The Gonzo Diplomat

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Eurovision…nil points

In TV/Movies, Uncategorized on May 30, 2010 at 3:31 am

So yet again Eurovision is over and, as usual, there is a certain grimness and unhappiness  about Europe’s cheesiest music festival. However, there has been a pleasant surprise in that this year’s winner has not been a typical ex-Soviet satellite country, but the nation who has participated in the most Eurovision song contest, and who had previously only won once in nearly sixty years. That country was Germany, one of the Big Four nations in the Eurovision Song contest.

Lena Meyer Landrut: Eurovision Winner

 Whilst the term Big Four contributes to the nations who financially contribute the most to the contest, Germany proved that their participation could be more than just economical. However, I cannot help but believe that there was more behind their victory this year.

 The first time I heard nineteen year old Lena’s song “Satellite”, was over two months ago, whilst in Germany. She had been the chosen one for Eurovision after winning on a show called Unser Star für Oslo.  Since then, the song has been played almost continuously on German radios, as well as in some of their neighbouring counties, and several Facebook and Studivz pages have also spread the word that Lena was a serious contender.

 The song is mediocre, and her English accent is dire, and you can notice the exaggeration in her voice as she desperately tries to sound like some sort of Kate Nash or Adele. However, the second time you hear it, the song begins to stick in your head, and the third time, you may even get to like the melody.

After a week I kinda liked it too.

 Her performance last night was also average. Before she appeared I told the people around me to watch out for this song because it was a potential candidate. However, her usual cuteness and peculiarity was hidden behind a dull black dress and a languid expression. She barely moved as she sang, and in a stage where most people exaggerate and express too much eagerness, she strolled around the stage singing her song as if it was mere protocol. I found myself having to excuse myself, insisting that the song “was catchy if you heard it a few more times”.

 That is why I am almost convinced that a great deal of the people who voted for Lena’s song must have heard it at least more than once, for the mere image she gave on the night in Oslo was not convincing enough. I was certain Denmark’s typical Eurovision material corny song was going to triumph.

 However, at the end of the night Lena summed up 246 points and won the contest for Germany for the second time in their history, the last one being in 1982, and the contest will not be taking place next year in Romania, Azerbajan, Turkey or Armenia, but slap bang in the middle of Europe. In a way, that is good news as every year, the contest has been losing more and more credibility.

 Yet how Lena actually pulled a win tonight is incredible in itself.

 What must be frustrating for the other members of the Big Four, is that nothing else has changed. France’s song sounded more like a World Cup song than a Eurovision Song contest contender (there is a thin line between the two, but the line exists). There song Allez Olle Olé, finished in twelfth place. Spain’s song, Algo Chiquitito (Something tiny…what is that about?), by Daniel Diges, some kind of Spanish Art Garfunkel look-alike, was also lacklustre, and was only livened up when someone from the crowd jumped on stage to join in the waltz and ballet with the cringe-worthy dancers. It was the public who were punished though, as the song had to be re-sung as a result of this.

 As for the other member of the Big Four, the United Kingdom,  their tediously dull and unmemorable That Sounds Good to Me, by Josh, was excessively punished by the other nations. If Spain could complain that their arrogant French neighbours had not given them any points, they could at least be glad that Portugal did their part. The UK got no help, and even less, only managed to sum ten points. That is, 236 points less than the winning nation, and last place in the contest for the third time in eight years. It just makes you wonder how long it will be before the British Public beg to no longer attend the Eurovision Song contest, as it ultimately is a farce.

 Yet for now, the show will go on, the whining will have to be reserved for each nation, and one can only congratulate the winners, Germany, and each person can hope that next year their nation send the worst possible singer they can find to try and ruin that cheesy debacle that is the Eurovision Song Contest.

