time and again, we have fallen due to the same set of weaknesses and have ended up looking like a bland dish served cold. It is time that we admit our shortcomings and work towards spicing things up so that it leaves a taste in our imagination. Hence the weird title. I also hope that next season can be the start of a new beginning.

Us and Them
Football is like no other game in the world. It has an unparalleled worldwide audience due to an air of approachability. Most sports are very inward looking- i.e. they believe that people who have played the game at the highest level are only fit to be involved with it. For example, in cricket, some of the old timers (my uncles in my family) have a problem with, say, when someone like a Ravi Shastri has something to say about technique. They ridicule him for not having been a player worth his salt in his day and now having the nerve to talk about players who are much better than him. I must warn a reader that Ravi Shastri is just a placeholder in the previous sentence. It could apply to any pundit. Cricket is very inward looking and it is cultured that way. Many sports have such attitudes. In fact, cricket is finding it very difficult to get commentators that will be taken seriously by armchair critics around the world. There are no new faces to fill the voids left by giants like Richie Benaud. On the other hand, football is a unique game. The manager is also a very important element in the game. What is surprising to note is that football does not have such pretentiousness. There are very few world class managers (a handful) in the game who have been the world's best players in their era. Good players do not necessarily make good managers. This is an important as it draws more fans to the game and also leads to unnecessary clashes with rival fans who claim they are more knowledgeable. The other side of the coin, as one may call it. Football is the perfect blend of individual artistry and team ethic. This has also agreed with many political philosophies and also contributed to its widespread popularity. A capitalist nation would identify with individual talent- it only seems natural that they believe in a pecking order; the communist nations respected the team ethic as it represented proletarian values- the backbone of their system.

Since there are multiple ways of looking at the same picture, there are variations as to how the game is played in various countries and how the fans approach it. In Spain, we see showboating on a regular basis. Spain as a nation respects individual ability. The fans have to be won over before they start cheering for a home team. A rival player with a good move would be appreciated and very often, we have seen jeering of our own players and also cheering for the opposition team. Teams are a bit slow to close down. A good goal is necessary to get the crowd moving- mazy runs and no recollection of where the play started in the first place- much like the plot of Memento. On the other hand, in England, the teams follow a team approach. The fans are behind the team from the first minute. The football is very direct and played at a frenetic pace- reliant on long balls. Every home attempt is cheered- even a misplaced cross to row Z! I am not a huge fan of this method, but it does have its own advantages. It helps the team to settle quickly. I have lost count of the number of times that English supporters have egged their teams for a response and that percolates to even small time clubs like Barnsley. That is the sort of romanticism that is associated with the FA cup. The reason why I raised this point is that it might be worth considering what attitude we fans must take towards our own players. The Santiago Bernabeu was a fortress in its time and now in the past few years it has resembled an incontinent elderly person- leaking at the first sign of pressure. The first task that Juande Ramos has to do is to get back the respect of the Bernabeu (with the help of the fans, of course). During his time at Sevilla, he did make the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan a scary place to visit. Sevilla three seasons ago were a free wheeling team that would throw the kitchen sink at the opposition in their backyard.

