Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Crash Landing For The Galácticos

There is little to be surprised about with the exit last night of Real Madrid from this years's Champions League. It is after all the sixth year running that they have been eliminated at this stage of the tournament. It was all supposed to be different this time, following the return to the club of Florentino Pérez as president and the huge outlay on players now that Real Madrid are the only entity which the banks will still lend money to. Instead Galácticos 2 looks like it could go the same way as the first version, and for much the same reasons.

Even with a perfect start to the game, and a good first half, Madrid were unable to overcome Olympique Lyon and could easily have lost both games if it hadn't been for some slack finishing by the Lyon strikers. So what, some people might say, there is still La Liga. But the expression on Florentino Perez's face as the game ended suggests that this was the end of the season for him. The final of this year's Champions League is to be held in the Bernabeu stadium, and winning the trophy in their own stadium was intended to be the launch pad for years of domination by the new model Real Madrid.

Instead Madrid's supporters are now faced with the horrific prospect that it might be the captain of Barcelona lifting the trophy at the end of that final. Barcelona president Joan Laporta says that he is waiting until June to announce his political intentions, and I have no doubt that he has calculated just how many points in the opinion polls it might be worth to win the Champions League in the home of their greatest rivals. There are of course a few other teams less fragile than Madrid who still have something to say on the subject.

Madrid were beaten by opponents who played as a team rather than as a random collection of stars, a simple idea but one that Pérez and company still seem to treat with disdain. It's a hugely satisfying result for all those who see football as being about more than the price of the players. As happened in his previous reign, the new Madrid has come to depend on players who were unappreciated or on the list of likely discards; Van der Vaart, Diarra, Higuaín. Then there is the case of Raúl, who Pérez reportedly regards as having had far too much power inside the club. When the ineffective Kaka was substituted by Raúl last night we should have been treated to Florentino's expression - when things get tough the expensive imports are often nowhere to be seen.

Nobody should be fooled by the routine support given to trainer Manuel Pellegrini who was always unlikely to survive beyond the end of the season. Not because he's bad at his job - he's not - but because Pérez still seeks someone with a profile to fit his notion of the team. Remember Vicente del Bosque's exit from the Galácticos first version? Apart from anything else, one constant in Madrid is that the directors of the club take the credit for all success, and the blame for any failures is always passed to someone further down - usually the trainer. Pellegrini will survive, especially with the payoff he will get, and will probably be happier in a more modest team where he is allowed to pursue his own project.

Who was beside Pérez in the "palco" at the Bernabeu last night? Esperanza Aguirre, already in full electioneering mode and always desperately keen to get into the picture if there is any chance of glory to be celebrated. Any club with friends like that deserves all that it gets.


Nick said...

There was a telling point in that game where Higuin or someone only had to square it to Ronaldo in the box for what would have been a tap in. He chose to have a stab instead however and missed. Too many bloody egos in that team.

That open goal he missed too was hilarious.

ejh said...

Thing is, when they want to be they're a superb team, but this is always rubbed out in my mind by their spoiled-brat supporters in the media, notable Marca and AS. The recent anti-referee campaign added an extra bad taste on top of the usual whiny arrogance: and note the way they're all sucking up to Ronaldo now and distancing themselves from Kaká.

There are two very good English-language weekly columns on Spanish football that I'd recommend to SoW readers: Phil Ball on Soccernet and Sid Lowe in the Guardian. In some way their outlooks are similar but their perspectives are different, if you see what I mean: Lowe writes from Madrid for a newspaper, while Ball, a Grimsby fan, lives in San Sebastian and (like myself, as it happens) wrote for fanzines for years.

Ball in particular wrote a very good column some months back about the difference in watching games in Bilbao and Madrid. Madrid, people expect to win everything as of right, but in Bilbao, it's all about getting behind your local team every time they get a throw-in. I wish there was more of the latter in Spain, and a great deal less interest in the duopoly. I genuninely find it objectionable when the Monday morning Deportes bulletin on TVE1 is dominated by two clubs that didn't even play the previous day. Every day it's like that, Real and Barca, Real and Barca, and I hate it.

Anyway, come on Stuttgart, finish the job.

Graeme said...


Poor Ronnie was allegedly very upset with Higuain, maybe he should have stayed with a more solid team.


I used to read Phil Ball a lot and always enjoyed his columns - I seem to have lost the habit recently. I also used to blog about the Liga but this year's contest is just too dull if you're not a follower of one of the Big Two. I hardly even notice the results these days. I do distinguish, though, between this Barça and Madrid because there is no doubt that Guardiola's Barcelona is a different kind of project from Perez's Madrid.

Judith said...

Yeah, right, but let Stuttgart finish off both Abramovich's Chelsea & the Glazer Bros's ManU first.
At least FCB is a member-owned, uncrowned club, unlike so many throughout Spain.

Graeme said...

The problem with the member-owned Barça and Real Madrid is that their members don't seem to feel happy unless they have someone like a Glazer or Abramovich as president. What's worse to have someone like that imposed or to voluntarily elect them?

Judith said...

Well, Joan Laporta, who, incidentally, is reaching the end of his office term this coming June, might be a bit of a swaggering bigmouth, but he certainly isn't in the same big-business league as the above-mentioned grandees.

ejh said...

He's still the sort of peron I'd rather wasn't running a football club. Mind you, so are most people running football clubs.

Phil Ball on fourth-estate goons and much else. I didn't see Marca today - I assume they were running a campaign against people who don't give penalties against Real?

Graeme said...

The jury is still out on what sort of person Laporta is, but I think its worth pointing out that his predecessor was the lovable Joan Gaspart.

ejh said...

Sid Lowe today: Scotland on the Peninsula.