Top Five Moments:

  1. Spain’s intruder: For the first time, a song had to be re-sung as a member of the crowd jumped on stage and sabotaged Spain’s song, making it the only thing memorable about this boring piece.
  2. Armenia’s cleavage: You wouldn’t be able to hum Armenia’s tune, or even remember if it was a ballad or a dance song, but you sure as hell cannot forget the cleaveage Eva Rivas exposed in Oslo. Special mention must also go to Azerbajan and Georgia, for their beauties.
  3. United Kingdom…10 points. It was an awful display from the UK, even though the song itself wasn’t the worst of the lot (Portugal’s Disney-esque rip off should perhaps have gotten the worst marks), yet it proved to show that the Brits need to make more friends.
  4. Neighbourhood watch: Yet again it was good to see that Bosnia still love Serbia, Russia loves Armenia, Azerbajan and Albania, and in general, Finland loves Denmark, Germany has a lot of Turkish voters and France hate Spain. What is the point of this again? Is Italy the only country who realised how silly this is?
  5. Germany: The only thing that stopped this contest from imploding. The thought of yet another contest in the Eastern bloc or the Scandinavian states was getting nauseating, but Germany pulled a win to prove that the older European countries still have a chance, unless you are the UK…or Spain…or France…oh to hell with it.

Robin Begins…But Fails to Convince

In TV/Movies on May 27, 2010 at 7:28 pm

Upon hearing a few years ago that Ridley Scott was going to make a new “Robin Hood” movie that would differentiate itself from all its predecessors, my curiosity was awakened, but so too was my scepticism.

The proposed plot, however, seemed to attract me. The film was to be called Nottingham, and the script acquired by Universal Studios depicted a heroic Sheriff of Nottingham, and a thuggish and anarchic Robin Hood.

 The idea of the anti-hero, the change in the story, and the humanisation of a traditional villain seemed intriguing. Even more so, when Russell Crowe was reportedly given the role of the troubled Sheriff, tormented by inner conflicts and torn between his allegiance towards a corrupt king or an anarchic outlaw, who is coincidently courting the woman he too loves, I was thrilled.

 However, over time Ridley Scott got disillusioned with the script he delayed filming, and in 2008 a new script was presented, where the story  

 Scott’s dissatisfaction with the script led him to delay filming, and during 2008 it was rewritten into a story about Robin Hood becoming an outlaw, with the position of being Sheriff as part of the story. Scott dropped the latter notion and Nottingham was renamed to reflect the more traditional perspective of the hooded hero.

 That was the first mistake Scott made.

 The complexity of the Sheriff of Nottingham’s friendship with King Richard and torn motives once King John is given the throne, and is gradual despise and eventual confrontation with Robin Hood, after seeing the outlaw sweet talk the girl he desires contrasts with the flatness of some of the characters in the final version of the film.

 After watching the trailer, I couldn’t help but consider the film as Gladiator with a bow and an arrow; however that may be too harsh on the year 2000’s Academy Award winner. Regardless of the stale ratings the film was receiving from its critics, I decided to give Ridley Scott a chance, and enthusiastically went for a night in the movies.

 ***

The Accent:

Ridley Scott has always been a bit of a moody prat. It doesn’t mean that I do not regard him as a phenomenal actor, but he is somebody who you know you wouldn’t try to stop him in the street to have a picture taken with him if you ever wandered past him.

 His recent history of tantrums has certainly done little to favour his image. After brawling in 2002 with the director and producer of the BAFTAs, Malcom Gerrie, after his acceptance speech was cut whilst he read a poem in dedication to Richard Harris, who was terminally ill, (it is said that it may have been cut due to copyright infringement or lack of time), he then returned to the headlines in 2005 after he was arrested for second-degree assault, after throwing a telephone to a hotel employee in an anger spurt.

So you could imagine the look on Mark Lawson’s face as he gradually observed Crowe’s expression getting tenser as he tried to ignore the fact that he had just been mocked on air.

In the BBC Radio 4 interview, Mark Lawson cheekily states that Crowe sometimes sounded Irish during the film. An obviously annoyed Crowe replied by insisting that Lawson had “dead ears” if he thought he could hear an Irish accent, and that the comment in itself was a load of “bollocks”.  Humorously, after being asked what accent he was trying to impersonate, Crowe ironically replied, “I was going for an Italian…missed it? Fuck me”:

Despite attempts to  resume the interview, Crowe can’t seem to get his around the comment and opts to walk away from the studio, complaining that he couldn’t understand the comment on his accent.

