Saturday, 23 December 2006

No retraction on doping story

Le MondeContrary to what Real Madrid stated five days ago, French daily Le Monde has no intention of retracting its original story linking the club and three others (Barcelona, Valencia and Betis) with doctor Eufemiano Fuentes and allegations of blood doping.

The paper has published letters from all the clubs denying the allegations in accordance with French law's right to response, said the sports editor, Eric Collier. "This is not at all a retraction, he added. Real Madrid has initiated legal proceedings.

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Friday, 22 December 2006

20 million for Gago

They paid how much? Gago can't believe his price tagWith Fernando Gago, the triumvirate of the much announced winter signings from South America is now complete. Starting with Marcelo and continuing with Higuaín, Real Madrid has now spent over 40 million euros in players during the season, a new record.

The latest, Fernando Gago, has been touted by some as a midfielder in the mould of his namesake Redondo. Heavy expectations on a player who has triumphed at Boca Juniors in his native Argentina, but who needs to show he can make the jump to Europe, unlike many of his countrymen. He has been in Italy the last couple of days to complete the process to obtain an Italian passport, given his ancestry from that country. This means enough non-EU spots remain in the squad to enable Marcelo to play with the first team, and not with Castilla as had been anticipated. Gago's deal will keep him at Madrid until 2013, another long-term bet from a team who may not be in their jobs next year, depending on the outcome of the trial for the presidency. Watch this space.

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All I want for Christmas...

Capello wants Santa to bring him more goals at to win at home, as Capello (and those fans paying exorbitant prices to watch Real at the Bernabéu) might say. With a 4-2-2 record at home, as compared with a 6-2-0 record away, and five points adrift of leaders Sevilla, Real Madrid goes into the Christmas mini-break pondering the cost of those six points dropped at home.

Match day had been marred by news of the tragic road accident which claimed the lives of three Recreativo supporters, as well as the driver of the bus carrying them to Madrid. Controversially, the RFEF (Spanish FA) decided that the game should be played, despite the requests from the Recreativo president for a postponement and the support of Real Madrid and the League in this matter. The atmosphere was subdued at first, and the planned tribute to Cannavaro for his recent FIFA World Player of the Year award was cancelled. Despite, or perhaps because of this, Recreativo won their first ever game at the Bernabéu in style with goals either side of the break and a final flourish just before the finish. Cannavaro was whistled off the pitch as the fans blamed him for the mistakes that cost Real the first two goals.

To be fair, although this was no Getafe, it was not far off, and there was very little to cheer from any of the Real Madrid players on the pitch. Perhaps, like millions of workers around the World, their mind was more on the upcoming Christmas break than on the game taking place around them. Capello will need to think long and hard over the next two weeks about how to re-motivate his squad, because a loss of confidence and desire will make winning the League very difficult indeed.

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Wednesday, 20 December 2006

Game to go ahead despite road traffic tragedy

Remains of the coach following its collisionFour people died and thirty-five were injured, twenty-two of them seriously, when a coach carrying Recreativo de Huelva supporters to Madrid for tonight's game at the Bernabéu collided with a lorry on the motorway linking Huelva and Sevilla in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

Both clubs have expressed their condolences to the families of those affected. The Recreativo president, Francisco Mendoza, asked for the game's postponement and Real Madrid gave their support to his appeal saying they would abide by the decision of the Spanish FA. After deliberating for several hours, the FA decided the game should go ahead as planned. Recreativo's president and board members have returned to Huelva to show their support for those affected.

A minute's silence will be observed before kick-off, and the game's proceeds will be donated by Real Madrid to the victims' families.

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Calderón on trial

Villar Mir is still trying to get his hands on Real MadridThe judge who halted the postal vote in the Real Madrid presidential elections last summer, has set a date of January 29th for the trial to resolve the legality or otherwise of the current incumbent, Ramón Calderón. Legal representatives for Calderón, as well as the two other interested parties, Arturo Baldasano and Juan Miguel Villar Mir were all present at today's hearing. The judge expressed the hope that the parties could come to some form of agreement to avoid taking the matter to trial, but it was not to be, as new evidence and witnesses have come forward.

Frankly, the whole affair brings shame upon the club and those who are trying to gain control over it. Just as it was disgraceful that the clearly open to corruption postal vote was not reformed at the recent AGM. Let's hope the trial puts a stop to this once and for all.

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Monday, 18 December 2006

Fuentes denies Real link

Eufemiano Fuentex fax to Real MadridEufemiano Fuentes, the doctor at the centre of a row involving allegations of blood doping of football players has sent a registered fax to Real Madrid denying any relationship between him and the club or any of its players, and that he has a tape of the conversation with the reporter that was published in Le Monde which can be used to verify this. A similar statement has been posted on the website for Real Betis, one of the other Spanish clubs implicated by the French daily. Of the other two, Barcelona has already stated its intention to initiate legal proceedings, while Valencia has decided to take the matter no further.

Real Madrid also reported that it has received a response to its request of Le Monde to publish a full retraction of its allegations and that this should be forthcoming in the next few days. It remains to be seen whether Real will proceed with its intention to take the matter to court once a retraction has been published.

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New honour for Cannavaro

Cannavaro in Zurich with the FIFA World player awardFabio Cannavaro once again beat Zidane and Ronaldinho to take the coveted FIFA World player award in addition to the European Footballer of the Year crown he was awarded three weeks ago. As this honour is voted for by national coaches and captains, he can argue that this should silence those who criticised giving the best player of the year award to a defender. He has now been recognised by both his peers and by journalists from around Europe.

In a separate interview, Raúl, who will be in Zurich for the awards ceremony as captain of Spain (even though he has not been named in the squad for the last three games) to pick up the FIFA 'Fair Play' award for the last World Cup said that he had voted for Cannavaro because "he had a great World Cup and has played his heart out for Juventus and Real Madrid. He's the right choice and I am happy for him. He's a great teammate".

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Keeping up the pressure

Ruud celebrates his winner against EspanyolReal Madrid and Sevilla turned up the pressure on an absent Barcelona, in Tokyo for the World Club Championship, by winning their respective away ties against Recreativo and Espanyol. Real had more possession than usual in the first half, but neither side had many scoring chances as the battle was played out in the midfield. It was early in the second half, that van Nistelrooy received a wondrous through ball from Guti and clinically slotted in his ninth league goal.

All was going well for the Madrid side until five minutes later, when Cannavaro was mistakenly sent off for handling the ball. Replays showed he was clearly struck by the ball in the face, but his protestations were to no avail and he received his marching orders. In theory he should receive a one-match ban for the sending off, but it is likely this will be appealed successfully. Any option of creative play from Real vanished, as Capello brought Robinho off for Mejía and later on Reyes came off for Diarra. This effectively stopped any play down the wings, but also meant that Espanyol struggled to add to their tally of 10 games without loss by crashing over and over into the wall created by the Real midfield and defence.

Match report

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Friday, 15 December 2006

Real draw Bayern Munich

Bayern Munich crestReal Madrid and Bayern Munich were drawn together in the last-16 stage of the Champions League. Between them, the two clubs have won this competition 13 times and met in seven editions (1976, 1987, 1988, 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2004), with Real Madrid winning four to Bayern's three (although in 2000 they met in both the groups stages and the semifinals; Bayern won three games to Real's one, but it was the Madrid side that made the final).

The first leg will be played at the Bernabéu on February 20th and the return at the Allianz Arena in Munich on March 7th.

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Higuaín signs 6 year deal

Negotiations between Real Madrid and Argentine club River Plate reached a climax yesterday, with the announcement that their promising young striker, Gonzalo Higuaín would be joining the Merengues from the beginning of January for a reported fee of around 13 million euros. The club's brief announcement said the deal would tie the 19-year-old to Real until the end of the 2012-2013 season, when he will be 25.

In his 35 games for River Plate, he has scored 13 goals, most notably the two against Brazilian side Corinthians in the Libertadores cup last May and another brace in October against bitter rivals Boca Juniors during the Argentine Apertura championship, where he finished as top scorer. Higuaín, the son of a former footballer, was born in France while his father was plying his trade at Stade Brest in the late 80s, and he holds a French passport in addition to his Argentine passport. He has yet to decide which nation to represent at international level, having turned down chances to play for both France and Argentina in youth tournaments and friendlies.

