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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?).
Thursday, 30 November 2006
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Wednesday, 29 November 2006
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.
Tuesday, 28 November 2006
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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...
Monday, 27 November 2006
In 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."
Even 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.
Friday, 24 November 2006
The 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).
Wednesday, 22 November 2006
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.
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Monday, 20 November 2006
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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...
Contrary 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.
Posted by Gonzalo at 14:32
Friday, 17 November 2006
Ferenc 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.
Wednesday, 15 November 2006
Real 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.
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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.
Tuesday, 14 November 2006
Given 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.
Monday, 13 November 2006
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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...
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.
Posted by Gonzalo at 10:39
Friday, 3 November 2006
Surreal 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:
On being a substitute:
Have you ever spent 40 minutes warming up?
What's the worst thing about not playing?
They tell me your dream is to win the Nobel Peace prize
Thursday, 2 November 2006
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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.