To be respectful, Russell Crowe certainly tries to use a regional accent with some success. Since the film portrays that Robin was not actually from Nottingham, and legend says he may have come from anywhere between Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire, Crowe was taught an accent where he had to shorten the vowels and make them flat. Nonetheless, it is obvious that Crowe put a lot effort in trying to sound like a regional Englishman, unlike Kevin Costner; however, now and then he did have that Irish tinge that made him sound more like Father Ted than Robin Hood. I had this on my mind as I approached the cinema, and unfortunately, I couldn’t get that thought out of my head throughout the duration of the movie.

The Film:

As the lights went back on after two hours of twenty minutes, the faces around were somewhat perplexed. It wasn’t that the plot had been confusing; it was just that perhaps they had all expected something more.

However, I went to the cinema knowing that I wasn’t going to witness a great blockbuster, or a production that could have moved me half as much as Gladiator. Despite that though, I did expect Ridley Scott to woo us with a great narrative pulse, dazzling action scenes mixed with serious emotive refuges where we could see behind Robin Hood, into his troubles, his traumas and his deep persona. I did not expect the movie of the year, but I did hope to see something spectacular.

During the film, I could see small hints of what I had hoped for seeping through, but never enough to leave me satisfied. Robin’s few childhood flashbacks seemed stale and did not give too much into his persona, and even though many may believe that this was done to add more mystery into a character who, after all, is a legend, I was not enticed in any way by this Robin.

Perhaps people expected too much from this film and had too much faith in Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe, but the film in several aspects. First of all, there was not enough emotion. Despite the fact that everyone knows the story of Robin Hood, a movie can do well regardless of that if they play with the spectator’s emotions. This film did not do that. There was scarce humour in the film, and the only characters capable of supplying it were Will Scarlett (Scott Grimes) and Little John (Kevin Durand). There was obviously no terror in the film, anticipation or sadness (only with the death of Sir Walter Locksley).

Terror: hunting f***ing leprechauns

Even though I do not usually consider love to be a key element in films, Robin Hood even failed in that aspect. The love story between Lady Marion and Robin is cold, with very little chemistry or development, and saving one scene where Robin cockily teases her, there is little emotion between them and hence little believability when Robin turns to her during the end of the film and, almost in a forced manner, tells her that he loves her.

It is hard to find who to blame for this lack of depth in their characters. Surely one cannot doubt in the talents of Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett, and Scott has proved many times that he is a endowed director. However, I believe the blame may lie in the fact that the film must have been very poorly edited.

The movie itself seems rough and incoherent with abrupt transitions and little character depth. With the film already being more than two hours long, it looks like several scenes must have been cut out, and whilst I do not miss not having seen Lady Marion and Robin’s love unfold, I do wish I had been able to see more into Robin’s character.

 Characters:

 Talking about characters, there is too little time to get to make a real opinion on anyone in this film. Perhaps the most interesting personality is the two-timing Godfrey (Mark Strong) and a convincingly treacherous Prince John (Oscar Isaac).

Cate Blanchett is quite bland as Lady Marion. She does not portray too many emotions, and fails to convince the viewer that she actually has any feelings for Robin in the end. As has also happened in films like Lord of the Rings, it looks necessary to ensure that women also turn into warriors and soldiers and fight in order to get rid of that long term image of female fragility, yet again though, Cate Blanchett looks naff as a warrior too.

Some other characters act a reasonable role but are not given enough screen time, and other characters don’t seem to evolve or appear more interesting. Worthy actors such as Scott Grimes, who excelled in the HBO series Band of Brothers, or the chameleonic Kevin Durand, perhaps best known for his roles as Martin Keamy in Lost, the Blob in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, or Ashton Kutscher’s God fearing Chicano cellmate in The Butterfly Effect, get very little screentime, and Max Von Sydow, of The Exorcist or Flash Gordon fame often resembles Richard Harris’ portrayal of Marcus Aurelius in Gladiator.

