Tuesday, 30 January 2007

The end of the galáctico era

So it's finally goodbye to Ronaldo, the latest player to be treated in ignominious fashion as part of the Real Madrid New Year sales clear-out. It also marks the end of the galácticos, as he, together with Figo, Zidane and Beckham became known during the Florentino era. While it's hard to argue with the premise that Ronaldo is not the footballer he was, the timing of this deal does not reflect well on the management at the club. AC Milan reportedly offered 18 million euros to take him away in the summer, and are now getting him for a reported figure of between 7 and 8 million. Some rumours even go as far as to say that the money has been put up by the player himself, so desperate is he to get away from the "hell" that is working under Capello.

The current goal drought in the league also has numerous people remembering with nostalgia how many times "El Gordo" (together with Casillas) has saved the team's bacon (only to eat it afterwards - sorry, couldn't resist).

Capello himself has remained tight-lipped in recent days about the breakdown in his relationship with the player, although he has not called him up to the squad for several weeks. He did previously say that Ronaldo's attitude to training was "not great", a diplomatic way of saying he's lazy, and he's too old to rely on his extraordinary talent to get him out of trouble. One wonders how he'll fare in the more stringent defences of Serie A. Capello has hinted he'll have more to say "once he no longer wears the Real Madrid shirt". It is also rumoured that Ronaldo does not have a great deal of support from the rest of the squad, and that he's a bad influence on the young Brazilians Robinho and Marcelo (Roberto Carlos doesn't need any bad influences, by all accounts). He's not expected to say goodbye to his former team-mates.

It's probably time for him to go, and it's definitely time for the galácticos to either hang up their boots or take a back seat, but it would have been better if this had happened back in the summer (from a financial perspective) or at the end of the season (out of respect for his contribution to the club). It'll be long before we see his like again.

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Monday, 29 January 2007

Two steps back

Reversing the advantage gained last week, Real Madrid squandered the chance of topping the table, albeit temporarily, for the first time in over 15 months, while the other two teams at the top won their respective encounters. Given the club's poor scoring record (28 goals in 20 league games, the lowest numbers since 1991), it is not a surprise Ronaldo's transfer to AC Milan (expected to be made official today or tomorrow) is being questioned.

It is true that Ronaldo has propped up the scoring over the past two or three seasons. It is also true that his form this season means that his "promise" of scoring 30 goals this season was a pretty empty one. It is not a bad time to let him go. It is a bad time to have so little in the way of alternatives. Real had barely two chances on goal in the first half (Robinho and Higuaín) and none (that's right, none) in the second half. Ruud van Nistelrooy is starting to face criticism that he's not making enough chances for himself, but he's not the only one to blame; he's just not getting the service, and both Reyes and Robinho have been having an appalling few weeks.

There's little room for optimism going forward. The squad just seems too small and unbalanced to link up the midfield to the forward line when both wingers are so ineffectual. It may be hard for Capelo to admit, but he's missing Guti and Raúl up front, and the Castilla youngsters (other than Torres, who had another excellent performance) are just not cutting it. At least this means the club was right to look abroad for young talent.

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Wednesday, 24 January 2007

The beginning of the end for Calderón?

To anyone who's confused surrounding the legal shenanigans at Real Madrid, join the throng.

Aside from the hearing set for next Monday, in which a judge will rule on the suspension of the postal vote for the club's presidential elections last summer, a separate judgement is expected in the next few days from the Audiencia Nacional on whether it was justified by the judge in the first trial to suspend the postal vote recount. This appeal was brought by Juan Miguel Villar Mir, one of the presidential candidates.

Confused? So am I. It seems that if Calderón wins the first round next Monday, there's still this other judgement (from a higher court) to contend with.

But that's not the end of the story, there are also criminal proceedings brought by Ramón Calderón related to the alleged falsification of postal votes. As far as I can tell, no date has been set for these to come to trial.

I have no idea where all of this is going or even how long it will take. All I know is that it reflects very poorly on the club and on those who would run it. Perhaps new elections are really the only way forward.

