Thursday, 28 June 2007

Chronicle of a sacking foretold

It's official.

Calderón has finally got his way and Fabio Capello won't be back at the Bernabéu after his summer holidays in Tibet. Following the postponed board meeting that finally took place Thursday lunchtime, Miguel Angel Arroyo, the spokesman for the board, and Brylcreem Boy Mijatovic confirmed the news. The decision was "consensual and unanimous" and "without the need for a vote" (another victory for that paragon of democracy, Ramón Calderón).

What was not cleared up was exactly who would be taking Capello's place. While Bernd Schuster is the president's clear favourite candidate, even before last summer's election, and the former Real Madrid and Barcelona player has made little secret of his desire to manage the squad, he is still under contract to Getafe, at least until the end of next season. Getafe president, Angel Torres, though a Real Madrid socio is deeply unhappy at the way at the way the situation has been handled and the club's webpage has "categorically denied" that any agreement has been reached over Schuster's contract (though As, unsurprisingly, begs to differ).

Capello's farewell could be costly for Real Madrid: in the purely financial sense estimates vary between 5 and 9 million euros. However, it puts at significant risk, in my opinion, the club's recovery from the excesses of the galáctico years. Capello, for all the criticism he has received, was a known quantity. His methods are well known, and they yield results. Noone can deny that Real Madrid has had a large slice of luck in the run-up to the league championship, but the players, particularly in the second half of the season, showed a resilience and a team spirit that has not been seen for many a year.

Bernd Schuster, for all his brilliance as a player, and his success managing "modest" clubs like Xerez, Levante and now Getafe, has never been in this situation before. He may well turn into a superb manager and, if he signs, I would love to be proved wrong, but he has zero experience managing players of this calibre (and ego) and the high expectations of an impatient fan base.

What has been fascinating (if not frustrating) to watch over the past few days, has been the behaviour of the Madrid sports press. As, for many the official mouthpiece of the club (or at least of some factions within the club), has made no secret of its desire to be rid of Capello for some months now. They have been happy to peddle the fiction that nobody wants Capello and everyone wants Schuster. It really is manipulative journalism at its worst (both in the sense of being manipulative, but also in how unsubtle and obvious it is).

Marca, on the other hand, is little better. For the past week, they have been happy to run story after story predicting Capello's sacking, with little or no mention of any objections from the fans. Shortly after breaking the story last night, they proceeded to publish the results of polls asking for the Italian to stay, and the lack of coaching continuity. Still, they have to sell papers, don't they...

There is trouble brewing in the technical direction of the club. The president has often claimed that he does not get involved in such matters, but it is clear that he is not the sort to sit back and let others manage, particularly when there is PR capital to be made. He does not have to call elections for a few years yet, and I expect he won't. At least it looks like when they do come, there won't be the same accusations of fraudulent postal votes. This reform, forced on the club, may be the only bright spot in Calderón's legacy.

Let's hope not.

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Tuesday, 26 June 2007

Make-your-mind-up time

And so, the much needed decisions and planning required for next season get postponed yet again. The board meeting, initially scheduled for Monday, at which Fabio Capello's future as coach was to be discussed, was postponed "due to the festivities that have been organised in celebration of the League title in basketball" until this Thursday.

This smacks of indecision at the top (surprise, surprise). Winning the football and basketball leagues in the same season should be celebrated (the last time this happened, was 21 years ago, in 1986), particularly since both sections have won their thirtieth trophy in the competitions. I suspect, however, that the postponement is more to do with the recent upsurge for support for Fabio Capello and a corresponding decline for Calderon's supposed favourite candidate, Bernd Schuster.

For most of the past week and a half, the sports press (especially, As) would have you believe that the sacking of Fabio Capello was a done deal. And yet, for all the protestations, the number of fans publicly asking for his head is surprisingly small. An enterprising blog, Fans del Real Madrid, has gone so far as to start an online petition for him to be retained (last count, over 7,300 people had signed).

By itself, I don't believe this would have any effect, even though the petition has been reported in various media, including the Gazzetta dello Sport. However, a head of steam seems to have been building in the press, and, given Calderón's populist tendencies, he may be reconsidering. Remember, this is the man who justified his not keeping a promise to bring Kaká, Robben or Cesc by claiming that "people voted for me because I brought Capello and with him a serious approach to the sporting side of running the club." Taking him at his word, and given that Capello has fulfilled his objective (to win a title), Calderón should call elections if he gets rid of the man he signed up for three years.

If Capello does stay (which I still think unlikely), it will be interesting to see how the president backtracks to try and salvage some sort of relationship. His authority is (even more) seriously compromised, and it's all been his own doing. If Capello goes, the new coach will have to start afresh to try to bring the players onside. This may well result in another poor season, potentially signalling the death knell for Calderón.

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Tuesday, 19 June 2007

Like a salmon swimming upstream

That's the curious phrase used by Fabio Capello to describe his league-winning season at Real Madrid in an interview with La Gazzetta dello Sport.

In what he claims is his hardest ever season, he says that he, together with his technical team (Baldini, Galbiati, Tancredi and Neri) pulled off the "miracle" of building a group where none existed before. "After the 3-2 game with Bayern Munich I told the president that if he thought I was the cause of all the problems that I would leave. He said that you finish the season with the coach you started with and to carry on working".

On his reported poor relationship with Calderón he responds "I don't know, you'll have to ask him. He brought me here to win titles and I think I've done what I was asked". He also switfly rubbished any rumours of a bight fight between them on the night of the title win. However, he thinks his chances of staying in the post are 50/50, "like tossing a coin up in the air. I want to stay and win the Champions League. My return ticket (after his holidays) is already booked for the 19th of July, before preseason training starts on the 20th, even if I have to continue doing like a salmon."