 As for the Sheriff Nottingham, for whom the film was originally made for, Matthew MacFadyen does what he can, but the role is feeble as the Sheriff is depicted as a flimsy, cowardly, sleazy incompetent. Friar Tuck, played by Mark Addy, barely appears, yet considering that this is a supposed pre-introduction into Robin Hood’s tales, this could be excused, as it may be supposed that the Friar becomes an acquaintance at a further stage in time. Additionally, even though this production has not included added fictional characters, such as the charismatic Azeem, or the unbelievable witch of Nottingham that appeared in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, the ones who are included fail to deliver.

 The Music:

Mark Streitenfeld proves that he has learnt well from his master Hans Zimmer and delivers a soundtrack that adapts well to the movie. However, like everything in this production, it is clearly second-best, and in no moment does he deliver a piece of music that can rival Zimmer’s work in Gladiator or recent productions.

Conclusion:

 If this could be considered a form of Robin Begins, in comparison to Christopher Nolan’s first Batman film, it certainly fails to deliver. In a story where everybody knows who the hero is, the lady and the villain, there should be some more depth invested into the characters to produce something new. Credit where it is due, this is a new look on how Robin Hood became who he was, even though the film obviously has as much fantasy as it does history. However, when watching the movie trailer one can mainly see action, gore and fights, and that is pretty much what this film is about. Perhaps it should have been longer, perhaps the whole plot in itself was rushed and not meticulous enough, or maybe, after seeing how well known characters like Batman and James Bond have become darker, more perturbed and have opened themselves psychologically and mentally, one almost hoped that Robin Hood would do the same.

Regardless of this, the film is entertaining, and the viewer certainly doesn’t feel like they have wasted their money, but equally, they do not leave the theatre fully satisfied and when they ask their company whether they enjoyed film, the answer, from what I have witnessed, is usually a shoulder shrug. A decent film to invest a few hours, but don’t expect yourself to watching Robin Hood on DVD when it is released.

More than a classic, this film can be considered one of those anticipated movies that entertain, but fail to enthral, (Troy comes to mind),and after Ridley Scott’s Roman masterpiece, it is apparent that he simply cannot surpass his creation, and like Kingdom of Heaven or Chicken McNuggets, the film almost satisfies, but certainly doesn’t fill you, and is just another Robin Hood movie, only without the laughter that the humorous Mel Brooks flick Robin Hood: Men in Tights provided, the charm of Errol Flynn’s The Adventures of Robin Hood; the magic of Disney’s version or the wit and absurdity of Kevin Reynolds’s Prince of Thieves. Instead, the charm has been replaced by supposed realism and gore and swords with too little character development and bow and arrows.

Rating: 6.5/10

Fear and Loathing in the Bernabéu

In Sport on May 19, 2010 at 8:58 pm

If FIFA 2008 and 2010 were to have resembled my real life, and had I started managing at, let’s say, the “young” age of thirty five, I would have retired at the age of 70, having managed Sampdoria, Newcastle United, Manchester United, Real Madrid (two spells), AC Milan, Levante, Benfica, Celtic, the Spanish National side, and Stockport County, just for the sake of it.

During my long “career”, I would have won eighteen European cups, twenty eight leagues, a World Cup, who knows how many national  cups, promotions and even a Johnstone’s Paint Trophy.

Why am I so sad to be mentioning this? I am saying this because, believe it or not, I am not the best at computer games, I just play it to pass the time, but in all the seasons I have played, only six times did I manage to get more than 90 points. Whilst some were in Intermediate Level and Professional Level, I only managed to sum those points with: Real Madrid (once), AC Milan (twice), Manchester United (once) and Stockport County (Second Division and Championship). When I reached 100 points with County to reach promotion to the premiership, I realised I had to change my level to World Class, because reaching so many points was unrealistic and uncompetitive.

This weekend, FC Barcelona won the Spanish league with 98 points. The runners up, Real Madrid, had 96 and Valencia, in third place, a “mere” 71 points.

 ***

 It was hard to believe. As the Real Madrid players ran on the pitch in Malaga’s Rosaleda stadium and tried to motivate each other, the Malaga players did the same. Even though fifty points separated both teams, the two of them still had plenty of work to do. However, whilst Malaga’s season had been gravely inconsistent and often appalling, Real Madrid had 31 victories, 101 goals to their tally and 95 points in the table.