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Salgado feels the net closing on him

Overrated right back Michel Salgado, under the guise of speaking out in support of his 'estranged' colleagues, said that it was "harmful to the squad having three players kept apart" and that the players are unsettled by the situation at the club with the postal vote and the various judicial proceedings: "there's going to be problems soon and that creates a feeling of uneasiness at the club".

What he didn't say is that he's probably hoping that Calderón loses control of the club, and that this is extended to Capello, so he has a chance of getting back in the squad. Lately he has been marginalised by the performances of Sergio Ramos in his post (Ramos started the season in the centre of defence) and in the last game, where Ramos got injured, the manager put Torres on as right back, and the youngster responded well enough for most commentators to suggest that Salgado's days are also numbered, particularly when Cicinho makes his comeback from long-term injury.

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Tuesday, 23 January 2007

'Unimaginable' sponsors

After Real Madrid's shirt sponsor, Benq Mobile, filed for insolvency in the New Year, it was only a matter of time before Ramón Calderón found a way to announce a replacement with as much fanfare as possible.

Initially, the plan was for the parent company to pick up the sponsorship contract, but the opportunity to renegotiate and present a bigger and better deal was too good to pass up. At the El Mundo forum in Mallorca, the current Real Madrid president spoke of his "pride" at resolving this issue in under a month and that a new contract, with figures "unimaginable" to other clubs, would be signed in the next week.

He took time to praise a number of the players in the squad, in a more measured manner than his attack of unbridled honesty the previous week. He also said his comments had been misunderstood and taken out of context and that the players deserved their salaries.

Calderón insisted that the decision not to allow David Beckham to play, even though he has 6 months left on his contract, is entirely a "technical decision". It's pretty clear to all and sundry that this was a ploy designed to force the player to cough up some extra cash to be released early.

Now that outcome's not looking likely, even Capello has let it slip that there may be a chance for Beckham to be involved in future games, especially as it's embarrassing to the club to be paying his large salary just for training with his team-mates.

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Monday, 22 January 2007

Goal drought continues

Another stumble by Sevilla, who go from being the best football club in the world in 2006 (according to the IFFHS) to not having won a game in 2007, puts Real Madrid level with the Andalusians and with Barcelona (who have a game in hand, at least until Wednesday) at the league's mid-way point. And yet, the manner in which Real Madrid are racking up the points in this championship, especially the lack of goals in the last few matches, is beginning to be a worrying trend.

Capello has stuck to his guns, even as far as giving youngster Torres a starting place as left back. Even when Sergio Ramos had to go off injured, he switched Torres over to the right wing and brought Raúl Bravo on, rather than a straight replacement on the right with Salgado. But the defensive area is not the issue. Diarra is giving sufficient cover in midfield to allow Gago to let the game flow. Gago's performance was far from perfect, but there was enough creativity there for Real to have put away several goals.

Mallorca did not seem to be playing at home, judging by the amount of possession they conceded, but Reyes and Robinho kept crashing, almost as if on purpose, against the Mallorca defence. Reyes had a particularly awful game, possibly his worst in a white shirt so far (but who's Capello going to play, David Beckham?), redeemed only by the wonderful free kick which gave his side the three points.

Van Nistelrooy and Higuaín barely got a couple of shots on goal all evening. It will only take a couple of games without goals for the fans to start baying for Ronaldo to come back. We all know the Dutchman goes through phases, much like Morientes used to, and Higuaín needs some time to adapt, but there's not just enough depth in the squad if the manager's going to ignore most of his strike force (Ronaldo, Cassano) or when injuries hit (Raúl). Where are all these youngsters dying for an opportunity when you need them?

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Thursday, 18 January 2007

Contextualizing Calderón

Santi Duque, revealed as the COPE reporter who surreptitiously recorded Ramón Calderón's recent outpouring of honesty, has put an account of his adventures on his myspace page.

