Wednesday, February 17, 2010

La Décima: Real Madrid in the Champion's League

Year after year, Real Madrid fans all over the world are excited at the prospects of their team in the Champion's League, and the possibility of the club obtaining its tenth (that's right they currently hold 9) European Cup title. Sure, the first six cups were won in the early stages of the cup, with the likes of current Honorary Chairman, Don Alfredo Di Stéfano and Hungarian Ferenc Puskas as starting players.

However, they have, relatively recently, won 3 titles in five years, 1998, 2000 and 2002. After 2003, where the team reached the semi final and were eliminated by Juventus, Real have never passed the quarter-final stage of the competition. The team has participated every single year and have consistently been outplayed over 2 legs of the knock-out stages of the tournament by the likes of AS Roma or more recently, ridiculed by Torres and Gerrard's Liverpool.

This year, the club's participation does not look any more promising. In the first knock-out stage of the tournament, Real has been matched with Olympique Lyon, initially a relatively decent opponent considering Milan are playing Manchester United, and Inter are playing FC Barcelona. However, as demonstrated year after year, the first leg has comprimised the hopes of the club. The tie favoured Real again, as the first leg was played away, and the return leg, in two weeks time, will be played at home, in the Bernabeu. Even so, Real played a horrible match last night, and showed no signs of quality, creation or finishing. They were completely outclassed by a strongly improving O. Lyon who's talented Cameroonian midfielder, Makoun scored a splendid goal, giving the French side the overall advantage at 1-0.

The additional advantage of such a score in this tournament can be summarised very simply. If O. Lyon manage to score one goal in Bernabeu on the return leg, the double standard for away goals, means that Real Madrid would have to score three goals to go through. This, as football fans worldwide know, is extremely difficult, even for the new era of "Galácticos"...

Will there be a pleasant surprise for Real Madrid supporters this year? After all, Ronaldo's participated in the last two finals of the tournament, will he manage to lead the team to make this three? In Spain they say, "No hay dos, sin tres"... There isn't a two without number three... Doubts? Way too many Manuel.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Argentinians: Maradona & Valdano

Diego Armando Maradona. This name brings many different memories to many people. Some will remember him as the greatest footballer of all times. Others may remember him for having scored one of the most controversial goals that led him to be known as having "La mano de dios" - (the hand of god). Some may even remember him as a drug-addict footballer overreacting on camera, clearly being on a drug-related high. Some others may remember him as that close-to-obese small man - who seemed was doomed to have a short life. However, the younger fans may simply see him as an unfortunate choice for managing the Argentian national team today.
Jorge Valdano, Real Madrid's Sports Director was also a great footballer in his time. However, these two were not comparable as footballers - although they did play together. What has brough "Diegito" back in to the news these days are his comments regarding Valdano. Valdano has taken part in the sale of Argentian defender Gabriel Heinze at the end of last season. However, Maradona has falsely accused him of being the sole reason why he was forced out of Real Madrid. He also blames Valdano for Gago being dropped from the starting eleven under Manuel Pellegrini's coaching.

He goes on to claim that Valdano seems to be conspiring against Argentinians. He says that he finds this disgusting and fails to understand how an Argentinian can stab another one in their back. The funny thing is, that these comments have come as a standalone. Valdano has not been in public talking about the Argentinian Real players at all. Gago was in the news recently as he had apparently requested to be transfer listed, and the club (Maradona says Valdano alone) denied him from this opportunity.

The crude reality is far from this. Maradona is and has not been a good manager for his nation. When asked about Real Madrid superstar, and recently contract-renewed, Gonzalo Higuaín, Maradona claims that Valdano would like to do the same as with Gago and Heinze, but cannot due to the great form Higuaín has been demonstrating. Again, the truth is very different, and Higuaín has always had the club and Valdano's full support - the only difference is, he is, unlike Heinze and Gago extremely talented, and worthy of wearing a Real shirt.

What Maradona forgets, is that he waited years to call Higuaín up for a national game, when the rest of the world was waiting for it to happen, especially the player. Gonzalo Higuaín is actually born in France, and Domenech was knocking on his door since the age go 19 to play for France. Higuaín's loyal and ambitious character, made him wait patiently, and prove on the pitch that he was a true Argentian, and in fact their best striker.

Maradona's passion for football and extravagant lifestyle have interfered with his role, and in fact is making him a traitor to his own: something the football and Diego-crazy nation will never accept.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Guti es Dios

Although he´s often ridiculed, referred to as (negatively) the Spanish David Beckham for his outgoing character and fun-loving personality and fashion-sense, José María Gutiérrez "Guti" is one of the most talented active footballers today.

He has recently turned 33, and has been in the club since the age of 9, thus - a total of 24 years in last century's greatest club, Real Madrid, and is now vice captain of the team. This alongside his repertoire of titles and trophies he´s won, is at the reach of very very few people.

On the downside, the press has always pursued his social life. His recently failed marriage with a Spanish celebrity, his night life and deep-cutting (but honest) comments to certain questions in some interviews have hurt his image deeply. I have personally met him several times at different night clubs in the Spanish capital, and it is common to see him with a drink and a cigarette in his hand at 4 or 5 am.

This, many argue has led to his game-play inconsistencies and questionable professional attitude on the field. However, when he does play, and when the manager on the bench does trust blindly in his talent, he has proven time and time again to be a top quality player.

He has had several different seasons of top-class success over his career at Real, and in different positions too. He´s even played as a striker partnering with his close friend Raúl. However, his technique and superior through-passing skills have become more evident since he plays as a creative centre midfielder. His magnificent back-pass to assist Karim Benzemà's finish against Real's victory in A Coruña last week in Spain's "La Liga", has brought the world's attention to Guti - once again...finally, some good press...