 Yet there was no guard of honour for the merengues, in fact, the league title was still very much alive, and the team with the upper hand were 1000km away in the Nou Camp stadium.

You cannot help but get the impression that this year there have been two teams who have been playing on Intermediate level in the Spanish league. How a team can finish a season with 99 points and only one defeat is beyond credence.

 Real Madrid still had hopes for a miracle, a win against relegation battling Malaga would only be good news if Barcelona also failed to win against Valladolid, another team fighting to remain in the top division.

 The hopes lasted twenty-six minutes. When Duda scored for Malaga in the eighth minute, there was still hope for yet another Real comeback, however, when Valladolid defender, Luis Prieto, scored an own goal in Barcelona, and Pedro doubled the score line four minutes later, it was evident that the title was staying in the Catalan capital. Not even Rafael Van der Vaart’s equaliser early in the second the half did much to lift the spirits in the game,  and in the end, Real Madrid finished second with 96 points, Malaga were safe from relegation, Barcelona thumped the newly relegated Valladolid 4-0 and finished one point away from a century of points.

 ***

The fact that Real Madrid have finished the season empty handed is going to have dire consequences, particularly since this was supposedly a season of redemption after seeing their bitter rivals Barcelona swoop six trophies and humiliate them in the Bernabéu a season before. After a vertiginous investment of more than 200 million euros on new signings, including a world-record signing and a new coach, last summer was full of optimism for Real Madrid fans.

That is, until Real’s General Director, Jorge Valdano, announced that Arjen Robben had signed for Bayern Munich for 25 million euros. Then the disappointment began to sink in. Truth be told, the prospect of having Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka and Benzema up front, with Xabi Alonso organising at the back was mouth watering, but everyone had considered the quick footed, sharp shooting Robben to be part of the new project. New coach Manuel Pellegrini even insisted in a press conference, that he considered Robben to be a key figure in his team. Valdano however, thought otherwise.

Whilst Valdano stated that Robben and Wesley Sneijder’s departures were necessary, because the players themselves wanted to leave as they could not have been guaranteed first team football, and the club needed to recollect a portion of the millions they had invested in their signings, one cannot help but suspect that it was also a feeble attempt to wash away any player who could have been associated with Real’s ex-president, Ramón Calderón.

 The season before, nobody had doubted that Robben had been the best player in the Real Madrid squad, and even though his injuries had not allowed him to play as many games as he would have liked, he was the most dangerous asset on the pitch. Florentino Perez knew this too, and whilst he is a personality who is generally liked Madrid, his weakness is that he often thinks too much in his own image and project and does not learn from his mistakes. Figo, Ronaldo, Cristiano, Zidane, Kaka, Alonso are all players waved under his own flag, Arjen Robben however, like Fernando Redondo during his first spell, were not.

 The departure of Robben signalled a turning point in Real Madrid’s pre-season. Fans began to see that Manuel Pellegrino was not the manager, but the coach of the team, and unlike the circumstances he faced whilst in charge of Villa-Real, he did not have a say on who went and who stayed in the Real Madrid changing room. Despite Valdano’s claims that Robben did not have room in the first team, Real have been playing with Marcelo on the left wing, and suffered greatly when Cristiano Ronaldo missed two months of the season with injury. Meanwhile, Robben was blasting goals and making assists in the Bundesliga, and Sneijder was doing the same for Internazionale, whilst Guti and Granero were having intermittent spells.

 It was a miracle that Van der Vaart, one of Real’s most effective players during the end of the season managed to stay in the capital.

 Considering these disadvantages, Manuel Pellegrini got on with the job. Even though the Valdanian intervention was enough to put managers like Carlo Ancelotti and Arsene Wenger off taking the Real hot seat, Pellegrini stayed and tried his best. Things went well until the 27th October.

 Alcorcón 4-0 Real Madrid

 Whilst defeats away to Sevilla, and a 2-3 home loss against AC Milan in the Champions League one week before this game had left some sour faces on the Bernabéu faithful, the first real debacle occurred in the first leg of their Copa del Rey tie against Alcorcon, a team two divisions lower than the blancos.