It was all too easy. He walked in, sat down at a table, turned on his minidisc recorder and sat there not quite believing his good fortune. Minutes after the radio station broadcast the carefully selected snippets, every media outlet in the land was on the phone begging for copies of the audio so they could broadcast it too.

Calderón arranged to meet the squad yesterday to explain himself, with the official communiqué speaking of a climate of total sincerity and trust. Some quotes from the players have made their way into the public domain, including enough with all that sh*t that pours out of your mouth.

In his defence, Calderón claims that his words have been taken out of context. To address this, COPE has helpfully put up a transcript of the entire lecture on their website. It's too long to translate (unless someone wants to pay me!) but in essence, it does add a little context, in terms of the questions he was answering when he said what he said. However, it does little to soften the blows and he's lost pretty much any respect he still had from players and supporters alike. The players will give a press conference on Friday to explain their views on the affair. His actions and words may give the players more power to affect his future than would have been the case this time last week.

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Wednesday, 17 January 2007

He begs a 'thousand pardons'

... and he might have to keep on begging. Motormouth Real Madrid president Ramón Calderón really outdid himself yesterday while giving a lecture at a Madrid university to law students on the management of sports organisations.

His comments where captured by a sly journalist from Spanish radio station COPE and have caused him a huge deal of embarrassment. Here are some of the juiciest quotes:

Beckham is off to be a mediocre actor in Hollywood. The proof that the technical team made the right decision in not renewing his contract is that nobody else wanted him, even though he was free. This a day after saying that Beckham had played with Real Madrid like a bullfighter plays with a bull in stalling contract talks while negotiating with LA Galaxy and buying a home out in LA.

The Bernabéu is like a theatre. People don't go there to support their team with shouts and chants like they do in England, or Italy. If the players do well, it's like Plácido Domingo singing well, they applaud. But if Plácido Domingo sings out of key they whistle and boo. People feel they've paid to be entertained and won't show their support if that doesn't happen. This won't do his reelection chances much good, if, as expected, the postal vote is allowed to be counted and new elections are called.

Raúl and Guti started at the same time. Raúl has been a star for 12 years and Guti is still just a player "with a lot of promise". He's 31 and a great player, but he's never really counted. While not many will disagree with this assessment, it flies in the face of his contract being renewed for another two years back in November.

Managing players with such large salary differences is very difficult. At any given time, Diego López, who earns 300,000 euros a year could come in for Iker Casillas, who earns 9 million.

There is a lot of vanity and ego in the dressing room; they think they're superstars who don't have to pay for anything. You have culture and education, and generally, they have none.

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Monday, 15 January 2007

Capello's message to 'crisis'-mongers

The picture illustrates better than anything the frustration that Capello must have been feeling over the past few weeks and his relief at getting a positive result without having to rely on the usual suspects. The victory becomes doubly important when added to the fact that both Barcelona and Sevilla lost their games this weekend, pushing Real Madrid to within two points of the leaders and level with Barcelona (who have a game in hand).

The most effective piece in the new puzzle was the performance of both Gago and Diarra in midfield. If this is more than just a one-off, there is little prospect of Emerson making it back into the side, barring injuries. The Argentine midfielder completed 53 out of 57 passes and Diarra put behind his recent discomfiture at being left out of the side to cut out much of Zaragoza's midfield and even getting forward on occasion.

The makeshift back four included youngster Miguel Torres making his debut at right back and ostracised Raúl Bravo at left back, and both had a relatively uneventful game, at least until the final minutes. Reyes had probably his best game in a Real Madrid shirt, and Robinho took charge of the other wing after Raúl had to be substituted 12 minutes into the game. It looks like the captain will be out for 2 to 3 weeks, further depleting old guard involvement in upcoming games.

Up front van Nistelrooy clearly works better off Higuaín than Ronaldo, and the Dutchman only had to tap in Real's only goal after a pass from the other Argentine in the side. Given that Beckham won't play for Real again and Ronaldo looks to be on his way out, the make-up of the team is unlikely to change much in the next few games. Sergio Ramos (suspended) will replace Torres at right back, so Salgado is unlikely to get much of a look-in. Roberto Carlos will take up the left flank after he recovers (it's doubtful Bravo will make enough of an impression in the next four weeks to keep him out). Guti and Raúl will find it hard to displace Gago and Higuaín/Robinho, at least on a permanent basis, so I expect some rotations here.


