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Ten Players Predicted to Flop at Euro 2012

In Sport on June 6, 2012 at 1:11 am

The European Championships are a perfect scenario for players to prove their worth, raise their price tag or make a final impression that may determine their club futures or their chances of winning coveted prizes like the Balon D’Or. However, too much pressure can often lead to disappointment, and as football isn’t always a one man show, too often we have seen extremely talented footballers fall short of their expectations during major tournaments. Here is my list of ten possible flops during Euro 2012.

Wayne Rooney: Whilst many of his team mates will almost certainly not fit the bill (see Kelly, Milner, Henderson, to name a few), Rooney has the pressure of being England’s most talented player. The fact that he cannot play in the first two games, and the expectation that may arise upon his return, Rooney has an impossible task of meeting up to the heroic hopes that have fallen upon him.

 

Fernando Torres: Spain’s tiki taka style of play means that, alongside Germany, they have the most formidable midfield in the Championship However, with Villa missing out on the Euros, Llorente being a poacher and Negredo being far from a world renowned striker, Del Bosque will hope that the striker most suitable for playing within Spain’s system is Torres. Truth be told, he is experienced in playing with this squad, but his lackluster season and constant slipping means that Spain’s goals are more likely to come from players like Silva, Iniesta or Llorente, than Torres.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic: The highly skillful swede has been responsible for netting Sweden’s most valuable goals since the departure of Henrik Larsson. However, Sweden´s team, formidable as it may seem, is not as strong as in other years, and sulky Zlatan is not a player who is known for carrying a team on his back.

Antonio Cassano: After a bad season due to serious health issues, Cassano’s return to the Azzuri squad is good news, yet his lack of performances, whilst leaving him fresh and with little fatigue from the season, may result in him losing some spark, and with Di Natale in great form and Pirlo as the brain of the squad, Cassano may fall from the limelight.

Luka Modric: The creative Croatian will no doubt be a key member of his team as they face difficult opposition against Italy, Spain and the Irish, yet too much may be expected of Modric, and if Spain keep the ball off the Croatians with their possession, and Italy play their defence as they are known to do, Modric may have two very quiet games in the Euros.

Gerard Piqué: Considered one of the best defenders in the world at the moment, Piqué’s season at Barcelona has left a lot to be desired and without his colleague Puyol by his side, the Ramos-Pique duo, who openly state they do not get along, are going to face some niggling problems.

Franck Ribery: He is one of the best wingers in the world, but unlike his Bayern colleague Robben, Ribery hasn’t stood out in major tournaments since Germany 2006. With France being somewhat unpredictable, it looks like the player who may make the difference for les bleus is Karim Benzema.

Mario Gomez: This is a risky one. His season has been fantastic at Bayern Munich and many predict that he may be the competition’s top scorer. This will mainly be due to Germany’s midfield assists, but the same way that Gomez is known for his  goals, he is also known to be a bottler, and even though he my get a few in his tally, his misses will be just as impressive.

Andrey Arshavin: He is already known in the Premiership, and his talent is undoubted. A key member of the Russian squad, he was also fundamental in their victory the other day against Italy. However, Arshavin is also inconsistent, and just when people will be expecting the most out of him, it is likely that he will do just as he did at Arsenal, and fade away.

Cristiano Ronaldo: This is his moment, there is no Messi to deny him from being the best player in the tournament, but Portugal’s mediocre form, despite being one of the best squads in the tournament, Ronaldo’s past form with Portugal and his recent penalty misses for Real Madrid and Portugal, show that he can also buckle.

Ten Debutants to look out for in Euro 2012

In Sport, Uncategorized on June 5, 2012 at 3:04 am

Last week the Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, feebly posed trying to defend his posture and explaining that things were going as expected and that sooner or later Spain would crawl out of the shithole they currently find themselves him. Dry mouthed and twitching, he went on to add that he hoped that the Spanish national Football could bring “some joy” to those who were suffering in his country, the same way that they had during the last four years, where they managed to hide some of the ex-President Zapatero’s lamentable doings by boasting about sporting glorious, such as the Spanish national basketball and football teams and Rafael Nadal.

It is time for Euro 2012, and even though part of me wants Spain to lose as to not allow the Spanish public to face distractions from the crude reality that is surrounding them, I am somewhat wooed by the opportunity they have to become the first side to consecutively win European Championships, World Cups and a subsequent European Championships.