 Despite fielding players like Benzema, Guti, Raúl, Van Nistelrooy, Metzelder, Arbeloa and Van der Vaart; Real were outclassed by an inspired and motivated Alcorcón side who took the lead in the 15th minute and were 4-0 up by the 52nd. The game would be remembered as the Alcorconazo.

 The following day, the powerful yet tyrannical newspaper, Marca, headlined their front page with the words “¡Vete ya!” (Go Now!). It was then that the Madrid based paper initiated their campaign against the Chilean manager.

Marca's front page after the Alcorconazo, telling Pellegrini he must go.

 When the return leg finished with a scanty 1-0 victory for Real Madrid, Marca carried on with their purge with the headline “Ridículo Histórico”, (historical ridicule).

Real Madrid failed to eliminate Alcorcon and were slated by the press

 Following the farce in the Cup, Real Madrid endured an admirable run of results where the only main slip ups were a close 1-0 defeat against Barcelona and another 1-0 defeat against Athletic Bilbao. The team also qualified for the second round of the Champions League as group leaders and were paired against Olympique Lyon, a team they were expected to beat.

 Olympique Lyon 1-0 Real Madrid

 Real Madrid arrived in Lyon confident in lifting their bad luck spell of five seasons without passing the second phase of the Champions League. However, in a poor game where Pellegrini made one of his biggest mistakes in playing Mahamadou Diarra against his ex-team in central midfield, Real were outplayed and failed to gain control of midfield. The day after the defeat, Marca’s front page read, “1-0…y gracias”. (1-0, and thanks)

 The return leg was just as disappointing, despite the initial hype and hope for a comeback, with Marca even publishing an interview with Real defender Sergio Ramos stating that Madrid would win 3-0, the game only lasted 45 minutes for the locals. In a first half where Real could have scored three goals, and where Higuain missed an open net, the teams went to the dressing rooms with the score at 1-0 on the night and even on aggregate. However, a radically changed Lyon took control of the game in the second half and a late equaliser meant that it was the French team who progressed to the last eight.

 The following day Marca continued with their campaign against Pellegrini with the headline, “Fuera”, (out), and the subtitle “Adios Champions, Adios Pellegrini”. (Goodbye Champions, Goodbye Pellegrini).  The fact that Real Madrid had fallen, yet again, in the second round of the Champions League was bad enough. However, the daunting prospect of Barcelona winning the cup in the Santiago Bernabéu began to weigh heavy on the Madrid press, and even though Real Madrid were still first in the league, Pellegrini would not be forgiven by Marca´s director, Eduardo Inda.

the press attack again after Real's Champions League elimination

 Real Madrid 0-2 FC Barcelona

 Following the defeat against Lyon, Pellegrini’s men went on to win their next five games, extending their run to eleven wins on the trot. On the 10th April, Barcelona arrived at the Bernabéu in second place in the league. Many believed that the championship would be decided on that day, and considering the fight that Real Madrid had put in the Nou Camp earlier on in the year, and the fact that they had a 100% home record, many thought that a Madrid victory was possible. The match was close and even until the 32nd minute, when Messi opened the score. From then onwards, Barcelona dominated the game, and when Pedro added a second early in the second half, many began to fear another trophy less year.

It was the fact that Real had not shown the guts and courage that they had shown in other matches, like against Sevilla and Valencia, that demotivated the Madrid faithful. Barcelona were three points clear in the table and with the head to head advantage in their favour. Marca didn’t doubt in signalling the motive for Madrid’s failure, stating: “Colorín Colorado…el cuento chino de Pellegrini se ha acabado” (a way of saying, that Pellegrini’s cock and bull story has come to an end), and added that Real Madrid lost because of the manager’s “surrealist decisions”

And with that they lost the league

Failing whilst making history.

Even though the league looked dead and buried for Real, two weeks after their defeat to Barcelona, the blaugrana team were held to a goalless draw in the Catalan derby against RCD Espanyol. This left the gap in the table to one point, alike to the circumstances in the English Premiership. Real Madrid conjured a pact to ensure they won all their remaining games to reach 98 points, convinced that Barça would drop points at some stage, particularly against Sevilla.