Run like hell or Learning to fly?
Football is cyclic in nature and the various tactics have been slow to evolve. Earlier, the leagues had a lot of local players and as a result, the continental competitions had a bit of nationalism attached to it. Today's football clubs are more like corporations- Liverpool had more Spanish players playing compared to Real. But, it is one of the major advantages of exposure nowadays. In the old times, Latin American teams were known for technical ability and European teams were known for physical ability. Nowadays, the gap has gone down. The clubs are more multicultural nowadays and it exposes players to different conditions. The Brazilian team today is a lot more physical than what it was sometime back. They are not afraid to bring down a player- tactical fouling. Players like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Kaka, Tevez, Messi all have bulked up in terms of physique to handle the physical conditions of Europe. So, for Real's own benefit, we need players like Higuain and Gago to be able to compete physically with some of the best players in the world. Like it or not, today's game is played with a lot more pace and power compared to the older days. The average football player in an average football game runs around six to eight kilometres today, compared to around three to five twenty five years back. As a result, we see athletes peaking a lot earlier. The Spanish league was known to get players from Latin American countries due to language, cultural and climatic similarities and hence had a distinctly technical flavour to it. But, the game has changed in ten years time. The English league has come a long way from being a joke in the late nineties. It was a matter of ridicule that nobody had won the World player of the year until Ronaldo did last year. The English league is more open to foreigners. It is without a doubt, the most diverse league in the world. But, it does have its own pitfalls. One reason that was attributed for the failure of English and Spanish teams to win any major international competition was that the players were too fussy to move abroad. With the exception of Steve McMananam, David Beckham and Owen Hargreaves, no other English player plied his trade outside his country when he could still offer a lot to the game in the last ten years. Is it surprising that Spain winning the Euro has come at the same time that many Spaniards have moved over to greener pastures at the EPL? It also helps that there are successful managers of different nationalities which can be a factor in getting overseas players.The English league has a lot of money due to investments from foreigners and this has been channelled to get players from different nations, more so at the cost of promoting their own players. This matter is worth another debate.

One more approach that has resulted due to the English league is the heavy work rate. Players with pace have an inherent advantage in that league & players who are no more in their physical peak like Deco or Shevchenko have little to offer. Andrei Arshavin and Roman Pavlyuchenko had expressed their reactions about the frightening pace of the English premier league. Closing down by everybody is mandatory and also, creative freedom is a luxury. It is this high tempo direct approach that has set the ball rolling for the EPL now. Skill and technique come into the game once it is slowed down. The EPL teams are now dominating the apparent skill deficiency with increasing the tempo. This is something that the continental teams are yet to come to grips with. Football, despite all the arguments of it being a team sport, it is still the players ahead of defence that claim most of the headlines- as there is no other statistic in the game itself that can compete with a goal in terms of importance and outcome of the match. But, of late, the anchorman in midfield has been given the spotlight. This position being one of the most ridiculed positions in world football for being least technical is now, in my opinion, the most game changing due to the high work rate. Players like Mascherano, Lass, Essien, Gattuso are all respected for their abilities to heckle the opposition players into giving the ball. This has crept into other positions as well. One of the casualties of this tactic is that very few players have creative freedom. The role of a winger is almost erased from the books of football. WIngers are viewed as luxury elements as they do not necessarily defend. Even if a team plays with them, it is more of a 4-5-1 approach like the Netherlands or with false wingers like Barcelona with a safety first approach. The width is more or less brought by a fullback. Wide midfielders are expected to track back and defend and clog the centre of the pitch rather than go down the line, outside a fullack and pull in one of the most dangerous passes in the game. How many genuine world class wingers are there in the game today? Just make a list of them and you know exactly why this has happened.

Maybe Real need to approach the game in a way that Barcelona does- use wide midfielders who play as false wingers. These are players who play off the wrong foot and essential cut inside for a pass. We have tried it before. Just that our approach fails as Robben and Higuain, Sneijder are not as comfortable with the ball like Messi and Iniesta. They are equally adept at going outside and inside of a full back. On the other hand, Robben has a heavy bias towards his left foot. It makes it that much easier to defend against him. Figo was the last true winger whom we had. Robben is yet to learn crossing in the air and he does not have much reason to! This brings us to the next point- we have never been a threat in the air. Morientes, RVN and now KJH are three people who could head the ball in. This has been a major weakness with Real. The long ball has almost never been used and we seem to keep buying people who are quick on the ground. That might be ok when you have people like Ronaldo who are exceptional talents, but it will not work when you have back ups like Saviola. We as a team need to challenge airtime. Juve has three strikers- Amauri, Trezeguet and Iaquinta who are all amazing in the air. Milan has Pippo, Shevchenko and even Gilardino sometime back. If we have to compete globally, we cannot continue to ignore one aspect of the game. KJH is a step in the right direction. He is a perfect striker except that he is slower than many. This is not such a major handicap as long as he has a partner who can do all the running.