It is pure subjectivism, but everyone likes to have their say in who will be the best team, best players or worst losers in any football tournament. Whilst for many players, this won’t be the first time they step into the international limeleight, there is a selection of players who will be making their debuts. If in the last world cup players like Özil and Müller stood out, here are some debutants to keep an eye out for in Poland and Ukraine.

10. Alan Dzagoev: Russia, Attacking midfielder, 21 years old, CSKA Moscow:

The youngest outfield player to debut with the Russian national side, at the age of 18 and 116 days, Dzagoev is an intelligent player with great vision and not afraid to score the odd goal. Some formidable performances in the Champions League may have sparked some interest amongst other European clubs who will keep an eye on the youngster to see how he performs in these championships.

Bring on the youtube video with annoying music:

9. André Schürrle: Germany, Forward, 21 years old, Bayer Leverkusen.

Germany have a habit of brining in new stars in every championship. From Lahm and Schweinsteiger, to Neuer, Özil and Müller, this year the same applies for Die Mannschaft. Schurrle isn’t a new face, but it is his first mayor championship, and even though his first team chances are limited, he is tipped to shine when the moment arises for him. A technically gifted player, Schürrle has been in great form for both his club and his country, where his dribbing skills have excelled and also been complimented with his physical grit and dedication to recover balls with interceptions and tackles, perhaps to the detriment of his scoring abilities, he has established hismelf more as a hard working creative scorer rather than a goal poacher.

8. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain: England, 18 years old, Winger, Arsenal FC

A talented and physically gifted winger, Chamberlain is a footballer many England fans will be looking to as a future prospect. However, I cannot help but feel similiarities with Theo Walcott in the whole future English wonderkid tag. People should keep a look out for Alex, to see if he really is worth all the fuss, that is, if England do well enough, and if Roy Hodgson takes the risk and gives the powerful player enough minutes.

7. Jordi Alba: Spain, 23 years old, Left Back, Valencia CF

Another Catalan in the Spanish national team, only this one was not formed in the Masía, Jordi Alba owes most of what he has learned to Valencia CF. His technical ability has earned him a spot in the World Champion’s starting eleven, covering Capdevilla’s old spot, with Arbeloa moving to right back. Whilst Spain’s most laudable assets are its midfield players, many eyes will be on Alba as he is currently playing for a team that has in the past sold players like David Villa, Juan Mata and David Silva. Barcelona and Manchester United are reported to be interested in his services.

6. Ashley Young:  England, 26 years old, Winger, Manchester United

He may not be a teenager, or even in his early twenties, but Euro 2012 will be the first time Ashley Young will put on an England shirt in a major tournament. A venomously quick player, his year at Manchester United has earned him some valuable experience, despite it being relatively unfortunate. Rather than Walcott and Chamberlain, the absence of Rooney will put added strain on his United colleages, Danny Wellbeck and Ashley Young. Whilst Wellbeck is a steady striker, Young’s runs down the wind and interior shots are a handy weapon for England, that is, if his diving doesn’t marr his talent.

5. Yann M´Vila: France, 21 years old, Defensive Midfielder, Rennes.

Another player who will be scouted by bigger teams M´Vila represents the gritty, hard working and robust defensive midfielder that France have been accustomed to with Makelele and Viera. Quicker and younger than Lassana Diarra, this player may be regarded as the new Essien and many teams will be checking his worth in the Euros.

4. Olivier Giroud: France, 25 years old, Striker, Montpellier.

The truth is that most of the burden of scoring France’s vital goals are going to fall on Karim Benzema. This means, that with the little pressure surrounding him, Giroud can show what he can do and how he has become on of France’s most rated strikers in one succesful year for Ligue 1 Champions Montpellier. However, as with other French strikers like Anelka, Saha, Trezeguet or Cissé, you never know what to expect.

3. Kevin Strootman: Holland, 22 years old, Central Midfielder, PSV Eindhoven.

Capain of PSV Eindhoven and only 22 years old, Strootman’s consistency and important role has made him an essential assett to both PSV and the Dutch national side. To some he is considered the new Roy Keane, and for starters he is competing for a starting role in the first eleven with Kung-Fu master Nigel de Jong. Strootman’s leadership and maturity is one that will appeal to many clubs, particularly in the Premier League.