He is not an out-and-out centre forward, preferring to use his speed and dribbling ability to attack from the left flank. His signing is undoubtedly another signal that Real Madrid is looking to replenish their ageing strike force (Ronaldo, van Nistelrooy and Raúl), but it raises further questions about the future of Cassano at the club, given his recent falling out and reconciliation with Capello. Also questionable is Roberto Soldado's future at the club. At the beginning of the season he was loaned out to Osasuna to develop his football in the First Division with a view to coming back to join the first team.

Curiously enough, there have only ever been two other players named "Gonzalo" to have played for Real Madrid (I have an obvious interest in this). The first was José Gonzalo Díez Galé, who played for two seasons between 1929 and 1931, and the second was Gonzalo Marzá Triller, a goalkeeper for 3 seasons between 1941 and 1944. Neither won any trophies. Hopefully Higuaín will have better fortune.

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Thursday, 14 December 2006

Woody's not broken any more

While Real Madrid are scouring the market for central defenders, Jonathan Woodgate is making an impressive start to the season in the English Premiership with Midlesbrough (though 'Boro themselves have not been that impressive, lying only 3 points above the relegation zone).

With thirteen league appearances to his name, four more than he managed in two seasons at Real, it looks like his injury-prone days may be behind him. Woodgate was loaned to Middlesbrough until the end of the season, although the Riverside club will have an option to buy him for around 10 million euros.

However, speculation is mounting that Real Madrid are keeping a close eye on Woodgate's progress, given their recent troubles in central defence (Helguera is still out injured, since the game against Lyon, and Pavón and Raúl Bravo seem to be out of favour with Capello).

In an interview with As, Woody says that he has no idea what will happen when his loan term expires or whether Real Madrid will want him back. He adds that apart from the medical staff and David Beckham, noone else from the club has called him, although he thinks that's probably normal.

There's little doubt that Woodgate's intention was always to make a name for himself at Real, and perhaps earn a recall to the England side. Although unable to play for most of his time there, he seemed to be well-like by the rest of the squad, and he pleased the fans by making a big effort to learn Spanish early on. The loan has been beneficial because it's given him the chance to play regular football, and playing in the Premiership is a tough test of both his ability and physical condition. Undoubtedly a class player, he could play an important role in the back four for Real, as he has the passing ability to play the ball out of defence, but it remains to be seen whether he is to Capello's liking.

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Wednesday, 13 December 2006

Apology demanded

Fax to Le MondeLess than a week after Le Monde's allegations of blood doping at a number of Spanish clubs, including Real Madrid, the legal machinery at the club has finally cranked out a response.

In a fax sent on the 11th to the newspaper's editor-in-chief, Real Madrid strongly denies any links between the club and the doctor at the centre of the allegations, Eufemiano Fuentes. The fax goes on to state that no unauthorised product or substance has ever been used at the club and demands an apology from the paper with the same prominence as was given to the original article. Finally, it affirms the club's intention to initiate legal action against the paper and any others who may have been responsible for the publication of the allegations.

Of the other clubs implicated, Barcelona has already said they will be taking legal action against the paper, and Betis have threatened legal proceedings if the story is not retracted. Interestingly, Valencia are taking a different tack, ruling out suing Le Monde. Their president, Juan Soler, is quoted as saying "I know how the process of going to court ends. It becomes you say one thing and I say the other. The best thing is for the supporters to be clear about it and leave it like that".

In response to the original article, Ronaldo said he didn't even know who Eufemiano Fuentes was. "There's really nothing here to hide. We don't do anything illegal and are always available for the random inspections that UEFA carry out, or whoever else for that matter. We take medicine when we are sick or injured, but nothing that can improve or enhance our form," he added.

Figures released by the World Anti Doping Agency show that football complies with its standards in testing its participants from urine samples. However, the same cannot be said for blood tests, which are still being resisted by FIFA. That would be the only way to test whether any of the blood doping allegations had any fundament.

My feeling is that it is extremely unlikely that any of the clubs named by Le Monde are implicated in wholesale doping of their players, for the simple reason that hiding such practices is almost impossible. All it takes is one disgruntled player, or manager (and there are plenty of those) to bring the whole affair into the public domain.

However, this does not mean that individual players wishing to enhance their performance or stamina have not in the past availed themselves of the services offered by doctors such as Eufemiano Fuentes. There seems little sense in FIFA's reluctance to comply with WADA's recommendations and introduce blood testing, particularly as they did this during the 2002 World Cup, with no observed side effects.

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Tuesday, 12 December 2006

Looking closer to home...

Juan MataThe excellent Diarios de Fútbol blog argues today that Real Madrid are undervaluing the talent in their youth teams to look abroad for similar players at much greater expense. They take as their example 18-year-old Juan Mata, recently promoted from the 'C' to the 'B' team (also known as Castilla), and playing in the Spanish second division.

Mata had a successful campaign with the Spain under-19 side in last summer's European Championship, scoring five goals on the way to winning the trophy. He's also doing well with Castilla, having scored 6 goals so far this season. However, the club's youth policy seems to be against him. The only three players in the current starting eleven who have come up from the ranks - Raúl, Guti and Casillas - have been there since before Florentino Pérez was in charge.

Contrast this with the reported 10 million euros that River Plate have rejected for their 19-year-old striker Gonzalo (great name) Higuaín, the ongoing negotiations with Boca Juniors over Fernando Gago and the signing of Marcelo, and it seems that Real Madrid are only looking abroad to renew their ageing squad.

Although the poster has a very valid point, I take some issue with the comparisons made. I cannot comment on Juan Mata's abilities, as I've never seen him play. However, you cannot compare a player who has performed well in the Spanish second and third divisions, and with the national under-19 side, with someone of similar age who is currently performing at a high level with one of the top clubs in Argentina. One merely has potential, the other has demonstrated at least some of that potential. Look at Javier Portillo, who broke goalscoring records at every Real Madrid youth team, but never really came up with the goods in the first squad.

Looking though the rest of the Real Madrid squad, there are five other players who have come up through the ranks: Diego López, Pavón, Miñambres, Raúl Bravo and Mejía. None of these is getting a regular spot in the starting line-up, but, other than Miñambres, who is recovering from a serious knee injury, they have all played at some point this season. Add to that the fact that Capello has tried to give 'B' teamers like Rubén de la Red a run-out in relatively low pressure affairs like the recent Champions League game at Dynamo Kiev, and it seems that the club's technical team is at least trying to give these youngsters a chance to prove themselves,even if they don't always take it.

Any chance is, given the pressure for results at Real Madrid, likely to come only from time to time, and not everyone can be a Raúl. Luck has a lot to do with it, so mere talent is no guarantee, and there's no question the club is combing the youth market partly to steal a march on other clubs, but things are no blacker for the youngsters, in my opinion, than they have ever been.

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Monday, 11 December 2006


Ramón Calderón may not feel so victorious soonAs if it weren't enough that his presidential victory is not yet legitimised as he awaits the judicial decision on the now infamous postal vote, Ramón Calderón now has to face his first serious internal crisis as two of the members of his board have resigned for reasons that have not yet been made public.

The rumour mill has already begun and one of the theories being put forward is that there is deep unhappiness at the lack of prospect of new elections to put an end once and for all to the uncertainty at the club. What seems more clear is that one of the resignations, that of Juan Carlos Sánchez, the director in charge of the basketball section, is related to the club's decision to sign a preliminary agreement with the NBA to acquire one of the planned european franchises should this happen in the future. It is thought that this agreement was signed without consulting Sánchez.

Other resignations may follow. If enough members of the boards do resign, Calderón will be forced to call for new elections whether he wants to or not, as stipulated in the club statutes.

[Update 12/12/2006@15:50]: The other board member to have resigned, Juan Mendoza, "clarified" the reasons for his departure, saying that while he retains the utmost respect for the club and he joined the current administration full of enthusiasm, he does not feel he has been given a position of enough responsibility to warrant his staying. In other words, he's annoyed that he has less influence than he thought he was going to have.