Match report

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Saturday, 13 January 2007

Cruel and unusual punishment

In what is possibly Fabio Capello's most erratic decision so far (and there have been a few), the Italian manager declared in a press conference that David Beckham would no longer play for Real Madrid. "Beckham will train with the team but he won't play. A player who has such an important contract with another club, we cannot count on him."

Frankly, this is bonkers. Granted, Beckham has not featured heavily in Capello's plans so far this season, although the manager did say that he had asked for his contract to be renewed. But from that to deny the possibility of any more playing time in a long and potentially difficult season is shooting yourself in the foot. From January 1st, the former England captain was perfectly entitled to negotiate with whomever he wished; Real Madrid asked him to make up his mind quickly, so he did. For the manager to then say that this means they cannot count on him means that every player who has 6 months or less left on their contract is not to be trusted by their current clubs. This is patently ridiculous.

Which means that Capello has either gone nuts, wants to get fired, or has been asked by the management to make this announcement to push Beckham towards leaving the club earlier than planned (the new MLS season starts in April), thus saving Real Madrid a hefty chunk of his salary for the year (let's face it, they're not going to recoup it selling Beckham shirts, are they?). I wonder which one is closest to the truth?

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Friday, 12 January 2007

The door is open for Ronaldo

It wasn't really much of a revelation, but Calderón made it official today by hinting that Capello no longer wants Ronaldo in his squad and that the club is awaiting offers to offload him in the January transfer window. Ronaldo himself has not joined his team-mates in training in the last couple of days, adding to the speculation that he's on his way out.

Giving the manager his backing for this 'clean-out' Calderón wasn't totally explicit in the breakdown of the relationship between Capello and Ronaldo: "It looks like Ronaldo does not feature in the manager's plans and we have to take that into account. Ronaldo's future depends on whether the decision is taken to put him on the transfer list, but there also has to be a club that wants to offer him a contract, and the player has to want to leave; it's his decision as well. Capello thinks this is the way forward, we have full confidence in him and all he's doing is choosing those players that he thinks best fit the squad he is putting together; they can't all be part of it."

With Ronaldo and Beckham on the way out, the only player on a galáctico salary still left is Raúl. The Real Madrid captain is unlikely to be dumped quite so unceremoniously, but it looks like even he is not immune to Capello's culling (assuming he wants him gone, that is).

Of course, a lot hinges on Capello getting the continuing support of the president, which depends on the team starting to show some positive results, and on the president's own continuity, which is by no means certain to see out the season.

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Bravo gets a reprieve

Roberto Carlos feels his injured right calf muscleTo add to his current player management woes, Fabio Capello now has had his two left backs injured in the same week. First of all, Marcelo, fresh from his less than auspicious debut on Sunday at Riazor, injured his right ankle in training on Wednesday and is expected to be off for around six weeks.

Then, Roberto Carlos, who's only missed 10 games in as many seasons through injury, felt something give in his right calf in last night's Copa del Rey yawnathon against Betis and could be out for up to 4 weeks if the suspected muscle tear is confirmed.

All this means is that Raúl Bravo, who's been out of favour with Capello in recent weeks and was looking forward to another season on the sidelines, had to step into the breach. To be fair to him, though left-footed and generally a fairly solid defender, he's not really a specialist at left back and has mostly been used as a utility player, also filling in as a central defender where necessary.

Real did manage to keep a clean sheet against a Betis side missing a few of their regulars with a totally Spanish back four, with youth player Torres (no, not that one) joining Bravo, Sergio Ramos and Helguera. Dissenter Diarra made a come-back to a midfield where Gago bucked the trend at Real Madrid by constantly asking for the ball, rather than getting rid of it. Higuaín made his debut and showed some spark, which may see him get some more play in the league, but, with Capello, nobody really knows.