2. Robert Lewandowski: Poland, 23 years old, Striker, Borrusia Dortmund.

Dortmund have a habit of bringing up gifted youngsters, and whilst most of the praise two seasons ago fell for Nuri Sahin, Lewadowski is a player who has improved dramatically over the last years. It is no coincidence that he was nominated the best player in the Bundesliga for the 2011-2012 season (the last two winners being Sahin and Özil),and subsequently, most of the joint-host nation’s hopes to finish respectably lie on the 23 year old, who scored 30 goals in 46 matches last season, and can score great goals like the one he scored last week against Andorra.

1. Mario Götze: Germany, 20 years old, Attacking Midfielder, Borrusia Dortmund.

Whilst Spain’s midfield seems to take all the plaudits, Germany are without in possession of best future prospects in midfield. With players like Schweinsteiger, Özil, Müller, Kroos, Khedira, Schürle, and even Marko Marin, you would think they would have enough, yet Mario Götze is one of the most promising footballers around. An essential part to Borussia Dortmund’s recent success, and a key partner to Sahin in his first season, he has been vital in this season’s Double winning side. Along with Schürrle he is also one of the two players to play for Germany who were born in the reunified Deutschland. This new wave of post Berlin Wall gootballers has also brought a new style of football, more flair than Germany were accustomed to, Götze will be on many manager’s wishlists by the end of the European Championships.

ONE MORE TO LOOK OUT FOR:

Christian Eriksen: Denmark, 20 years old, Midfielder, Ajax

By the time he was 19, Christian Erksen had already had trials at AC Milan, Barcelona and Chelsea. However, he had decided to learn his trade at Ajax, who were renown for bringing up talented youngsters in a league that had also been a stepping stone for foreign players like Ronaldo, Romario or Ibrahimovic. He did play in the World Cup, even though to little effect, which is why he isn’t mentioned in the list before. However, keep your eyes peeled for this gifted playmaker.

The maddening Vuvuzela and Jabulani: Few favours for Africa

In Sport, TV/Movies, Uncategorized on June 15, 2010 at 6:28 pm

 

I have only gone to watch an International football match on two occasions, one was in Elland Road, Leeds in 1996, where I watched Spain beat Romania 2-1 in the group stages of the European Championship, and the second time was in the Martinez Valero stadium in Elche in September 2003, to watch a Euro qualifier between Spain and Ukraine, which also ended 2-1.

The Spanish were not necessarily the best chanters, but they made up for this with occasional songs and a great beat of the drum, usually orchestrated by Manolo el del Bombo, a 61 year old fan who hasn’t missed a Spain game since 1982, regardless of where the team are playing and matter what the expense.

I'll booom the frickin vuvuzela

The Spanish, or at least the patriots, are nonetheless vivid when watching their national side, but they are not the only ones. The Tifossi are radical followers who usually mix their laudable singing with not so pleasant flares, along with  passionate singers like the Germans, the Argentineans, even the God-awful French, or the samba music of the Brazilians. 

It is because of this that there is something that is really starting to irritate me during this World Cup, and finally this week I have seen the issue being debated in the media.

What is actually is the point of the irksome vuvuzela?

I first noticed it while watching last summer’s Confederations Cup, and even though I found it annoying, I never thought that it would affect the actual World Cup, where fans from different continents would impose their flair to the games they went to see.

However, I have had to endure nine games where all you can hear is the incessant sounds of those horns, sounding more like a World Motorbike Rally or an invasion of hornets that a football game.

FIFA “reacts”

The website southafrica.info described the vuvuzelas as “a brightly coloured horn that imitates the sound of an elephant and symbolises the beautiful noise of South Africa”   However these little horns can reach up to 127 decibels, nearly as much as the sound a jet engine makes when taking off.

Whilst footballers, managers and journalists have all complained about the awful noise these so called instruments make, the World Cup organisers initially contemplated banning the vuvuzela, however, after a very brief debate, it has been decided that the only moment the horns will be silent will be during the national anthems.

haaaaaaaarrr in your face!

The official spokesperson of the World Cup committee, Rich Mikhondo asserted,

“They will not be banned. We never considered banning the vuvuzelas, and we ask that the whole world respects our culture. The vuvuzelas are here, and they will stay until the end of the World Cup.”

Whilst perhaps it is a question of respecting another culture, perhaps the South Africans should also realise that this may be damaging their image. Despite this, Mikhondo continued,

“The fans and those watching the games on TV need to accept our way of celebrating football. The vuvuzelas have been used in South African stadiums for the last ten years. Their origins come from the horns our ancestors used for reunions. They are an instrument of expression of our spectators, and other fans are using them too”.