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Setback in Seville

Raúl rues another missed chanceA stunning goal with 13 minutes on the clock by Javier Chevantón turned the tables neatly on a Real Madrid side who have been propped up towards the top of the standings due to ther effectiveness in finishing off their few chances.

To be fair, the game ended up being far more entertaining than previous efforts so far this season, and it is perhaps not that disingenuous of Capello to comment that "a draw would have been fairer". But then again, there have been a few instances this season where Real took all three points in matches where one would have been more equitable to both sides.

David Beckham's early-ish cracker of a free-kick did not cramp Sevilla's style, and the Englishman won't be happy that his contribution, after starting a league game for the first time in a couple of months, was eventually wasted. Barcelona goes off to Tokyo to fight for the Intercontinental Cup with a four-point cushion as we enter the crucial stage of the league championship where there is no Champions League distraction and every point counts.


Match report

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Thursday, 7 December 2006

Blood doping and death threats

Eufemiano Fuentes, last JulyEufemiano Fuentes, the doctor at the centre of a cycling blood doping scandal, who was arrested last May by Spanish police and is the subject of a major investigation, is linked in today's Le Monde to a number of Spanish clubs: Real Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia and Betis.

The French daily claims to have seen a set of confidential documents, handwritten by the doctor, in which he sets out the "training plans" for the four Spanish clubs during the 2005-2006 season. In an interview with the paper, Dr. Fuentes is asked whether he had ever worked for either Real Madrid or Barcelona. His response is something out of the pages of a thriller: "I cannot answer that. I have received death threats. I was told that if I revealed certain things, I or my family could have serious problems. I was threatened three times, and I won't be threatened a fourth time.".

Fuentes claims to be innocent of the "crime against public health" which he has been charged with: "In my twenty-nine years as a doctor, none of my clients has ever had the least heath issue. I am committed to protecting the health of those sports professionals who ask for my help.".

Of course, there's little or no proof that any of the allegations are true. The denials from the various clubs have already begun. It is unlikely that any of these claims will come out during Fuentes' trial, as conveniently, only Le Monde has had access to the "confidential documents". However, it has already been noted that doping tests during the last FIFA World Cup did not include blood analyses, which could determine whether any players had benefited from blood doping. Perhaps this is something that needs revisiting.

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Ronaldo gets a new lease of life

Ronaldo in action in last night's gameCapello's goading of Ronaldo seems to be having a beneficial effect on the not-so-fat-these-days Fenómeno. The headlines will record that Ronaldo rescued his 'BabyMadrid' side , stuffed with youngsters from the B team from going down to Dynamo Kiev in last night's meaningless Champions League fixture (meaningless because neither side's position in the group could change irrespective of the result). What they will not show is that the formerly regarded as 'past it' Brazilian is training like he hasn't trained for years. He fights for the ball, he's even been seen occasionally heading back over the half-way line to help out in defensive duties. He seems to be a changed man.

Whether this is due to Capello's methods, the president's stated vow not to get involved in 'technical' matters, or a combination of the two, it is extremely welcome. Perhaps he won't get the thirty goals he promised, in typical style, at the beginning of the season, but perhaps he's not as finished as it seemed this time last month.

Match report

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Wednesday, 6 December 2006

Is the membership model in need of change?

Calderón and Di Stefano vote at the AGM
El Socio writes a heartfelt plea for reform of the way Real Madrid is run after the recent shenanigans at the Annual General Meeting last Sunday. First of all, some facts and figures:

  • Real Madrid has some 85,000 socios, of which around 66,000 have the right to vote (adults who have been registered for at least 12 months).
  • 42% of those who had the right, actually voted in person at the past election
  • Estimates vary, but around 10,000 are deemed to have voted by post
  • Of all the socios, a select number (around 3,000), called socios compromisarios are allowed to vote at Annual and Extraordinary General Meetings of the club. These members are chosen in a rather "peculiar" way. Two or more "ordinary" members can choose a compromisario to represent them, but the decision on whether this member is allowed to join that exalted rank is up to the club management.

El Socio bemoans the lack of transparency in the "democratic" process, the lack of commitment of the compromisarios (only about a third turned up to the AGM, and a tiny fraction stayed until the end to make a decision on the postal vote) and the apparent lack of intelligence of some of those present, given their contributions. He argues for reform, either turning the club into a plc, which would force it to adhere to the rules and regulations of the market, or by withdrawing membership from those who do not turn up to vote and expelling any compromisarios who do not turn up to AGMs.

This is where I disagree. We've seen across Europe the effects of turning clubs into listed companies at the vagaries of the market. Clubs are run for the benefit of shareholders, not of fans. Worse, predators can move in and turn them into their own private fiefdoms.

On the membership front, I find El Socio's suggestions a little impractical, not to say undemocratic. As in any other election, why should you vote if you feel none of the candidates is good enough? Or if there's little to choose between them? However, there should be no scope for the board to 'fix' things by picking those who are allowed to take part in decisions. All members should have a vote, and if a proxy is necessary, for practical reasons, plenty of companies conduct their AGMs without any problems. I am astonished that the current voting system was retained, with the postal vote still open to manipulation. I don't know all the details, and perhaps the members thought that the proposal would deny those that do not live near Madrid the ability to vote easily. Any postal vote should be run by an independent impartial organisation, who cannot be manipulated by either the current board, or by any of the candidates.

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Monday, 4 December 2006

Brazilian 'oldies' to the rescue

Team'mates congratulate Roberto Carlos after scoring the winner
Much has been made about the fact that Real Madrid's ageing squad is in desperate need of renewal if they are to be competitive in the coming seasons. Fabio Capello has been both vilified and lauded for what he calls "achieving miracles" with the players at his disposal. And yet, it was two of these players who scored the goals that resulted in Real's come-back against Athletic Bilbao: Ronaldo (30) and Roberto Carlos (33).

Once again, Real Madrid had to struggle to get all three points at home (14/21 so far, compared with 15/18 away), falling behind to a goal of dubious legality after 35 minutes, and playing the sort of football that would "bore sheep". Capello changed tack in the second half bringing Ronaldo and Beckham in for Reyes and Emerson, respectively. The Brazilian, especially, looked sharper than he has for some time and was seen running after balls with the same speed he used to run after the ice-cream van.

While Athletic's defence clearly contributed to the final turnaround in both goals, this article by Martí Perarnau has a good assessment of Real's effectiveness under Capello:

  1. Defensive solidity: They have allowed 15 goals in 18 games in the League and Europe. This is the same number as Barcelona, arguably a much more attacking side. The number of unconverted goal chances (thanks mostly to MVP Casillas) means a 'Fail' in this category thus far.
  2. Fast counter: Real have renounced patient passing play to adopt a counter-attacking style, which is proving lethal, both because of the speed, and the pushing up of players forward when this happens.
  3. Scoring effectiveness: They have no equal in this category. They have scoring rations of over 60% per game; few opportunities, plenty of goals (on average 2 per game). Overwhelming.
  4. Results: Three defeats in 18 games. No problems to qualify for the knock-out stages of the Champions League and 1 point from the top in the League. Superb.

Capello will find little in the way of weighty opposition to his methods as long as they deliver results. He has a good track record of doing this. Given that he's unlikely to win everything in sight, he's very unlikely to stay in the post for longer than two years. This is the quandary facing the Real Madrid management: Capello was brought in as a "surgeon" to chop away at all the deadwood and instil a winning attitude in the players. How then can he be expected to contribute meaningfully to the long-term make-up of the squad?


Match report

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No revolution, but also no reform

Ramón Calderón, during the Real Madrid AGMThe longest Annual General Meeting in Real Madrid history (over 6 hours) did not result in the forcing of new presidential elections, as some had foretold, but also ended, finally, in a rejection of Ramón Calderón's proposal to reform the postal vote that has so dogged his presidency since July.