He points to Ronaldo's record at the Bernabéu ("with him and van Nistelrooy up front we lost five games. Those are the numbers") as justification for letting him go. He thinks that Kaká coming to Real is "only a dream" and that Cassano can still be redeemed.

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Monday, 18 June 2007


Before the euphoria dies down, before the week passes that Calderón has asked for before making public any decisions on the make-up of the squad and coaching staff for next season, before the summer transfer market speculations reach fever pitch, I thought it would be a good idea to review what we know or think is likely to happen to some of those responsible for Real Madrid's 30th league title.

Definitely leaving:

  • David Beckham - off to L.A. Galaxy after contract negotiations stalled. Was sidelined by Capello, who later recanted and brought him back. His resurgence meant a (so far) successful recall to the England squad, although he may find it difficult to justify this when playing in the MLS. Scored three goals this season and has the top number of assists in the club even though he only played 23 out of 38 games in the league.

  • Roberto Carlos - recently announced he would be playing for Turkish side Fenerbahçe next season after being unable to agree terms with Real. A favourite with the fans, he leaves after 11 seasons and a large number of winners' medals and the label of one of the best-ever offensive left backs in the business (though perhaps not at his best on defensive duty)

  • Francisco Pavón - out of contract, destiny not yet known. Did not get any playing time this season, Pavón has been unfairly linked with the previous presidential regime and their policy of "Zidanes y Pavones" (i.e. buying the best and bringing the rest up from the youth squads). Never really shone.

  • Diego López - will join UEFA-cup bound Villareal next season. Totally sidelined by Casillas (who played in every league game this season) he only had a couple of appearances in the Copa del Rey

Probably leaving:
  • José Antonio Reyes - likely to 'return' to Arsenal from loan (although he's said publicly he doesn't want to go back to London, so he'll be loaned or sold). His two goals in the last game of the season are unlikely to win him a reprieve.

  • Antonio Cassano - after his spat with Capello last October has rarely featured, and has been all but invisible in the second half of the season (he was not at the celebrations last night). He's definitely for sale, if anyone is looking to buy someone with his obvious disregard for professionalism, that is.

  • Iván Helguera - was on the transfer list last season and stayed after the negotiations fell through. Out of favour with Capello initially, he fought his way back into the team only to pick up an injury and find himself sidelined once again in the final games of the season. Metzelder's arrival will probably mean the club will find him a way out in the summer.

May be leaving:

  • Fabio Capello - has publicly said he would like to see out his contract (but then, they all say that). Capello has made no secret of his unhapiness at the lack of support from the president (other than lip service in front of the press). Calderón has allegedly got a deal signed to bring in Schuster from Getafe, but the remarkable (and often fortunate) dénouement to the league championship puts this most populist of presidents in a quandary. Either way, his indecision will cost the club dear. It also puts the planning for next season in jeopardy, as it is still not clear who will be running things from a technical perspective. This, more than any other decision about players or staff, is crucial to Real's success next season, and for that reason, I would prefer Capello to stay, because continuity is easier than change and his style has been unjustly derided as lacking elegance. This is something not completely backed up by the team's performances in the second half of the season.

  • Alvaro Mejía - only featured when all other central defenders were injured. Unlikely to stay.

  • Michel Salgado - young Miguel Torres has taken his place in the starting line-up and is unlikely to relinquish it. Has two more years left on his contract, so the club may seek to offload him while they still can.

  • Emerson and Cannavaro - after a poor start, somewhat redeemed in the second half of the season, their futures are probably tied to Capello's, as they, more than most, fit the mold of the type of player he prefers.

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Friday, 15 June 2007

Two days to go...

It's been quite a while since I last posted to this blog. Life generally has been getting in the way of contributing articles as regularly as I would wish, and, let's face it, I don't really hold with Bill Shankly's famously held view on football and life.

However, I do derive a certain satisfaction from getting these thoughts down on a more permanent medium, and even more so from the comments left by others. Hence I have decided to give this another try, but with a more reduced frequency of posting; perhaps once or twice a week, as time permits.

I am also conscious that Real Madrid is on the verge of potentially winning a title in a couple of days' time; something that looked much more remote when I last posted. I did not want this new resolution of mine to continue to post to be associated with triumphalism in the event of Real Madrid winning the league title on Sunday, so I am posting this when there is a chance that it'll all go disastrously wrong, and I'll continue to post next week whatever happens.

Calderón's latest stunt at the Romareda following Real's last gasp equaliser against Zaragoza and Tamudo's goal for Espanyol 18 seconds later, maintaining Real at the top of the league standings with one game to go is not a surprise. He's consistently shown himself to be a loose-lipped populist president, and clearly does not carry himself with the dignity required of the post. Then again, given the average Spanish First Division president, he could be a lot worse.

Calderón's still waiting to see how things fall out this Sunday before deciding what to do about Capello and next season. The time for planning next season should have been weeks ago, not left until after the season's over. That leaves precious little time to decide who's going to be playing and how. The only reported movement in the market is Metzelder as central defender (on paper a good deal as he's on a Bosman).

This week also saw David Beckham's last press conference before leaving the club for the LA Galaxy. It is sad that after nearly 4 years of living and working in Spain, his grasp of Spanish is still so poor. Steve McManaman spent a similar time at Real and clearly immersed himself much more in local life, and the fans loved him all the more for it.

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