The last point is true, the habit is catching on with other, and whilst many players are opting to not complain too loud, as to not get the local fans against them, it is the TV viewers whose angst is being fuelled.

On facebook to this date, 30,142 have joined the group in favour of vuvuzelas, whilst 500,000 are in the groups condoning the instrument.

Vuvuzelas and jabulanis.

The Jabulani: popular in Benidorm and Blackpool

It appears that this World Cup will be significant because it is the first time the tournament has been held in Africa, and the Soccer City Stadium is, no doubt about it, and extraordinary ground, yet there is also plenty of controversy, particularly regarding security and transport problems. However, when the problems also spill onto the pitch, then the image of probably the world’s biggest tournament is stained. The annoying vuvuzela, added to the Adidas’ Jubilani beach-ball, which has already left several players and goalkeepers blushing and cursing, added to the recent news of FIFA’s banning of 36 Dutch fans who were banned from entering a stadium for making an advertising campaign of a beer brand that was not an official World Cup sponsor, is only ruining the image of this tournament, and certainly not doing a favour to the African continent.

Up until the now, the football has been dull too, but let’s hope to see sparks soon, because it must be on the pitch that this World Cup is remembered because, unfortunately, at least for now, Africa has wasted a great opportunity to show it’s worth.

P.S. For now, the vuvuzelas will remain, and all we can do is test our patience and train, with online games like these: http://bartbonte.com/vuvuzela/  The How long Can You Stand The Vuvuzela? Game

Insomnia, Mosquitoes and Staples Centre Madness (94-103)

In Sport, Uncategorized on June 7, 2010 at 4:02 am

    

At 4:15 in the morning, three mosquitoes are exchanging buzzes around my head with nasty approaches to my ankles. My eyes are red and squinted as I gawp at the TV screen. It is the fourth quarter if the second game of the NBA final and Boston are leading by two points, 74-72 in the Staples centre.    

The result may seem daunting, and it is easy to pick out the lack of pressure the Lakers defence have been putting on Boston’s offence, but it has actually been quite a remarkable come back. After a first quarter that saw Boston dominate and take a comfortable lead (22-29) things were looking grim for the Lakers. A disputes second quarter saw Lakers shorten the lead by one point as they got a partial of 26-25. However, the big shock has come in the third quarter, the Staples centre has erupted and the Lakers are making an great comeback, finishing the quarter 24-18 and drawing the game.    

It is now a very close affair, and it is these kind of games that make the NBA the spectacle that it is. I will leave the statistical analysis for ESPN, and the American Media, right now, as a spectator on the other side of the world, even the sight of the Laker’s cheerleaders, or the search for Dustin Hoffman in the Kiss Cam is entertaining enough, and then there is Ray Allen and Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Ron Artest and Robinson’s three pointers.    

 With six minutes left, Kobe is back on court and is playing an essential role, and my eyes are pealed, even though my head is throbbing and telling me to get my ass to bed. Meanwhile, a fascist bastard mosquito is plugged in my elbow.    

Kobe Bryant runs past Allen and scores a sensational two pointer to put Lakers ahead, 90-89, the Staples Centre is also buzzing. Ray Allen tries to take a three pointer and fails thanks to some great defence from Bynum, the crowd begin to taunt Allen, the nerves are stacking. Three and a half minutes left, Artest and Bryant have five fouls to their names, and the game is sea-sawing its way from one end to another as Boston are ahead, 91-90.    

Still no sign of Dustin Hoffman on the Kiss Cam. Perhaps that is a good thing, he has kissed enough men already.    

Jack Nicholson is smiling, he seems to be confident that his team can force their way to a win, or maybe that is just a natural smirk on his face, even as Boston ignore the crowds chants of “Defence” and extend their lead to three points and missed a chance to make it five after Allen missed a fantastic counterattack against Bryant.    

With Boston five points ahead and recovering the ball in defence, the commentators laugh at how coach Doc Rivers actually ran on the courts screaming for time out. The tension is rising, my eyes are getting heavier, but there is no way I’m getting my ass to bed, and typing these banal messages keeps my brain active.    

Thirty seconds remaining, 99-93, another shit little mozzie flies in front of my face, blowing its trumpet and scares the crap out of me, furthermore, Boston extend their lead, 100-93, with thirty seconds left and time out, it looks like the Lakers miracle will not come true.    

The Canal Plus commentators sound mournful, they obviously want the Lakers to win, what with Pau Gasol playing for them, I actually don’t mind, though I feel a Boston victory would be very interesting.    