Around 1,000 socios compromisarios empowered to vote on behalf of the whole Real Madrid membership gathered to debate the items on the agenda. Although all the items were approved by a sufficient margin, the assembly was more notable for the constant stream of criticism towards the Real Madrid president, and by calls to reinstate the postal vote (suspended by a judge pending an investigation into allegations of corrupt practices by some of the candidates).

Ramón Calderón defended himself vigorously, saying that he had "no fear" of calling for new elections if the members so wished (however, no timetable was given for when this might happen, or how the membership could make its wishes felt).

He also hit back at those who "had plans to use the club for their own profit, although I did not think them so base as to attack my family, my wife, children and brothers. My financial status is simple and transparent; I'm not a millionaire, I have a house with a mortgage, and an office where I work as a lawyer. I was accused of employing my brother, but my brother did what brothers do, help me out. He has a temporary contract and his efforts have saved the legal department more than 400,000 euros. He cannot wait to get back to his own office, where he makes far more money".

At the end, the extraordinary session was convened to discuss the reformation of the postal vote. By this time, only around 300 socios remained to vote, with 193 voting against reform and 119 for it. Personally, I have no problem with Real Madrid members being able to vote by post, particularly given how extended they are throughout Spain (and some probably beyond).

It it the administration of this postal vote at the last (and previous) elections that have brought the name of the club into disrepute. As in all elections, transparency and honesty are paramount to ensure the wishes of the electors are carried out and that there is no scope for those wishing to undermine the democratic process to succeed.

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Friday, 1 December 2006

Capello speaks...

Fabio CapelloIn a revealing interview with As, Fabio Capello faces the Spanish inquisition (in a comfy chair while enjoying lunch at their expense) from a paper that is usually a mouthpiece for the club, but that has been less than enamoured with his style. Capello defends his actions as vigorously as he practised catenaccio in his youth. This is the translation of the full article:

At the beginning of the conversation, Capello tackles Cannavaro's latest accolade

I do not understand all I am hearing and reading about the controversy surrounding Fabio Cannavaro. What's all this about? how are people making these judgements? Cannavaro was the best player of the World Cup and that's where the best players go. Who can argue with that? Only those who don't put enough value on the World Cup. It's the place where all the best players go to show how good they are. And Cannavaro was the best among them all. On top of that he had a great season for Juventus.

Fabio, we can think of a few poor performances of Cannavaro playing for Real Madrid
Look. Cannavaro, like all those who took part in the World Cup, needs some time to get back to full match fitness. Also he's got some back problems.

But coincidentally, he was awarded the Ballon d'Or on the day when Carew kept getting away from him
Not true! I've seen the video of the game. I always do that. I can tell you that Carew gets away from him only once. Only once, I tell you. And I'm not talking about the goal, because Carew was offside. It was in another action. But it was only once, I insist.

He seems to laugh sometimes as if he were mocking people
Come on... let's discuss football. Cannavaro is like that; he laughs when he speaks. But he is player who is always focused on the game. That is essential to be competitive.

No-one's arguing about his commitment, the same as for the rest of the squad. You can see Capello's hand in that
We may play well or badly, but the pride in representing this club has returned. All the players are united and they have ambition. They all play their socks off in all the games.

Don't you think there should be more spectacle as well as physical effort in Real Madrid's football?
Let me tell you something. The fans have asked me to first of all make sure I put back the spirit and that the good football will come later. They tell me this on the street.

But Real Madrid has always played attractive football. And we are not seeing any of that now.
Look, of course I love good attractive football. But we have to play with what we have at the moment. The team plays according to the players in the squad. Good passing is not enough right now. We have to improve in this area.

The team plays the way they do because of the players you have signed: blunt, defensive-minded
What do you want? It was madness to have the elections in July! We were too late to the market to pick and choose. How much do you think Cesc, or any other top player costs in July? We are achieving miracles with what we've got.

Barcelona plays more attractively
Come on. Barcelona did not win all their players on the lottery. They've arrived over time. Do you think I or anyone else can solve everything in two months? Rijkaard took more than 6 months to start showing something for his efforts. My friends, nothing can change as quickly as you're trying to make out to people.

Don't you think that the public wants to see a team go out and attack and win the ball?
Sure - that's tactical suicide. Do you think it would be fun to watch?

Well, yes. It's open football...
Please. In football today you defend with nine and attack with two. Everyone does it! Chelsea, Liverpool, even Barça, after a fashion. They play with two up front: Ronaldinho and Eto'o or Gudjohnssen, and all the rest will go back to their own half to help retrieve the ball. Is that not true? Ninety-five percent of all teams play like that.

We think that, for instance, Diarra and Emerson are blockages to free flowing football. Perhaps it would be better with just one of them and Guti in your 'double pivot'.
You've never seen my 'double pivot' perform at 100% effectiveness. When one is 100%, the other is at 60%. The two of them have not had a great match at the same time as each other. Let me ask you something else. Is there any other team that plays with more forwards than we do? We are not playing defensively because Emerson and Diarra are in the team. Whoever says that is wrong.

You say that Real Madrid's passing game will improve. Will that be with Gago?
Gago is very good. Yes, very good indeed. I've seen him in a lot of videos. But let's be careful with asking too much of him because their season is almost over. We'll see.

Will he play in the same position as Guti? Behind him, in front of him?
I think he has the ability to control and distribute play in the midfield, but he can also go forward. I can't say anything at this stage. We'll have to see how he adapts.

What about Marcelo, will you loan him to Zaragoza or will he play in Castilla (the B team)?
He'll play with Castilla. I want to keep him close, see him every day. I won't allow him to go out on loan.

What about Higuaín?
A good striker. One of the best in Argentina. It will be good to have him here. I think that signing these players is telling the fans that they can rest easy, we have a plan to build a great team.

Have you been fully satisfied with any of the performances so far this season?
I think the attitude we showed in the game against Barcelona is the way to go.

What have you liked the least?
The Getafe game. I knew that game would not be a good one. Something happened...

I don't want to talk about it. But look at how good it was for everyone to stand up and say: "this will not happen again".

Cassano's 'rebellion' was a bad day?
Cassano is how he is. I know him better than anybody. He's a difficult person and a sensational player. Here you've only seen him perform at 50%. His problem is that his effectiveness goes up and down depending on how strong he feels. He needs to feel he's always going to be in the first eleven, but...

So he will get tired of being a substitute, like Beckham
Beckham is not a substitute. He is a complete professional. He will play when there's room in the squd, and there will be room because the season is long. I have a starting eleven now which more or less works, so he will have to wait. But you need to realise that I have personally asked for his contract to be renewed.

Is it true you've been goading Ronaldo and now his morale is up and his weight is down?
I've goaded him a lot, but I have to goad him some more! He is still not at his ideal weight, although he feels very well. He's training wonderfully. Very strong on Monday, on Tuesday... If all goes to plan, he should play on Sunday. We'll see... Ronaldo is the most talented player I have ever seen. His power is impressive. I want to put him up front with Van Nistelrooy again. I have always had two strikers in all my squads.

And you also play with wingers like Robinho and Reyes, or Raúl, although sometimes playing on the 'wrong leg'
Raúl plays well on the wing because he can get forward and look for goals. From the wing he has a great ability to surprise defenders. Also, if he then moves towards the middle, Ramos can then overtake him on the wing more often than Roberto Carlos.

Robinho and Reyes?
My feeling is that it's good to switch the wingers sometimes to play on the 'opposite leg'; it baffles defenders. But I like my wingers to get forward and alsot to get back. They have defensive tasks as well...

Are you convinced by Casillas?
What do you mean? I've always thought Iker was a great keeper. It is true we're working him a lot on high balls and his movement outside the box, and he's improved a lot.

It looks like you're overly negative on his performances when we mention him in the press
I say what I believe. I don't think he makes as many superb saves as you say. I look at him as a coach, from a technical perspective.

Work, work, work. Does this come from your playing day in Italy?
My coach in 1967 in Roma was Helenio Herrera. He was the best I've known by far. Number one. A professional, he always asked for more. He'd have us train for an hour shouting "Attacca la balla, attacca la balla" (Attack the ball). Constant pressure!.

