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Real Madrid Rejects poised for Champions League Glory



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Like so many of you out there I’ve long since lost all respect for Real Madrid and how they conduct their affairs. The malaise born out of the ‘presidential’ system seems to me to tarnish the clubs image rather than enhance it and the side effect that it channels through the media is, frankly, an embarrassment.

Yes, Barca have a similar system but somehow seem to do it with a lot more dignity.

Just as with political elections worldwide, the Real Madrid presidential election comes with mass canvassing and a manifesto that invariably promises more than you would think can reasonably be delivered; the substance of which always involves signing several of the top players on the planet (read Galacticos).

Not to suggest that Real’s prancing egoists (read presidents) don’t deliver. Bankrolled by seemingly unlimited credit from institutions that have long since been taught to respect a ‘national icon’, money is seldom the problem for Real. Florentino Pérez, the current incumbent, prompted the press to invent the ‘galacticos’ term during his previous reign between 2000 and 2006.

Here’s a man who delivers on his promises and knows no fear when it comes to delving into the deep pockets of the club he represents. And during his two terms as president of Real he has overseen the signings of some notable talent:

Ronaldo (both versions), Zidane, Kaka, Figo, Beckham, Benzema, Owen, Alonso, Ramos, Robinho, Babtista, Woodgate, Albiol……even the one and only Thomas Gravesen, were all signed during his tenure. Just approaching a combined 6 ½ years in the coveted role, Perez has overseen 2 La Liga titles, 1 CL and 2 Supercopa’s; the relatively meagre return for some (please forgive the understatement) extravagant investment during his reign.

Just not good enough!….. most of you would suggest. He may still deliver another La Liga title this season but has already had to endure the ignominy of seeing his team dumped out of the CL by Lyon in the first knock-out stage; not withstanding Ronaldo, Kaka, Benzema et al. But Real (not to be confused with ‘real’) presidents don’t overly worry about failings on the pitch. Why would you when there’s always a manager (albeit one who has little control over singings) waiting to be the fall guy!

Real have had no less than 17 managers in the past 20 years, three of those serving two separate terms in the job, and one, Vicente Del Bosque, actually serving three (yes 3!) terms as manager. We hear much talk of players being ‘mercenaries’ these days….but what of managers? Is it a tick on the CV that must be had or are the dollars too lucrative to ignore? Whatever the bait, it obviously trumps self-respect every time.

It’s all a bit of a joke ReaLly!

Just as Real Madrid treat their managers as instantly disposable, so too do arriving presidents treat their players. If they’re not to their liking or (more likely) if cash is needed to deliver on some of those pre-election promises then, as a player, your days are numbered and you’ll quickly be on your way….falling back on contracts being about as useful as sticking a finger in a dyke (meaning the Dutch version of the word!)

And so, with the arrival of Perez last summer and the toute suite (that’s French for immediate…..nothing like a bit of showing off I think you’d agree!) arrival of Ronaldo, Kaka, Alonso, Benzema and Arbeloa, some then current, not to mention recently arrived, Real players suddenly found themselves with a target on their back.

Now I’d accuse the Real presidents of many things but racism is not one of them! Not that I’ve researched this aspect of the subject but, let’s face it, the Dutch are as affable, hospitable and inoffensive a group of people as you are likely to meet. They speak good English, drink good beer and for a nation with a population of just 16 million citizens (could be 17m now since the last census) have hugely out-punched their weight in world football terms over the years.

Cryuff, Neeskens, Van Basten, Van Nistelrooy…. I could go on for a very long time, but take it as read that their pedigree is beyond question. Losers in 2 World Cup Finals, unluckily in both cases some would suggest, I’ve the greatest respect for the Oranje! So there had to be some other motive/logic behind last seasons clear-out at Real.

How about stupidity?

Sneijder, Robben and Van Huntelaar quickly found themselves surplus to requirements and all were moved on toute suite (yeah, I’m lovin’ it!)….to Inter, Bayern and Milan respectively. OK, I accept that the previously prolific (previous to arriving at Real that is) Huntelaar hasn’t set the world on fire….but what of the other two?

As a Man U fan I riled against my fellow supporters’ calls for multiple signings, post Ronaldo, last year. That said, when I heard Sneijder was on the market….I was interested….if not totally committed to the cause. With Scholes ensconced in twilight and Anderson still wiping his feet on the mat, here was a player I admired….and then some.