Real won six games in a row, with Ronaldo on fantastic form and made it to the last game of the season hoping for a miracle defeat for Barcelona.

Coincidently, the Madrid sports press began emphasising the conquests of Inter Milan manager José Mourinho, highlighting how he managed to eliminate Barcelona in the Champions League semi-finals.

You couldn’t help but curse their cynicism. Two years after firing Fabio Capello for not employing a gracious and offensive football style, Marca were looking to get rid of Pellegrini, the man who had obtained a historical number of points for Real Madrid whilst making them the highest scoring team in La Liga, and substituting him for a man who had played with 9 defenders during the second leg of their Champions League clash in Barcelona.

 Like many, I still hoped that Valdano would see sense (for once), and have patience and faith in Pellegrini. Perhaps had he bought him the left winger the team needed, and a left back, like the manager had asked, the team could have faired even better in the league, and more importantly, in Europe. Despite the initial pain and humiliation the cup defeats may have bestowed on the Real Madrid faithful, surely the 95 points and 101 goals and all attacking football would have excited them somewhat.

Whilst Barça coach Pep Guardiola was stating that he “would be even prouder” of his boys if they finally lost the league with so many points, the likes of Valdano and Inda were sharpening their tools for their own version of the Night of the Long Knives.

 The auto-criticism that should be done in Madrid does not reside in blaming the manager exclusively. At times, several players have been languid, Kaka for example, has been far from his best, and whilst the Real defence, so commonly criticised has not been too bad, the defensive midfielder role, which Lass Diarra had taken so convincingly, began to show leaks. And with Lass on the low, players like Mahamadou Diarra, and more specifically Fernando Gago failed to impress.

 In the case of Raúl, his season was a disappointment, and despite becoming a bench player for the first time in his career, he still jumped on the pitch on thirty occasions and managed a scanty five goals. I will never deny that Raúl is a legend, but many fans do not scowl when they hear that he is probably going to bow down this summer.

 Guti proved this season that he can be one of the best players in the world, with acute passing, great slickness and passion, but as has occurred in every season he has played in, he has been prone to four or five game spells where his presence on the pitch is unnoticed.

For three quarters of the season, Marcelo has been awful, predominantly when he was the main void in the Real starting eleven in the Nou Camp, however, he has improved considerably during the end of the season, and a great cause of this may be Pellegrini himself.

Benzema still has a lot to learn, Drenthe has too much to learn, and Granero needs to prove that he has presence on the pitch, as it is hard to believe that he has played over thirty games this year.

It is true that Pellegrini had a fantastic squad, but what has failed the most is the voids in the team, voids that he himself had signalled out at the beginning of the season and that Valdano had ignored. However, he too deserves some criticism. Almeria’s coach, Juanma Lillo effectively pointed out that “Real Madrid play to thrash you, whilst Barcelona thrash you while they play”.  Perhaps this obsession with scoring created an almost gung-ho approach to the opposing team’s area that sacrified midfield creation and elaboration, and this was seen in its true light against Barcelona and Lyon.

Either way, for those who have seen how managers like Arsene Wenger and especially Sir Alex Ferguson needed time to let their projects sink in, there was hope that Real would not fall into the same routine, and there was also hope that if Real showed true grit and fought all the way to the end, achieving those 98 points that even Eduardo Inda had set as “Championship winning points”, then Pellegrini would be cut some slack.

Málaga 1-1 Real Madrid

However, as the final whistle blew in the Rosaleda, and the Real Madrid team trudged into the dressing room, having given up all hope on the pitch, the scant illusion that Pellegrini could die with his boots on and with pride were gone, and many of those who had found themselves defending the Chilean, saying that all he needed was time and faith began to look towards Italy and at Jose Mourinho with curiosity.

"You're Fired, Manolo", no slack was cut

Season is Over…

In Sport on May 17, 2010 at 6:31 pm

The football season is over. All that is left is silence. It is now time to go outside and enjoy the spring, whenever that fiendish sun decides to pop out of the clouds and the volcanic ash disperses.