And where did you startout as a player?
I was born in a village with thirteen hundred people, in Pieris. It's 100km from Venice, on the coast. From that village there were twelve Serie A players and three of us played for Italy.

And where did you make your debut?
At Ferrara. The president, who strangely enough was also the coach, signed me. His name was Massa. In the mornings he'd be on the pitch running the training session and on the afternoon he'd call us into his office to tell us who was playing. those were the days! That was Italy in the 60s. After that I played for Roma, Juve, and Milan.

You coincided with some of the Spanish players in the Italian league at that time: Del Sol, Luis Suárez and Peiró
Of course. I played with Peiró in Roma as he was finishing his career. He was great in the box. I tried to copy his technique. He had great cunning and was very successful at heading the ball even though he was not very tall.

Suárez was held in great regard...
He was incredible. Now, according to you, I wouldn't play him (laughs). He used to run up and down the pitch constantly, and with three touches he'd be in the box and score. I had to follow him in some games and he was impossible to mark! He never stopped working. Up and down, on the wing... I remember he used to lift the ball up and hit it almost horizontally. He'd hit fifty metre passes - a phenomenon!

Tell us the truth. What team do you support in Italy?
When I was a kid, I was a Juve fan, like my father. Now, I support whoever I have worked for. And there've been plenty of those.

What's your favourite type of player from those teams?
I like Rossi, at Roma. I remember one day I picked him to play and he impressed me. He played like he trained: no fear, holding nothing back. Aquillani also plays like that. They can play in the big teams. I remember ten years ago, players would come to Real Madrid with a great pedigree and would freeze at the Bernabéu, in front of ninety thousand.

Tell us what you like about your next opponents: Athletic
Whatever I say now or what I've seen in the videos is now worthless. they've just changed coach and how they'll play is a mystery. As a club, they're suffering because their policy of only signing Basque players is making it progressively more difficult.

Will you win a trophy this year?
Let me beat Athletic first...

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Thursday, 30 November 2006

Try to score, not score a try

Scoring a try
An item in The Guardian this morning caught my attention. The paper echoes the announcement last month by Ramón Calderón that Real Madrid would have a Rugby section to add to their football and basketball, adding that the first step would be to sponsor an existing club, CRC Madrid Noroeste, with a view to incorporating them into the Real Madrid 'family' in a couple of years.

It is understandable that the current management team is seeking to increase and exploit the Real Madrid brand, but branching out into another sport à la Barcelona just seems to go against what the club is about. To be fair, the basketball section has been around since 1932 and is the most successful (in terms of trophies) in both Spain and Europe.

However, basketball is only second to football in terms of popularity in Spain, while rugby is a very long way behind. It is also not a sport with enough global projection at the club level to make any impact and it therefore seems like a vanity project for the president. The reasons for branching out have not been made at all clear, and I suspect, if it does end up happening, that it will be short-lived.

Real Madrid did have other sports sections in the past: volleyball (50s-80s) and handball (50s) but they have always been subsidised by football and eventually disappeared.

If Real Madrid really wants to pick a truly global Rugby team to sponsor, they could do little better than the All Blacks,although getting the team colours to show up might be difficult (all in white, geddit?).

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Wednesday, 29 November 2006

The new Redondo?

Much has been written about the impending transfer of Argentinian wunderkind Fernando Gago from Boca Juniors to Real Madrid, most of it revolving around his fast-rising price tag and Ramón Calderón's need to add to his good news collection for this Sunday's Annual General Meeting.

However, an article in the Guardian's Sport Blog focuses on his playing style and asks interesting questions about how well he would fit into Capello's scheme at Real Madrid. The article quotes Jorge Valdano: "The club's idea is to bring him not as an alternative to Emerson or Diarra, but to Guti, but Gago doesn't play like Guti. Gago is a midfielder who needs another midfielder, but one bodyguard is enough. Otherwise, he has to play more forward, and the more forward he plays, the less of a player he is. Gago will join Madrid, won't play, and his evolution will be delayed because the only way to progress is competing, not watching matches from the subs bench. The list of players who failed arriving aged 20 a big club is so long that it's best to discuss the only exception: Kaká".

If we assume that Calderón is remaining true to his word and not bringing in players that have not been recommended after a technical assessment, then Capello must have a place for him in the squad. If he can't play as far forward as Guti, then this raises two problems: there is still no substitute for the only playmaker in the squad, and which of Emerson or Diarra will he replace? Given that Capello has been very reluctant to make any changes to his 'double pivot', you have to wonder what his plans are for Gago.

Will he therefore go the way of so many other young players at Real who never made the grade due to lack of opportunities or because they just did not fit in with the manager du jour's plans? The tag 'The new Redondo' is a hard one to live up to (just ask the Manchester United faithful) and maybe Real are just getting in there to prevent others taking advantage of this emerging talent. Let's hope not.

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Tuesday, 28 November 2006

The long arm of Florentino...

Florentino Pérez
Niccolò Machiavelli would have found much to illuminate his examples on how to acquire and retain power in The Prince by watching the intriguing goings-on at Real Madrid and the fight for control of its presidency.

On the face of it, this coming Sunday's Annual General Meeting should be a chance for Ramón Calderón to show off the new TV contract and to talk about potential new signings for the winter transfer window (Marcelo's already in the bag).

This should enable him to reform the club's statutes to get rid of the postal vote in future presidential elections, which has so far haunted the legitimacy of his position.

But there are a number of players behind the scenes hoping to derail the meeting and force new elections to be called before the end of the season. While Villar Mir is still hoping to have the postal vote declared valid, which he believes will give him enough votes to be elected president, Don Balón reports this week that former president Florentino Pérez has allegedly repented from his decision to resign last February and is looking to see whether he has the support to make a comeback.

This, from a man who said "if it weren't my responsibility I wouldn't have resigned and I don't come back from where I've left". Although this was also the man who famously said "never, never, never" when asked whether he had any plans to bring David Beckham to Real Madrid.

According to Don Balón, Florentino has commissioned a series of telephone polls of Real Madrid members to see whether they would like to see him back at the helm. And he's primed a number of people to ask awkward questions at Sunday's meeting in the hopes of forcing Calderón to acknowledge he is not in control of the club and to call for an election.

The landscape at Real Madrid, in terms of management style, has changed greatly with the arrival of Calderón and Capello. Love it or hate it, it's what the fans wanted: no interference with the manager and results at the expense of everything else, after three years of winning nothing. Former Real Madrid sports director, Arrigo Sacchi, today launched an attack on the way things were run under Florentino: "Now only those who are playing and training well are starting. When I was there I had the feeling that certain players had to play at all costs, whether they were in form or not and that was not good. Now they are letting the manager do his job".

Sunday's meeting is only the start, but it promises to be an interesting battle for control...

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Monday, 27 November 2006

Cannavaro wins the Ballon d'Or

Cannavaro with the Ballon d'Or on the front page of France Football MagazineIn what was probably the worst kept secret in football, Fabio Cannavaro finally travelled to Paris to collect his Ballon d'Or award for European Footballer of the Year. Although Real Madrid president Ramón Calderón and sports director Predrag Mijatovic travelled with him, basking in the reflected glory, it must be noted that the accolade was earned for Cannavaro's work last season for Juventus, and, more importantly, for leading Italy to their fourth World Cup title in the summer.

Not all commentators agree with France Football Magazine's choice of Cannavaro for the award. French legend Michel Platini launched a scathing attack last week: "I have said it before and I repeat: the players who deserve it more are Henry and Ronaldinho," he told Italy's 'La Politica nel Pallone' TV show. "If the prize has to go to a player who won the World Cup, I thought that Buffon deserved it more. But as far as the whole season goes, the strongest players have definitely been Henry and Ronaldinho."

Former Italy national manager, Arrigo Sacchi, also said that he "would have given it to Buffon, but I'm happy for Cannavaro, whom I've also coached. The award is going to a defender and that is recognition for all those Italian defenders who deserved it and never received it."