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Thursday, 11 January 2007

No deal. Bye Bye Becks

Deal or no deal?What a kerfuffle! as Lou Todd would say, all caused by Pedja Mijatovic's comments about David Beckham in an interview with Sky Italia yesterday.

In what some sections of the press interpreted as a Freudian slip, and others as a language mix-up, Mijatovic was asked in Italian whether he would renew David Beckham's contract this week. The Montenegrin Real Madrid sports director, who did play for 3 seasons with Fiorentina initially replied "No", shortly followed by "Beckham’s contract has not been renewed.".

However, all that was left behind as a footnote in this long-running saga when the player issued a statement earlier today in which he said, diplomatically as ever: "This week, Real Madrid asked me to make a decision regarding my future and the offer to extend my contract by a further two seasons.

"After discussing several options with my family and advisers to either stay here at Madrid or join other major British and European clubs, I have decided to join the Los Angeles Galaxy and play in the MLS from August this year.

"I would like to thank the supporters and people of Madrid who have made my family and I feel so welcome in my time here, making this an extremely difficult decision to make. I have enjoyed my time in Spain enormously and I am extremely grateful to the club for giving me the opportunity to play for such a great team and their amazing fans.

[Note to his PR staff: It's "my family and me", not "my family and I"]

Beckham has reportedly agreed a five-year deal with LA Galaxy, which would see him end his footballing days over in the States. Arguably it means he has decided there is no chance of being recalled to the England team and there's no point in potentially winning any major trophies if he's not playing regular first team football. He will see out his contract at Real Madrid which ends on the 30th of June, and make his MLS debut in August, going from galáctico to the Galaxy.

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Tuesday, 9 January 2007

How much more will it cost?

Fernando Gago, Real Madrid's latest signingThe current Real Madrid leadership is currently under severe criticism for spending around 100 million euros this season for no apparent gain. However, a quick look at the club's transfer policy over the past three seasons (see the table below), shows that this is not a new phenomenon. And yet, the first team squads are generally composed of players who have been at the club much longer (Casillas, Raúl, Guti, Salgado, Roberto Carlos, Ronaldo, Helguera). Some (though not all) of these players are just not showing either the form or the commitment required to retain their regular starting place, or even their place at the club.

Perhaps Mijatovic and Capello's promised "measures" will seek to address this. In the meantime, the club has restricted access to the squad's training sessions for both journalists and fans to the first fifteen minutes (warm up and stretches), presumably to prevent any further "indiscretions" being caught on camera.

(€ million)
StatusSold for
(€ million)
Walter Samuel25sold to Inter16
Jonathan Woodgate22on loan to Middlesbrough 
Michael Owen12sold to Newcastle24
Thomas Gravesen6sold to Celtic4
Carlos Diogo5on loan to Zaragoza 
Pablo García4.5on loan to Celta 
Julio Baptista24.5on loan to Arsenal 
Sergio Ramos27first team 
Robinho24.5first team 
Cassano6leaving in January? 
Cicinho8long term injured 
Fabio Cannavaro7first team 
Emerson16first team 
Mahamadou Diarra26first team 
Ruud van Nistelrooy15first team 
José Antonio Reyesfreeon loan from Arsenal 
Marcelo6just debuted 
Gonzalo Higuaín12not yet debuted 
Fernando Gago18just debuted 
Total264.5 44

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The knives are out

Mijatovic wants changesPredrag Mijatovic is not a happy chappy. He is also single-headedly responsible for the recent spike in the Brylcreem share price, but that's another story. Following the debacle at Riazor on Sunday, Real Madrid's sports director held an urgent meeting with Fabio Capello to discuss the solution to the club's current crisis.

Their assessment is clear: there are a number of players in the club who are not responding as expected, and steps will be taken to resolve this. No details were forthcoming as to what these steps might be and when they would be applied, but Mijatovic reiterated his belief that Capello can 'fix' things: "He has been in similar situations before and always achieved the objectives that were set".

