Decline and Fall

When I was writing ‘White Storm’ for Real Madrid’s centenary, a book commissioned by a British publisher and endorsed by the club as kosher, I got to meet various interesting people at planet Bernabéu. Some were more interesting than others – but that’s the nature of a multi-national enterprise, although it felt less like an impersonal leviathan back then in the early naughties. One of the most interesting (and remarkably open) folks I spoke to was Jorge Valdano.  Valdano wasn’t everyone’s cup of coffee back then, but as Director of Football he acted as a public buffer between the club’s supporters, the press and Florentino Pérez, then a relative newcomer to the presidential post but already beginning to put his ‘galácticos’ policy into action. José Angel Sánchez had been in his post as head of marketing for about two years, and was already Pérez’s most trusted lieutenant. Continue reading “Decline and Fall”

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Chronicle of a Defeat Foretold

It was the match of the weekend, one of those occasions on which we all expect to see top players make an extra effort. However, only one team came along. While Barcelona performed in their most solid version, Real Madrid failed to show up. Funnily enough, the Madridista’ display was consistent with what they’ve done so far. “This 5-1 is what we’ve done all season”, said Casemiro in the post-match interview on the sidelines of the pitch, the Camp Nou still packed with fans celebrating Barcelona’s win. Any listener could probably replace “5-1” with the word “crap” and Casemiro’s sentence, already clear, would become an even more eloquent statement. Continue reading “Chronicle of a Defeat Foretold”

Pond life making a splash

Preview of La Liga’s 10th week

The clásico tends to put the rest of the fixtures into the shade, over in the small pond with its pond-life flapping and flipping about – a minor eco-system of relative irrelevance compared to the leviathans chopping through the waves of their own public importance.  And yet the ‘look at me’ aspect of Sunday’s clásico differs in several ways to previous encounters.  For one, the absence of Messi and Ronaldo is certainly interesting (it’s the first time they both missed for eleven years) and for two, you get the feeling that the result – come what may – will have a major influence on the development of events this season.

This tends to be the case with the 2nd clásico of the season, not the first.  But here, a win for Barcelona will confirm their ‘okay’ status whilst condemning Madrid to depths of the league well below their already unthinkable 7th.  It will certainly signal yet another change of coach.  If they win, he still might go.  All these things have a general impact. They are not confined to the Bernabéu alone. Continue reading “Pond life making a splash”

Clásico Conundrum

Every cloud has a silver lining, eh? Just when Real Madrid thought that things couldn’t possibly get much worse, in the 25th minute of Barcelona v Sevilla, Leo Messi took on his compatriot ‘Mudo’ (the mute) Vázquez, toppled over and injured his arm.  The world stood still, Dembele replaced LM (who had already scored and set up a goal) and hope returned to the Bernabéu, where the grey-suited chiefs sat hunched in Saturday night pow-wow over the future of Mr Lopetegui. Ah, alas poor Julen – we thought we knew him.  From seeming like a thoroughly sensible bloke running the national team with serious-faced efficiency, his boat floated too close to the Siren shores of the Bernabéu. Julen dived into the water, and the rest is history. Continue reading “Clásico Conundrum”

The old school pecking order

Preview of LaLiga’s 9th week

Last week I spent some time watching PSG, something I rarely do. As Neymar kept feeding Kylian Mbappe time and again, I remembered an old interview with the great Michael Laudrup in which he spoke about his changing role on the pitch as his game evolved. I can’t quote him exactly, but he spoke of his time with Juventus as an apprenticeship under another memorable icon, Michel Platini. His words were something like: “At that time, Platini was the king of the team. He hogged the ball, saw the gaps in the defence and passed it through magnificently, while I just ran and ran after it. Then I understood that, in football’s pecking order, passing is well above running to meet those passes”. That interview took place when Laudrup played for Real Madrid. His previous move from Juventus to Barcelona meant he was now the passer, not the runner, and from that point onwards, he’d never had to run as much again in his career. Continue reading “The old school pecking order”

Tantric antics

Given the foul weather on Sunday morning, I wandered down to the local bar with my papers and pored over the footy stuff, accompanied by my ‘Tejano’ coffee (Texan – which is an ‘Americano’ with a bit of cold milk) and a croissant whose sugary nature will mean some gym-ridden penance sessions this coming week.  I like these coffee visits to the bar, usually alone.  I can read all the Spanish news and all the sports tabloids, in perfect peace.  In fact I stayed so long that Valladolid v Huesca began on the telly.  ‘They’re going back down, that Huesca lot’ pronounced the owner of the bar from within shouting distance – aware of my weakness for football.  I nodded. ‘They try to play football, but it doesn’t work for them – look!’ he proclaimed, as a pass went astray. Continue reading “Tantric antics”

Chaos reigns

Do you think we’ve had enough upsets already? Well, my money is on two more this weekend. Yes, Real Madrid and Barcelona won’t win their matches. Even in that case, with subversion and chaos taking over LaLiga, they may not lose the first two spots. Should be an extremely entertaining weekend.

Shall we? Remember, it’s ‘1’ for a home win, ‘X’ for a draw and ‘2’ for an away win. Continue reading “Chaos reigns”