In December 2008 I had the dubious honour of nominating the Soccerlens ‘Team of the Year’. Being misguided, as I generally am, I chose Sneijder in midfield, at the expense of…..and excuse me while I blush……Xavi. My choice was mainly on the basis of his performances for his country at Euro 2008, even though he’d spent much of his club time injured that year.

And the unrelenting Soccerlens public gave me some (not undeserved) stick for that choice. But as I learnt the hard way, whoever gets the hospital pass of that particular article each year is guaranteed a good kicking….and rightly so!

However, I now confess to feeling somewhat vindicated. Not that I will ever stoop to giving credit to the narcissistic wannabe that is Mourinho, but even I must respect that signing (and rue the lack of same signing by Fergie in equal measure.)

Sneijder will be 26 before the World Cup kicks-off in SA…..still some way from his peak. For my money, he has been the catalyst for everything that has gone right for Inter this season. Ostensibly an attacking midfield player, Sneijder is much more than that! With a career average of better than 1 goal in 4 appearances (a quality return by any standards), this is a player who’ll give you that return going forward while at the same time never be found wanting when defensive duties call.

For every clinical finish and killer assist you’ll find, in equal measure, defensive qualities of the Roy Keane variety as he shuts-out the best his opponents can produce everywhere on the pitch. Yes, this guy is a street fighter with passion and commitment in abundance. If I was going over the top in the trenches and had to choose who to bring with me he’d be the first name on my list of comrades. And if Inter do win the CL this season I’ll declare, with only minor fear of contradiction, that Sneijder provided the foundation for that achievement. Mourinho’s tactics my ass! Sneijder will be the over-riding reason for Inter’s 45 year reunion with the biggest prize in European football.

Real (and Perez) should be highly embarrassed for having let him go and I’d argue that he’d walk into the current Real Madrid team and add huge value!

Which brings me nicely on to Arjen Robben! 26 years old in January this year, Robben, even at that tender age, could almost be accused of being something of a journeyman. Not exactly more clubs than Tiger Woods (and certainly not more women) but 5 clubs under his belt at his, relatively, tender age is somewhat unusual, non?

I accept that Robben has had a relationship with the physio’s couch somewhat more intimate than most of us would like….and I’ll also accept that his temperament may be suspect…and that his right foot couldn’t kick the skin off a rice pudding, but when this guy is fit and on form it’s hard to argue against his ability. Robben’s career goal-scoring record just slides below 1 goal in every 4 appearances, not bad for a winger. But get this, his record for Bayern this year is close to 1 goal in every 1 ½ games!

Not damn bad for a one footed sick note I’d argue!

And like his compatriot Sneijder, he’s carried his team to the brink of Champions League glory this season. Scoring the ‘winner’ against Utd at Old Trafford, and what a sublime strike it was… this week he hit another long range screamer to notch the advantage over Lyon. In a single season Robben has taken his goal/game average from 1 in 4 to 2 in 3. That has to say something about a player who is a couple of years off his peak. And just like Inter (Sneijder), should Bayern go all the way in the Champions League I’ll have to conclude that Robben was the catalyst for their success….the one key player that made it happen, even casting a shadow over that other Bayern winger, and erstwhile main man, Frank Ribery.

Fate may yet determine that neither Bayern nor Inter reach this years CL final. But if they do then two great Dutch players (Real Madrid rejects) will be at the root of their alternative success.

So when the Champions League Final circus rolls into Madrid on May 22nd Seignior Perez will approach the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium with some trepidation. He’ll likely retreat to his quarters somewhere in the bowels of the famous stadium and pour himself a stiff cognac or two. One way or another he’ll have a lot to ponder and will be in need of some Dutch courage before he faces the bright lights. And at this point there’s no palatable outcome for the Real president.

Should Lyon defy the odds and lift the trophy it will be that sickening feeling of what might have been! Real could (and probably should) have dispensed with them at the Bernabeu. If it’s a Sniejder inspired Inter or a Robben inspired Bayern he’ll be feeling a little foolish, he may even be speaking ‘double Dutch’!

And the 4th alternative!

Barca retaining the trophy in the backyard of their greatest rivals! Nuff said! Picture the scene: Guardiola offering to buy Perez dinner after Barca lift the trophy! The only logical response would be “Gracias, but let’s go Dutch!”

Ultimately there can only be one winner…..and, equally, one loser. The winner will be the winner.

The loser will be Real Madrid!