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"We were lucky"

Raúl celebrates after scoring the winnerEven Capello had to admit Real Madrid had their lucky stars to thank last night after leaving Valencia with another three points under their belt. The lack of any midfield creativity (Guti was both injured and suspended - double whammy) saw Real hand over the initiative to an injury-depleted Valencia.

The locals had by far the best of the first half, but they spurned their chances and lost their main striker, David Villa early on. The inclusion of Villa in the Valencia squad was a gamble that did not pay off, as he'd been carrying an injury from their previous game, and while the chés had the best of the play, they struggled to convert their chances.

In contrast, Real had precious few opportunities, but as is customary under Capello, withstood the barrage, waited patiently and took full advantage of Raúl's clinical finishing. It wasn't pretty, and there were serious doses of luck, as Valencia had a decent penalty appeal turned down (Cannavaro was again all at sea - it's taking him a long time to adapt and he had to be substituted to make sure he didn't leave his side with 10 men on the pitch).

On a positive note, Capello gave youngster Rubén de la Red 25 minutes to show whether he is Guti's natural replacement, and the kid had a decent performance, although his instructions were clearly to help out with defensive tasks in midfield. He did have a shot on goal parried though, so it was a promising debut.

President Calderón, emboldened perhaps by the signing of a multi-million euro TV contract last week, later said that his electoral promise to sign AC Milan midfielder Kaká was not a "lie" and that it "might turn into a reality very soon". If this comes off, it remains to be seen whether it is a solution to the team's current dearth of organisation in midfield.

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Friday, 24 November 2006

Tick... tock...

Ticking TimebombThe British press (Guardian, Times, Telegraph, Independent) all echo the report in Spanish sports weekly Don Balón which quotes an unnamed Real Madrid board member as saying "Capello prefers a different type of player and we would all be relieved if Beckham, on his own initiative, said he had decided to leave to play in the MLS. That way nobody could blame Calderón for getting rid of an icon such as David Beckham. What Calderón said two months ago and what he wants now are two very different things. We cannot admit this publicly, but the best for both parties would be for Beckham to leave. Capello doesn't want him and the player himself cannot carry on spending so much time on the bench, because he would lose some of his multi-million marketing contracts. It is not good for Real Madrid to have such a famous player as Beckham on the bench, like a ticking timebomb".

The club, as is normal in these cases, has decided not to comment on quotes from an unnamed source. The player's spokesman said last night "We are dubious about comments made by an unnamed member of the board. If it is true, it goes against everything Capello, Ramón Calderón and Pedrag Mijatovic have been saying to us and to the world's media, that they want him to stay. Talks are ongoing and positive and we expect another meeting very soon.".

One can only speculate about the reasons behind this "leak" to the press. Taken at face value, it could be that the club really does think Beckham is not the money-making machine he once was, and if he doesn't feature in the manager's schemes, what is the point in keeping him? However, one only has to look at the change in fortunes for Helguera and Robinho in the squad to see that what Capello wants and needs today is not what he might want and need tomorrow. It could just be Fabio's way of keeping uppity players on their toes.

On the other hand, it might be a ploy to put pressure on the player to decide on his future sooner rather than later. After all, if he wants to leave, Real can still make some money by offloading him in the January transfer window. And if he decides to stay, it could be for a reduced salary, or one tied to results or appearances.

I'm sticking to my prediction that Beckham will sign on for a further two years, but it's looking shakier by the minute (which is why I'm not a betting man).

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Wednesday, 22 November 2006

Who's driving the bus?

van Nistelrooy and Carew

Hundred-ish-word review of last night's game:

  • Carew outsmarts Cannavaro and beats Casillas (11')
  • Guti picks up an injury and leaves Real without a playmaker (20')
  • Lyon go 2 up after a free-kick conceded by Cannavaro (31')
  • Diarra risks having his block knocked off diving to meet Ruud van Nistelrooy's crossed header and score (39')
  • Capello gets desperate and brings Cassano in for Emerson (76')
  • Ruud taps in Real's equaliser after Raúl's header came off the post (83')
  • Ruud has a penalty kick saved, his third in five attempts this season (89')
  • Carew makes Cannavaro's life a misery (01'-90')

Two things are painfully obvious from last night's display: Cannavaro is a long way from showing the form that allegedly has won him the prestigious Ballon d'Or and Capello has nobody able to replace Guti - not Reyes, not Robinho, not Raúl. Given that he's now been suspended for two league matches following his rush of blood to the head on Saturday, it will be interesting to see how Capello rearranges his side to face injury-decimated Valencia.

It was good to see Real Madrid show some grit and passion to claw their way back into the match and to almost snatch victory from the jaws of defeat with the award of a dubious penalty in the final couple of minutes. These qualities have been sadly lacking in the Florentino years but they are a poor substitute for the flair and creativity that is needed in midfield if they are to take full advantage of their effectiveness in front of goal.
Match report

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Monday, 20 November 2006

Pretty Boy Problems

On Saturday night, Guti gave a textbook example why so many of the Bernabéu faithful loathe him, why he's had so few chances to play for the national side, even though he's arguably one of the most talented men on the pitch. His vision, his skill; he brings fantasía to Real Madrid's play, something in short supply in Capello's designs. But, after 88 minutes, with Real 3-1 up and the game pretty much in the bag, Guti got himself sent off by elbowing Racing's Vitolo in the face at the same time as he was fouling him. It's not the first time he's done something like that. Nobody, not even he knows why he does it.

El Mundo decided that this was somehow linked to Guti's protracted contract renewal negotiations. There had been leaks that the discussions had stalled because Real Madrid had put an offer of 4.5 million euros for a further two years on the table and Guti wanted 5.1; a "mere" difference of 300,000 euros a year. This was his way of showing his displeasure at the club's undervaluing of his services (after all, Ramón Calderón had said after he took office that they would renew him "for life").

Of course, anyone who has followed Guti's career knows this was all so much bobbins; as I said, he just does these things from time to time. Just like he sometimes "disappears" from the pitch, as if he can't be bothered with this football lark. To add insult to injury, it looks like El Mundo's "journalists" will have to eat their words as it was announced on Monday afternoon that Guti had just agreed to a two-year extension to his contract (to run until 2010) for a 13% salary increase.

So we have four more years of his year-round bouts of March Madness to look forward to...

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Catalan money for Real TV rights

MediaproContrary to the various reports that have been surfacing in the past few weeks, Real Madrid have not renewed the contract for televising their matches with Sogecable, but have in fact signed a deal worth 1,100 million euros over 7 years (around 157 million euros per year) with Catalan production company Mediapro, starting from 2007. This almost triples the amount (55 million euros) they have been receiving every year for the past few years and is, according to the club, "the most important contract for audiovisual rights that any sporting Club around the world has signed to date".

It sounds like Ramón Calderón was not, for once, jumping the gun last week, when he said that this would be bigger than the deal Barcelona had signed last June (also with Mediapro). This will likely be a killer blow to Sogecable, as these two clubs have by far the biggest TV audiences both at home and abroad.

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Friday, 17 November 2006

RIP Ferenc Puskas

Ferenc PuskasFerenc Puskas was the chief magician of the so-called Magical Magyars, the great Hungarian team of the 1950s that dominated world football.

Puskas was an odd-looking footballer. He was short, stocky, barrel-chested and overweight, could not head the ball and could use only his left foot.

But what a left foot.

When he came to Wembley in 1953, no one in Britain had seen ball skills like his before. His stunning footballing ability left England captain Billy Wright tackling air at Wembley and helped Hungary thrash England 6-3, their first defeat on home soil.

Tom Finney, who watched the game from the stands, spoke for everyone when he said: "I came away wondering to myself what we had been doing all these years."

Puskas was known as the 'Galloping Major', a reference to the fact that he played for an army team, Honved. In his first season he scored 50 goals as he won the first of five Hungarian championships and in total scored 357 goals in 354 games.

He made his international debut at the age of 18 and went on to score a phenomenal 83 times in 84 internationals. Disappointment came when West Germany caused a major upset by defeating Hungary in the 1954 World Cup Final.

The Hungarian uprising against their Soviet masters in 1956 led to the disintegration of the great national side. Puskas was with the rest of his Honved team-mates in Spain when the revolt took place. He defected to the West and within a year had been signed by Real Madrid, then Europe's leading club.