The confetti still sits on stadium seats, and people try to distract themselves from the daunting mental images of their team’s woeful performances before a heartbreaking relegation.

In Istanbul, the Şükrü Saraçoğlu Stadium still has a scent of burnt plastic, and resembles a trashy toothless smile, where void spaces lie where seats used to be, before being thrown in fury last night.

The scenario couldn’t have been more disheartening for the locals. Fenerbahçe just needed a win to obtain their 25th league title. The rival was fifth place Trabzonspor and the score, a nail biting 1-1 draw. When the final whistle blew, the thousands of fans who hadn’t brought a radio with them lackadaisically listened to the loudspeaker to hear the final results, hoping that their neighbours Beşiktaş had managed to take some points off their title challengers, Bursaspor. When the loudspeaker said that the final result in the Bursa Atatürk Stadium was also 1-1, the crowd went crazy, fans embraced; flares were lit in joy as the crowd bounced and chanted.

Yaaaay! We love you!!

Until they found out that the final result in Bursa had in fact been; Bursaspor 2-1 Beşiktaş.

Then the crowd also went crazy. Only this time they didn’t embrace, they howled, they cursed, and they began to tear off seats and set fire to part of the stadium.

I burn you with my hatred!

That is what the end of the football does to some. The cumulus of a long season, the reaping of the benefits, the cursing of the defeats. There should be no room for fanaticism in football, and whilst it is repulsive to see the attitude of some of the wild fans in Turkey, many people would probably be feeling the same anger, only restraining themselves, whilst sat on their sofas, or crunching the match review on the terraces, their eyes fixed on their beloved team.

In Italy, the league title was painted in nerrazurri as Inter Milan battled away to a fifth successive Serie A title, added to their Coppa Italia win the week before, and the Champions League Final on Wednesday in Madrid against the Bundesliga champions, Bayern Munich.

Whilst Italy and Germany still have that last football match to look forward to, in England all eyes are set on South Africa and next August, after a hard fought season saw Chelsea win the Premiership on the last day, and completing the double with an FA Cup win over Portsmouth, whilst Manchester United’s only consolation was a Carling Cup win earlier on in the year.

Special mention should be given to the Spanish Liga. Whilst many have condoned it for being an evident two horse race, the quality of both teams has ensured that it be a season to remember. The most expensive team in the world fought hard against one of the greatest teams of the last decades and lost.

Having invested over 230 million pounds on talent, it was expected that Real Madrid would pose a real threat to the title. That part is true, however, there is no doubt that after a season with no trophies, it is only a matter of time before fingers are pointed, scapegoats found and jobs are lost. It looks like Manuel Pellegrini’s days as Real Madrid coach are numbered, despite finishing the league with an historic 96 points.

In Madrid, seats may not be thrown and fires may not rise in the Santiago Bernabeu, but the craze and manias of football have many different appearances.

...There may be trouble ahead...

The Monday after the season is over; people have different faces and different moods. Some people nurse evil hangovers, in London, Chelsea fans scoff in pride at their new double success, in Milan, half the city is all smiles, but are careful not to boast too much, as to not be cursed by fate on Wednesday night. In Munich, the beer is still flowing and confidence is high as they too seek a treble victory. In Canaletas, Barcelona, the streets are finally clean of blaugrana confetti, after this magical week, where Barcelona have won the league and the basketball European Cup.

However, in some cities, it is time to reflect. In others, it is time to forget. Relegations and final defeats, runners up spots, failing to make it to the Champions League or to the Europa League. Football season is over, there is no need to plan your mid-week starting eleven on the breakfast table, or buy the newspaper to read the back pages, who cares if England have won the Cricket World Cup?

And talking about the World Cup…

Maybe it is best to rest our players in our minds for a few days. Give them a holiday. Let them wander a bit, because in a matter of weeks, we will be cheering them on, cursing their misses, playing manager and mourning defeats in this summer’s football bonanza. Football season may be over, but it is glorious that every two years, the summer drought is shortened, and we will only have to think about that stupid volcanic ash until kick off in Johannesburg on the 11th June.