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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