Puskas proceeded to form a sensational partnership with Alfredo Di Stefano and they became the heart of an outstanding Real side. The high point of their achievements was their display in the 1960 European Cup final in front of 135,000 at Hampden Park.

In a truly memorable match, Real Madrid defeated Eintracht 7-3. Di Stefano scored a hat-trick, Puskas went one better with four.

However, Puskas did not have it all his own way in the European Cup. In 1962 he scored a hat-trick in the final against Benfica but Real still lost 5-3 to their Portuguese opponents.

There was more disappointment a year later when Puskas, now playing for Spain, failed to inspire his team to success in the World Cup Finals in Chile. Spain finished bottom of their group and Puskas failed to score in any of his four appearances for his adopted country.

But for Real his scoring rate of 512 goals in 528 matches helped the club win five successive league titles as well as three European titles.

Puskas left Real in 1966 to concentrate on coaching. He had mediocre success until 1971 when he took the Greek side Panathinaikos to the European Cup Final, where they lost 2-0 to Ajax.

After the Hungarian uprising Puskas had not returned to the country, but he was finally allowed back in 1993 to become caretaker manager of the Hungarian side during the World Cup qualifiers.

Puskas, who was admitted to hospital in late 2000 with arteriosclerosis and was later diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, leaves a wife Erzsebet.

[source: BBC]

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Wednesday, 15 November 2006

The Best TV deal?

Ramón CalderónReal Madrid president Ramón Calderón announced on Tuesday evening that the club was close to agreement over the sale of the TV broadcasting rights for the princely sum of 800 million euros over 7 years (around 114 million a year).

Given that the current deal with pay TV channel Sogecable is worth around 55 million euros a year and runs until 2007, this is certainly a substantial improvement in revenue for the club. However, it is perhaps somewhat disingenuous to call the agreement "the most important in world sports history", given that rivals Barcelona agreed a larger package (around 1,000 million euros over 7 years) back in June with Mediapro.

Calderón declined to name the other party, but most observers suspect it is an improved offer from Sogecable, who would otherwise stand to lose the biggest TV draw in their current portfolio of Spanish clubs.

It is however interesting to note that there may have been reasons other than the purely financial behind the signing of this deal. According to Spanish financial website El Confidencial, a larger offer of around 120 million euros per year for five years from the publicly-run regional television station Telemadrid was rejected in favour of the Sogecable deal because Sogecable's owners, PRISA, are the most powerful media group in Spain, and Calderón does not want to antagonise them at this delicate stage when his presidency is being questioned by other candidates seeking to reinstate the postal vote.

[Update@21:20] Calderón has updated his figures on the agreement to a deal worth around 1,000 million euros over 7 years, and he specifically mentioned that it was "worth more than Barcelona's". Perhaps some of the articles were premature and the deal was indeed done in the best financial interests of the club. There's still no news as to who the other party is, so we'll just have to wait for confirmation in the next few days...

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Who needs a salary?

David Beckham advertising sunglasses
In an article in The Sun on Tuesday, David Beckham was reported to have earned £19 million (28 million euros) in the past year from his 'sponsorship deals, personal appearances and business ventures'. In other words, this is additional income over and above the salary he receives for playing for Real Madrid.

But this is not the end of the Beckham money-making machine. He and his wife Victoria are partners in another company Brand Beckham which has the serialisation rights to his recent book, Making it real and other ventures in common, such as perfume.

Despite recent set-backs, such as the ending of his contract with Police sunglasses (reportedly worth £1.5 million a year), it is clear his earning potential outside the field of play is still considerable. Given the image rights revenue share deal he has with Real Madrid, it is clear to see why it is in the club's financial interests to keep him on for some time to come.

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Tuesday, 14 November 2006

Marcelo: First of the youngbloods

Marcelo after scoring in his debut for Brazil vs. WalesGiven three trophyless years, it is little surprise that Capello has based his current squad around experience rather than youth and energy. There are some concessions (Robinho, Sergio Ramos), but a large number of the starting eleven are fast approaching or on the 'wrong' side of 30. In this first year, he needs results to keep the wolves from the door and the fans happy; it seems the Real Madrid faithful don't have the patience of their Barcelona counterparts, who endured a 5-year dry spell and still (just) managed to have enough patience to give Rijkaard time to rebuild.

However, rumours abound about Real's seeking out the best young talent: Gago, Higuaín, and... Marcelo. This pint-sized eighteen year old left fullback is already touted as Roberto Carlos's successor with the Brazil squad: in his recent debut against Wales he even managed to get on the scoresheet. Other than size, he resembles his more veteran (33) countryman in that he "likes to get forward and join the attack but still has a lot to learn about defending".

The 7 million euro deal with Brazilian club Fluminense ties Marcelo to Real Madrid until 2012 from next January, although there's a good chance he will see most of his playing action in his first season with the Castilla 'B' team rather than with the first squad, particularly as he would fill a non-EU spot in the squad which may be taken up by subsequent signings.

On the same day, Real Madrid shored up the left flank of defence by renewing Roberto Carlos for an additional year until 2009, replacing the current agreement which would have required him to play a certain number of matches to be renewed.

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Monday, 13 November 2006

Van the Man

Ruud van Nistelrooy

The mercurial Dutchman made it six in a week by bagging all four of Real Madrid's goals at Osasuna's Reyno de Navarra stadium. Real Madrid has been missing a pure centre forward for some time (Ronaldo is not and has never been one) and if his current vein of form continues, there'll be many more goals for Ruud this season. There was some help from hapless defenders and goalkeeper, but the last of his goals, particularly, left even van Nistelrooy shaking his head in amazement as his curled shot sailed through the top right hand corner.

This is not the first time Ruud has scored four in the same game; he did the same for Manchester United in a Champions League game against Sparta Prague in 2004. The scoreline there was also 4-1. Real historians have to look back to club legend Di Stefano as the last player to score four goals in an away League match (against Las Palmas in 1957). The last time it happened in a home game was when Hierro netted four in Real's 7-0 thrashing of Espanyol in April 1992. Arguably the most famous 'poker' of goals was scored by Ferenc Puskas in the 1960 European Cup final where Real Madrid demolished Eintracht Frankfurt 7-3.

Games at Osasuna are always heated affairs, but things went too far when Iker Casillas was struck by a cigarette lighter and had to receive treatment. Given the Spanish football authorities' past record, I expect Osasuna will get away with little more than a slap on the wrist. Sad...

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That was the week that was

I've been away for a week, so, by way of catch-up, here's the highlights of the past few days' worth of Real Madrid news:

Sunday 5th November: No fireworks and Capello's first ever home defeat with Real Madrid, sees them slipping to fourth place

Monday 6th November: MLS team LA Galaxy tell the BBC they would be interested in signing David Beckham should he not renew his contract with Real Madrid.

Tuesday 7th November: "The vultures are gathering", says Ramón Calderón, after presidential hopefuls Villar Mir and Fernández Tapias (who stood as vice-president in Juan Palacios's campaign) said they expect to de-throne the current incumbent if the postal votes are allowed to stand.

Wednesday 8th November: Roberto Carlos may soon face real opposition for his starting left-fullback place after Real sign his countryman Marcelo from Brazilian side Fluminense for a reported 7 million euros. Curiously, it was also reported that Roberto Carlos is on the verge of renewing his contract for a further two seasons.

Thursday 9th November: Beckham, Ronaldo and Reyes all started in Real Madrid's 5-1 thumping of Ecija in the Spanish Cup, with van Nistelrooy scoring twice to ensure he's been on target in all three competitions this season.

Friday 10th November: Cassano finally "apologises" to Capello and will be allowed to train with the rest of the squad from Saturday.

Ronaldo may be out for a month after picking up (another) knee injury in the midweek Cup game. So that's his diet blown to pieces (again).

Saturday 11th November: Former Real Madrid hard-man, Fernando Hierro, will join the coaching squad in January to help train the central defenders.

