Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Hierro & Alkorta...

It's Pellegrini's time to fight to make Real Madrid a team that knows how to defend again. Being the strategically offensive man Manuel is, it doesn't seem like that man to carry out this terribly challenging objective.

It hasn't been since Rafael Alkorta and Fernando Hierro formed the partnership in central defence that Real Madrid has shown any stability in defence. Even during Fabio Capello's second stint at the club, Real was more solid as a team and it conceived many fewer goals than in other seasons, but the defence was always shaky.

There was a time after Alkorta back to Athletic Bilbao (helping them to become runners' up that first season he was back), that the starting central defenders in Real were of the quality of Julio César, Karanka, Ivan Campo, Pavón and Mejía, the last two from the youth team. It wasn't until Ivan Helguera joined the club that there was slightly more stability in the back two.

Vicente Del Bosque came to a rather unorthodox solution to counter these weaknesses. This was to start with three central defenders rather than two: Julio César, Hierro and Ivan Campo, using Ivan Helguera in centre midfield. This allowed him to win the Champions League, and so could not really be questioned. However, having a defence made up for five men is not something any offensive, creative and fun football team has done.

Let's have a look at what happened season by season then:

2000-01 & 2001-02

Ivan Helguera became the head of the defensive four the most important task was to look for a long term replacement for Fernando Hierro who had a troubled campaign due to several injuries. However, strengths in other parts of the tactical diagram meant that Real won the league in the first of the two season, and then went on to win the Champions League in the last season.


This was Fernando Hierro's last season at the club – and President Floren was the one to make this final decision – allowing one of the greatest players to ever wear the Real Madrid shirt, and one of the most courageous players to hold the captain's band, to leave using the Bernabeu's back door. He formed a good pair with Helguera throughout the season, and even though his physical condition wasn't the best, he still proved a vital part of the club to win the League. He left after a successful season alongside Vicente Del Bosque for reasons not many understood, not even Mr. Pérez himself.


The fact that Hierro had left the club, left a huge gap in defence. And apparently there was no need to look for a replacement in the market. Instead, a lot of emphasis was placed on two youth team players who were never really ready for the challenge: Álvaro Mejía and Paco Pavón. Avoiding criticism to both these Spanish youths, but years later, it is evident that they were nowhere near the the standard of a starting team member in Real Madrid should have and the defence showed all its flaws in a glamorous way this season with Helguera taking blame for a lot of it.


The Argentine Walter Samuel arrived at the Bernabeu having cost the club in excess

of €20m. He came as one of the best defenders in the world and to solve all the problems in defence at the club. He could not face the fans at the Bernabeu, and simply had a terrible season before he left again. Helguera again, took blame for many of the problems in defence, and the levels of stress were extraordinary.


The defence was absolutely abismal this season, with an alternation of Mejía, Pavón and Helguera as centre backs, often in Champions League matches against the top teams in Europe, miserably facing them with no chance whatsoever.


President Calderón, who then turned out to have rigged his elections, decided to go all out to fix the matter, and sign the best player in the world – or so it seemed from his previous world cup and golden ball experience. Fabio Cannavaro was called to be the man in charge of taking control of the defence and bringing it up to an Italian club's standard. He had Fabio Capello to help him do it, and the club did well and won the League title – however Cannavaro's performance was very far from the Italian's brilliant stray of games as captain of the Azzurri.


€30m is what Pepe cost the club. It was evident that Cannavaro was not enough, and forming a pair with the relatively unknown Brazilian born Portuguese defender Pepe seemed like a great solution. Oftentimes, when Sergio Ramos left his full back position and formed a pair with Pepe, the team seemed like it had a more robust back four, however....


This year, anything and everything the club did was completely overshadowed by arch rivals, FC Barcelona's extraordinary success. Games like the 0-4 to Liverpool FC showed Real's deficiencies in defence and even though Pepe was deemed by the fans as a great buy – the defence still needed a lot of work.


It became evident to most Real fans, that one of the main things that the team lacked was some proficiency in the left back position. Marcelo was talented and young, but was a very offensive player and simply does not know how to defend. Heinze left after another terrible season, and Drenthe had a similar problem to Marcelo, he does not know how to defend. After great signings, like Kaká, Cristiano, Xabi Alonso or Benzema, it seemed Florentino Perez' second ètage will prove a very promising and title-full experience. However after only about 1/5 of the season played, it seems like Real's defence is still a complete mess... With the likes of Ezequiel Garay, Christoph Metzelder and Raúl Albiol, it seems that there is simply not enough completeness in the defence, and leaving the left back areas to Marcelo and Drenthe is simply never going to work.

Did Pellegrini even have a say about this? Surely a man with his experience would realise that a signing of a right back like Arbeloa wasn't going to do anything for the team's defence.

Will there ever be another Alkorta and Hierro- type partnership in the club again?...

No comments:

Post a Comment