The show must go on
What must be our approach to the game then? We are no longer able to attract the best players on the planet like we used to sometime back. More on why it might be so in a later post. Clearly, we have no system in place to identify and procure talent. Or, the one we have is not working the way we want to. How do we modify our game then? I am all for a gung ho approach in every match. But, would we prefer attractive football without the results? I don't think so. As long as we have the ability to win a game by bulldozing opponents, we can do so. But, we are not able to play to potential more often than not. It might be worth trying a safety first approach when we are no longer at the peak of our abilities. In the last eight years, there have been only three teams that have won using their virtues of pure attack alone- Real and two Barca squads. Even these sides which were blessed with talent came to a stop when they faced some defensive teams. Even though I am not a fan of defensive football, I feel we may have to consider it as it is a successful tactic. Knowing when your number is up and adapting is a hallmark of any champion and I feel swallowing our pride and plaiyng for a win is better of a larger picture. It is not that we do not know these things. Our attitude towards Capello showed that. We clearly stood in line when we needed a dose of bitter medicine both times and got rid of the doctor with the first signs of recovery.

We have a decent squad depth and I propose that we must play different teams home and away- the midfield, especially. I have said this before and I say it again- we are in dire need of a central midfielder. I was hoping for DLR to step up and Gago to do something or Sneijder do what he does for the Netherlands, but we seem to be missing a tempo setting midfielder in away games. Sneijder did a decent job of being a box to box midfielder last season, but he has not been the same ever since his injury. I feel we need to play:
Home games- Lass/ Gago+ VDV/ Guti+ Marcelo at left back
Away games- Lass+ DLR/ Sneijder+ Heinze at left back.
The biggest problem is that we do not have a decent left back for sometime now. Torres might be worth a try. This way, we can battle fatigue as well. The attitude of learning to scrape when you cannot milk the opposition is what is costing us dearly in knockout competitions, not to mention the Copa del Rey being an embarassment. This way, we can use the squad depth and clearly assign roles to players in order to achieve the results that we want. Teams like Croatia, Turkey, Germany have an excellent work ethic and we must be able to pick fringe players from there who will fit into our system.

The Dark side of the Goon
In the last segment, I hope to address our "big bully" attitude. We have been guilty in the past of unsettling people by using the media. Most recently, the Cristiano Ronaldo saga comes to mind. While such an attitude is deplorable in my opinion, I have to agree that it has yielded results in the past. I am happy to say that we, as a club, have no double standards in this respect. For example, Manchester United did the same in the case of Berbatov, Rooney and Rio Ferdinand. But, they had a problem when we kept pursuing Cristiano Ronaldo using the same tactics. We were also on the receiving end in the Robinho case. We did take offence to it only when Chelsea sold some away jerseys bearing his name. We also have a big reputation for getting referee decisions in our favour, rescinding of punishments and all dirty attempts to change the rules. Some of these charges are common to other champion clubs, but, these don't look good on any of them. We need to make sincere attempts to reduce such "pants down" scenarios as perceptions in the eyes of the world is very important. "Too big to fail" is an attitude associated with some of the biggest empires. One actually wonders what the magnitude of a punishment might have been if the culprit were to be someone more hapless. For example, big companies get tax cuts and extremely favourable lending rates for big projects as compared to an ordinary person who might actually benefit more with a fraction of the money. The bailout plan for the multiple US companies also highlights the "above the system" image that some of them flaunt. Muralitharan's suspect bowling action had implications in the interpretation as to what a legal delivery in cricket was. We need to take more responsibilities for our actions on and off the field as we are the people who can make a difference. With great power, comes great responsibilities! Hopefully, our club should use the power to set right the club vs country debate, foreign player issue, protection of youth team products (ironically!) and so on.

Hala Madrid!
A Spaniard in the works

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


Posted by Paulo Martin,Spain
Real Madrid has a preferential option over five of Boca Juniors brightest youth products.

The Argentines broke an agreement which Real Madrid had with the club over a preferential option on Ever Banega when Boca sold the player to Valencia. Real Madrid decided not to take the matter of breach of contract any further if Boca Juniors gave Real Madrid a preferential option on Florin, Muñoz, Araujo, Cabrera and Fragapane.