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Friday, 3 November 2006

Ronaldo wants Nobel Peace prize

RonaldoSurreal does not really go far enough to describe Ronaldo's ambition to win the Nobel Peaze prize, in an interview with Spanish daily ABC. Admittedly, he has a role as a UN goodwill ambassador, but then so did Geri Halliwell! The interview has some surprising revelations on his current state of mind(lessness).

You must be relieved Barcelona is not the team of last season:

I don't watch their games. I only ever watch Real Madrid games. It's been... years since I saw a game from start to finish. I just watch the highlights. Football bores me. I've never watched much football; I only watch the games I'm in to correct my mistakes. I always do it. The evening of the day after the game. Whenever they give me the tapes. They've not given me many tapes recently (laughs)

On being a substitute:
I spent half of last season injured; I played the World Cup suffering from tendonitis and I've just had an operation to resolve that tendonitis. I'm still getting back into form. When I was playing everything was better. Another bad thing about being a substitute is that you have to train harder, and I've always hated training, although I think it's probably good for me at this point.

Have you ever spent 40 minutes warming up?
Never. They went on forever. I felt forgotten, but I behaved well. I couldn't complain, make a scene. I didn't warm up with Cassano. He just lost his head. I didn't, no matter what was going on inside my head.

What's the worst thing about not playing?
To not have the trust of the coach and to not know what to do about getting that trust back. I don't know what I have to do to get back in the starting eleven. I try everything: run, jump, be fast...

They tell me your dream is to win the Nobel Peace prize
Yes, it's a dream, a very distant one. I have to work a lot, help a lot, put all my energies into this cause I believe in, to one day deserve a prize like this. It's in my hands.

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Thursday, 2 November 2006

El Gordo's days are numbered

Fat boy Ronaldo wheezes through yet another game

Unfortunately for Ronaldo, he only practices the second half of a "work hard, play hard" philosophy. He is reportedly still 4 kg over the target weight set by Capello's trainers and doesn't seem to be trying too hard to lose it and get match fit.

Unofficial reports coming out of Real Madrid are that the knives are out for him, that Calderón is now regretting pushing AC Milan too hard in negotiations last summer and that they are preparing to put him on the transfer list, possibly in time for the January transfer window.

Ronaldo also hasn't made himself very popular at the club, by ignoring Real Madrid doctors and undergoing knee surgery in Brazil after the World Cup. Since then, he has struggled to get anywhere near match fitness and his boast to score 30 goals this season looks emptier by the say (he hasn't scored yet).

He was reportedly furious at being made to warm up for the majority of the second half of Real's game against Nàstic at the weekend, but unlike his team-mate Cassano, he kept quiet (at least in public) and was thought to be likely to be "rewarded" with a start in last night's Champions League game against Steaua.

It didn't happen. Ronaldo came after van Nistelrooy missed his penalty to play the last 20 minutes. A mysterious 'stiff neck' was blamed, but Ronaldo said at the end of the game that he felt fine. Capello tried to smooth things over by saying that it was his decision to leave Ronaldo out as he had strained his neck in training, and even though he had claimed to be fine just before the game, he had decided not to start him. The Bernabéu gave 'El Gordo' a warm welcome when he came on, but, unless he bucks up (and going by previous years, this is unlikely) he'll be out by the end of the season.

Another galáctico bites the dust...

By the way, Real won the game 1-0 with an own goal by Nicolita. A far cry from the 4-1 performance in Bucharest two weeks earlier, but, in true Capello style, effective. A farily tedious game, although Helguera will never have an easier miss and van Nistelrooy will rue not adding to his tally of goals this season with that missed penalty. Real Madrid now qualifies for the knock-out stages of the Champions League and will fight unbeaten Olympique Lyon for the group's first place in their next game on the 21st.

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Monday, 30 October 2006

Cassano loses his cool

Antonio CassanoTelling Capello "you have no shame; after everything I did for you at Roma this is how you repay me?" is not going to be one of Antonio Cassano's best career-enhancing moves. He does have form, however, with spats with Capello himself at Roma, as well as with his replacements Rudi Völler and Luigi del Neri.

This time it came after the coach had him warming up on the touchline for the entire second half of Real's pedestrian 3-1 win over Nàstic on Saturday and did not bring him on. Ronaldo, who suffered the same fate and decided to keep quiet, is expected to start against Steaua Bucharest on Wednesday.

Cassano, who scored Real's opener against Ecija in mid-week is not likely to be a part of Capello's future line-ups, especially as the club responded by suspending Cassano 'temporarily' from training with the rest of the squad and fining him according to their disciplinary procedures. While Capello knows his compatriot's temper of old, I expect he will now feature in the upcoming January sales.

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Friday, 27 October 2006

Should I stay or should I go...

Back in 2004, British journalist John Carlin, in his book White Angels published a fascinating insider's view on the whole saga of David Beckham leaving Manchester United and signing for Real Madrid. In it he describes how the Spanish club's marketing director, José Angel Sánchez could not believe his lucky stars when Peter Kenyon, Manchester United's chief executive said he would be prepared to accept £25 million for the England captain. Peanuts!, thought Sánchez, who privately valued Beckham's worth in marketing terms at 500 million euros.

Carlin lays the blame for Manchester United's uncharacteristic lack of financial acumen firmly at the feet of Alex Ferguson, rather than Peter Kenyon's. The United manager's well publicised bust-ups with his player meant that their relationship had irretrievably broken down and Ferguson just wanted to get rid of his troublesome media star.

Earlier this year, half-way through last season, Carlin describes how Beckham has been instrumental in turning Real Madrid into the biggest football brand in the World in marketing terms. He cautions however, that unless footballing success comes for both, the value of the joint brand will diminish.

Hence David Beckham's dilemma in a season where Real Madrid are finally showing some grit and solidity at the back and where they may once again be in contention for a title come next summer, but where the Englishman has been relegated to the bench in the majority of Fabio Capello's line-ups. Can he fight his way back into the starting eleven? Can he cope with just being "one more in the team" should the club win a trophy this season? Can he really do better elsewhere? Will he leave in January? In a recent online poll in Marca, 41% of the voters wanted him to leave, against 59% who wanted him to stay (37% for footballing reasons and 22% for financial reasons).

I have said elsewhere that I expect him to stay this season and to sign a contract extension of at least one year, if not two. To leave in January would mean not being able to compete in Europe as he's cup-tied with Real Madrid. I see no likely candidates for him to go to at the end of the season. There's no point in being the star player in a team that's not going to compete in Europe; that won't promote his brand. His slowness in adapting to life and the language in Spain suggests that he is unlikely to want to move anywhere other than back to England which leaves the following options: Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool, and... Barcelona.

Alex Ferguson has taken some time to rebuild his team following the departure of Beckham and Van Nistelrooy (and others) and is unlikely to welcome him back with open arms. I don't think Mourinho would guarantee a starting place for him just because he's David Beckham, and he has plenty of talent at his disposal. Arsenal and Liverpool are slightly more likely if only because they would like the opportunity to rub it into Manchester United's face, but, in footballing terms, they just don't need him. Barcelona would probably relish the chance of paying Real Madrid back for the Figo incident, the start of the whole galáctico era. Again, I just don't see Rijkaard as being the type of manager who would play Beckham just because he's in the squad; that's not the reputation he has built for himself. Oh yeah, he'd also have to learn Catalan...

In conclusion, David Beckham is no longer an essential element for a team that wants to compete at the highest level. He still has a massive marketing presence, and is therefore very attractive in financial terms. His best bet in my opinion would be to stay at Real Madrid, continue fighting for his place (just like McManaman did when he was judged to be 'surplus to requirements', winning the fans' support in the process) and hope that Real win the trophies that would make his move abroad worthwhile.

[Update 29/10/2006: Coincidentally, John Carlin wrote a piece in Sunday's Observer newspaper analysing the plight of David Beckham. He reaches a different conclusion from mine in that he believes Beckham will leave Real Madrid either in January or at the end of the season, but that effectively, he is already on the downhill slope career-wise and that no matter where he ends up, he has little future to speak off. Very depressing. A different view of this article can also be found on Linda's blog, The Beautiful Game]

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