Of course, Calderón & co. cannot simply fire Capello and start again with a new manager: their situation is precarious enough as it is, and, in any case, this has not helped any of the times this has happened in recent years. If, as has been suggested may times before, the malaise lies in the fact that several players in the squad have far more influence than is healthy, then their biggest mistake was to expect results within 12 months; they should have cleaned out the Augean stables at the beginning of the season and started from scratch, calling this a 'transition year'.

What is interesting is the reaction from the Madrid sports press. As has an interview with Mijatovic where he says "we cannot afford the luxury of having a number of players living from their past, their Champions League successes". The paper also claims to know the contents of the meeting between Mijatovic and Capello and the players that are facing the chop, with Ronaldo first on the list, and adding Cassano (unsurprisingly) and Beckham (more surprisingly, given his recently increased renewal offer). Others who may see less first team football are Salgado, Emerson, Guti and Raúl.

Marca, on the other hand, does not seem to have the ear of the club management. Hence their headlines are all about players feeling that Capello is showing signs of weakness, that the players are not enjoying their time on the pitch, or that the club is looking at selling Diarra to Inter Milan, after spending 26 million euros on him in the summer at Capello's urging. More suspicious souls might infer that Marca is used to getting their exclusives from dressing room leaks, and that some of these leaks may be facing the chop, so the best way to safeguard them is to get the manager fired. Again.

The knives are out for someone. Who will end up surviving the cull is the question.

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Monday, 8 January 2007

Dead in the water

Capello shows the strain of defeat at Riazor
The New Year started in the same way for Real Madrid as the Old Year finished and Capello is not only running out of excuses, but also explanations, for the poor run of performances from such an expensive squad. He may also be running out of time, although the president has other things on his mind, with the trial on the postal vote coming up in the next few weeks.

For a manager who prides himself on getting results on the basis of defensive solidity, the number of goals conceded in recent matches is reaching very worrying levels. However, what is more worrying is the apparent level of inconsistency in his decisions. Martí Perarnau's excellent blog cites 10 examples as evidence for the prosecution:

  1. Helguera goes from having no shirt number and training with the B team to ending up as key in the centre of defence.

  2. Pavón, prevented from leaving in the summer because the club needed him, has played no part in the current campaign

  3. Woodgate, leaves to play on loan with Middlesbrough while the club desperately scours the market for a central defender

  4. Raúl Bravo, Cicinho's natural substitute as right back, and able to play in a number of defensive roles, now does not even get called up to play

  5. Robinho, initially disliked by Capello, gets a chance due to injuries, impresses the manager so much he gets to play in almost every game, and then, all of a sudden, he doesn't even get called up for last night's debacle.

  6. Cannavaro is being asked to play more of a sweeper than a pure central defender role, which is accentuating his poor run of form, and preventing him from acquiring confidence

  7. The most powerful defensive midfielder in Europe (Diarra), is bought, allegedly at Capello's insistence, and now languishes on the bench.

  8. Cassano has not been tamed and the club is looking for a way out

  9. Raúl seems to get his goalscoring form back and is then asked to play far from the area, to run around with little effect

  10. Roberto Carlos picks up an injury and is replaced on the left wing by the right-footed Sergio Ramos, instead of new signing Marcelo

Sevilla's defeat at Zaragoza and Barcelona's dropping of two points at Getafe means that Real has not lost a great deal of ground on the leaders, but the omens are not at all good.

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Friday, 5 January 2007

The 'three amigos' could debut this Sunday

Fernando Gago in training with his team-mates
The three new arrivals to Real Madrid in the winter transfer market could all make their debuts for the club in the first match of the New Year against Deportivo La Coruña, if the reports coming from Spain are to be believed.

Fernando Gago is tipped to play alongside Emerson in midfield, as Diarra still seems to be out of favour with Capello following some indiscreet comments he made to Cassano before the game at Espanyol, and which, unfortunately for him, were caught on camera.