It seems like Real Madrid want to make Boca Juniors some sorts of extension of Valdebebas in Buenos Aires. The whites have demonstrated a excellent following of the Argentine market in recent years having secured the likes of Fernando Gago and Gonzalo Higuain and want to keep their grasp in that market by securing a preferential option on five of Boca Juniors most promising youngsters.

The five players are Juan Forlin, Ezequiel Muñoz, Sergio Araujo, Nicolas Cabrera and Franco Fragapane. The scouts at Real Madrid have been following these players for some time and have no doubt of there ability and expect all of them to have a bright future in European football.

Real Madrid`s preferential option on these players was signed little over a month ago when Carlos Bianchi who was Boca Juniors ex manager and now is a director at the club came to Madrid to meet with Carlos Bucero and reach an agreement to end a conflict between the clubs that could have ended up in the CAS and would have ended up with Boca Juniors receiving a hefty fine.

In that meeting, Real Madrid claimed that Boca Juniors had broken a contract clause included int he signing of Fernando Gago, the clause stipulated that Real Madrid had a preferential option over three other Boca Juniors players; Mathias Cahais, Jonathan Maidana and Ever Banega. BoCA Juniors sold Ever Banega last winter to Valencia without honoring the preferential option that Real Madrid had signed with the club. Real Madrid then negotiated the option of the five players mentioned above in exchange for not taking Boca Juniors to the CAS.

Jorge Amor Ameal, Boca Juniors president is convinced that Real Madrid has made an excellent deal. " These kids have an enormous future ahead of them and i am confident that they will make it, various big European clubs have been keeping tabs on them". Real Madrid got a great deal from a problematic situation and both parties seem happy that the matter is resolved.

Those who have seen the players in action claim that they will form a new generation similar to that of Messi`s and Aguero`s. Folrin and Muñoz are already regular first team players for Boca Juniors and Forlin has already been named as part of the squad for the Argentinian national team that will face Venezuela and Bolivia question remains if he will be short listed or not.

But not only Real Madrid have shown interest in Forlin, also Barcelona have taken an interest in the player with Barça sporting director Txiqui Beguiristain scouting the player on several occasions. This young center back already had a very brief encounter with Real Madrid when he was at Real Madrid B in 2007 but a complication in his passport and visa forced him to return to Argentina.


JUAN FORLIN: (Reconquista,Sta.Fe, 10-01-1988) He`s 21 years old, He plays as a center back and starts on a regular basis for Boca Juniors and was one of the stars of his team that won the Apertura 2008 coached by Carlos Isquia. He is technically gifted, he can play on the left or right, He`s very quick, and his formidable conditions has seduced even the great Maradona.

EZEQUIEL MUÑOZ: (Pergamio, Province of Buenos Aires, 08-10-1990) Considered by the great Carlos Bianchi as the future center back for the national team. He has a strong physical presence (1`85 and 82 kg), he`s strong int he air, he has a strong personality
and a great character. He made his debut int he past South American Cup against Quito. His footballing mirror is Roberto Ayala.

SERGIO ARAUJO: At just 17 years old he is considered one of the great Argentine talents. He is a striker who is extremely quick, an authentic product of baby football, he is technically very gifted and is very habile with the ball at his feet, has great
ability to take on players in small areas and has good mobility and drops to either wing. He first started playing at Club Parque under Ramon Maddoni the same person who groomed Fernando Gago. Muñoz is constantly being compared to a young Kun Aguero.

GONZALO CABRERA: (Buenos Aires 15-01-1989) He is an attacking midfielder who can play as a creative midfielder or as an attacking midfielder. A similar player to Pablo Aimar. His preferred foot is his right but can easily switch to his left considering he is ambidextrous. He has a strong physical presence (1`89) and is good in the air.

FRANCO FRANGAPANE: (Mendoza, 06-02-1993) He is the youngest of the five and is only 16 years old. He is a very fast striker but his preferred position is on the right wing. Very talented on the ball and lethal on one-on-ones. Because of his mobility and pace
he is compared to Rodrigo Palacio. Very habile in taking on players and shooting on goal.

Hala Madrid