 4:55am …kinda hungry, best not to eat, 24 seconds left and midnight snacks make you fat.    

 Sixteen seconds, 102-93, Boston have shown great guts and personality, especially after things got hard for them during the third quarter.    

 Why did God make certain blood sucking insects? What is their meaning in life? What can they possibly give to the world that is positive?

Cunts

The Staples centre is silent. How things have changed Game over, 103-94.    

Just one game, four days left and the excitement will continue, God..so hot…I love sport…I hate mozzies…damn things…what’s that itch?…meh    

Game, Set, Avenged

In Sport on June 7, 2010 at 3:07 am

As Rafael Nadal lay on the clay court, his arms outstretched in jubilee, it was clear that this had been the end of a unfortunate and frustrating streak. It seemed almost as if it had been conjured up in Hollywood, that his opponent on the day was the man who had initiated Nadal’s supposed downfall. 

One year ago Nadal arrived at Paris with a niggling injury and fatigue sustained after his most fruitful year, in which he had won three grand slam titles and an Olympic gold medal, amongst other titles, before almost forcefully going to the Madrid Open and losing to Roger Federer in the final.

The Roland Garros title was almost exclusively his grand slam title, and after equalling Bjorn Borg’s tally of four consecutive wins, he was on route to win his record fifth consecutive title.

Then he met Robin Soderling in the last sixteen.

aaarrrrrr wanker!

After a long and tiresome game, Nadal began to show signs of fatigue and was eventually and shockingly beaten 2-6, 7-6, 4-6,6-7. Nadal didn’t beat Bjorn Borg’s record, and Soderling remarked that he was expecting a thank you call from Borg. It was the beginning of a Frustrating year for the Spaniard, who would later pull out of Wimbledon through injury and lose his number one spot to a resurrected Roger Federer, who finally got to win the French Open and dominate men’s tennis once again.

 It was significant thus, that Nadal’s moment of truth in Paris was not against Federer, his closest rival, but against the man who defeated him in Paris one year before.

 A different kind of rivalry:

Many people despise Soderling, and many of them unjustly do so just because he beat Rafa Nadal. However, others dislike him because of his clearly manifested arrogance and disrespect, only rivalled perhaps with Novac Djokovic and Tomas Berdych, when facing the Spaniard.

Others dislike the Spaniard for his rich kid attitude, his snobby appearance, the fact that he got close to Shakira, and by many Catalan nationalists, for his devout patriotism.

The first case of this arrognace towards Nadal was shown during a third round Wimbledon clash in 2007. Initially, there were several moments of tensions on court between the Swede and the then world number two.  Firstly, when a shot by Robin Soderling hit the net and went into Nadal’s side of the court, there was no courteous apology, as usually happens when a point in this manner, as Soderling clinched his fist and resumed playing. 

Moments later, when Soderling had come back from two sets down to even the game at 2-2, Nadal prepared to serve, but took too much time for Soderling’s liking. To show his bother, Soderling went to change his racket whilst Nadal was about to serve. Surprised by what he was seeing, Nadal took longer than usual and showed his ironic intentions to the Swede, who in turn reacted to this by mocking and imitating Nadal by picking is underpants and mimicking his mannerisms.

 

Nadal ended up winning the decisive set 7-5, and was greeted with a tepid handshake by Soderling. He would later tell reporters this rival that day was “not the best guy in the locker room”, and that his was “very strange” and with a conduct that was “maybe the worst possible”. He also added:

“I have said hello to him seven times to his face, and he has never said hello to me. He never answers. I thought it was me. But I asked around the locker room; almost nobody had anything nice to say about him.”

Skip forward three years since that day in London, and on a cloudy day in Paris, Rafa Nadal cruised to a victory over his hated rival, 6-4,6-2,6-4, to gain the best revenge possible. Not only did he get back on terms with winning Opens, but he regained the number one spot and became only the second man to win the French Open at least five times, one shy of Bjorn Borg.

 Soderling tamley congratulated Nadal on his final address, and predicted more victories for him if he kept that form, though not without warning that he would do what he could to reach a third Roland Garros final.

Before biting the trophy in his typical way, a serious but triumphant Nadal told Soderling, “Sorry Robin, I played my best match of the tournament. If not, it was going to be impossible to beat you”.

Forced compliments perhaps, but whether he played his best match or not, Rafa looked unstoppable, and with Wimbledon around the corner, it looks like things are going to get very interesting in London.

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.