Roberto Carlos is doubtful for the game through injury after an accidental clash with David Beckham during training on Thursday. If he does end up not playing, it will only be his tenth game missed through injury in a 10-season career at the club. The Brazilian left-back could be replaced by his countryman Marcelo, as the only straight replacement in that position. Raúl Bravo, who has played as left-back in some of the few occasions when Roberto Carlos has been absent, is currently out of favour and rarely trains with the rest of the squad.

Earlier in the week, it was anticipated that Higuaín might be given a run-out in the second half, to replace the likely starter, Ronaldo, as van Nistelrooy was nursing an injury, and the only other striker, Cassano, is likely to be leaving the club in the next few weeks. However, van Nistelrooy seems to have recovered in the last couple of days, so his chances are rather slim.

Real Madrid will look to break their run of poor results at the Riazor stadium, where they have not won a league game against Deportivo for 15 years. Admittedly, Deportivo are not the force they once were, and have not won a league game out of the last nine, but Real need the three points if they are to keep up with the leaders.

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Wednesday, 3 January 2007

Real increases Becks offer

David BeckhamNegotiations over the renewal of David Beckham's contract at Real Madrid are likely to be restarted next week, following an improved offer from the club.

At least that is what the player's agent, Simon Oliveira, claimed in an interview with BBC sport. "There is a significant deal on the table from Real. It's slightly more than he's currently on. They are the only club we are genuinely talking to at the moment and another meeting is scheduled for the second week of January," Oliveira said.

Although Beckham can now freely negotiate with any other clubs interested in signing him, Oliveira said he would not be leaving in the January transfer window, and that the final decision is likely to be made public around March.

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Baptista fails to impress at Arsenal

Baptista at Arsenal
If Julio Baptista does not adapt to football in the Premiership, he could find himself on the plan back to Madrid in five months' time. By extension, this could mean that José Antonio Reyes, who could not wait to leave London to get back to Spain, may find himself in the unenviable situation of having to eat his words and go back to Highbury.

An unlikely turn of events, perhaps, but Baptista has made just nine appearances for Arsenal after a hamstring problem and has found it tough to adapt to English football. He was recently given a run-out against Sheffield United and proceeded to pick up an ankle injury as the Gunners went down 1-0, their first loss to this side in the league for 33 years. Just before the game, Wenger alluded in typical cryptic fashion to Baptista's need to prove himself: "He has a great attitude and is very strong mentally. I like him as a player but he has not yet had the opportunities to show how good he is. He has a lot to prove in the next few months." Wenger admitted he is close to making his mind up. "I am leaning more one way than the other. But I will not say which way."

Baptista himself recently said he does not think he would have much chance in Capello's Real: I can imagine myself playing at Arsenal for several seasons," said Baptista. "Real is a very different team to the one I left. I don't know if my exit had anything to do with Fabio Capello, but he would have to change his system if I was to play in his team."

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Tuesday, 2 January 2007

No agreement on Beckham future

Will David Beckham get the boot?As of January 1st, David Beckham can quite openly negotiate with anyone he likes to determine where he will play from next season. There was no response from his representatives to the offer tabled by Real Madrid before the end of 2006 to renew his contract for a reported further two years, so his current situation remains the same: his contract expires on June 30th.

There are supposedly two obstacles to Beckham staying at Real: his lack of playing time and his image rights. Since the start of the season, he has played in 12 out of 16 league matches; however, in seven of those he came on late in the game as a substitute, and in two he started but was substituted himself. Reyes and Robinho have been playing in his position.

On the economic front, the club owns 50% of Beckham's image rights and he allegedly would like them back if he were to stay. There's little prospect of Real Madrid negotiating on this, even though his media profile may not be what it once was, as they are what makes him a profitable player to have on the books, as clearly, he is not a sporting necessity.

The question now is, will this saga be drawn out until the end of the season, or will we see some swift resolution in the next few weeks. Beckham has said very little publicly about what he wants (other than to be able to play), so expect the rumours of his being linked with numerous clubs (around 30 at the last count) to continue to fly until an announcement is made.

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