Thursday, March 10, 2005

Meet the Yankees of European Football
By Imtiaz Mussa

A few days ago, glactico Zinedine Zidane said Juventus were running scared running scared after losing 1-0 in the first leg of their Champions League tie with Real Madrid. He also claimed that if Juventus did not score in the first half hour of the match, they would lose. Flash forward to Wednesday. The French superstar was right about Juventus not scoring in the first half and indeed, Alessandro Del Piero and Zlatan Ibrahimovic were not doing much in front of the home faithful as it started to look like Madrid was moving on. But hold up, Juve manager Fabio Capello puts on French striker David Trezeguet in place of the Italian legend Del Piero and it becomes a whole new game. Since Trezeguet is a much better athlete than Del Piero at this point in time, he added more speed and flair that proved to be hell for Madrid defenders Walter Samuel and Raul Bravo. And then, Camoranesi's deep cross from the right was headed back into the danger zone by Ibrahimovic for the French international to level the tie with an acrobatic finish from six yards out. Ronaldo tried to steal a goal for Madrid but was called offside.
What every big club is expected to win

On to extra time they went and Real Madrid’s fate was sealed. Without doubt, if there was going to be one man who would be able to score for them on this night, it was Ronaldo. However in minute 113, midfielder Alessio Tacchinardi attempted to elbow the Brazilian which led Ronaldo to try and kick his opponent. Tacchinardi had already been booked previously been booked in the extra session so it was certain he was gone. But there was no doubt that trying to kick your opponent is also grounds for a red card and with that, Real Madrid’s fate was sealed. Substitutes Michael Owen and Guti would have to play up front while Juventus simply just lost a man in midfield.

On to minute 117, and now it just comes down to conditioning. If a goal doesn’t get scored in the next three minutes or so, it would go to penalties where it would be advantage Juventus. Both sides know what was at stake. For teams like Real Madrid and Juventus, winning the Champions League is an expectation. To go out in the second round would be utter disaster. The ball is in Madrid’s have as Juve has managed to push forward; it bounces around the area, and comes loose at the edge of the area to fall on the foot of Uruguayan Marcelo Zalayeta. He lashes a shot which gets by Madrid keeper Iker Casillas and into the back of the net. Stadio Delle Alpi goes nuts as Juve has earned the game winner. Real Madrid has failed and will watch the rest of the Champions League from home.

With the Spanish Primera Liga title also looking like a longshot with Barcelona leading them by eight points and also getting eliminated in the Copa Del Rey, changes are coming to the Bernabeu. There are a few things that are going in favor of Madrid.

First, they finally seem to have a manager who will get the job done. Wanderley Luxemburgo is a disciplinarian who will not care about what any of the ‘glacticos’ say in regard to his style. Ronaldo already admits he is the right man for the job. If Fiorentino Perez allows Luxemburgo to call the shots on player transfers, then he should work out.
Manchester United would love to have Casillas

Second, they have a world class goalkeeper. Iker Casillas will not turn 24 until May 20th but already has two Champions League titles to his credit. The Spain number one may very well be the best goalkeeper in the world and Madrid is determined to keep around for the long term. After Raul decides to hang it up, there is no doubt that Casillas will be the king of Madrid.

Third, they have solid leadership. People know and respect Real Madrid captain Raul. They recognize what he has done on and off the pitch for Real Madrid. He is also the greatest Champions League scorer of the modern era. Manchester United’s Ruud Van Nistelrooy follows behind in a close second. Combined with Raul are Zinedine Zidane who many consider the greatest French footballer to ever play the game and Luis Figo who was the leader of the great Portuguese generation. Unfortunately, it looks like that generation will not win a major senior trophy after Greece won Euro 2004.

Can Real Madrid afford to get players to change things? The answer is an emphatic yes. Along with Manchester United, Real Madrid is the most marketable football team in the world. They use their marketing dollars to pay the likes of Raul, Beckham, Zidane, and Ronaldo their weekly wages. But its this philosophy that led to Madrid making a monumental mistake when they refused to pay defensive midfielder Patrick Vieira his demand of £120,000 per week. Vieira would have given this team the defensive influence in the midfield that they so badly needed. With the likes of Beckham, Figo, and Zidane attacking from the midfield, one player has to sit back in case of a counter-attack. Make reference to Manchester United with Roy Keane or Arsenal with Vieira right now.
Woodgate: Yet to play
To improve the defense, they did sign two new center-backs in the form of Argentine Walter Samuel and English international Jonathan Woodgate. Samuel has had his ups and downs while trying to adjust to life in Madrid while Woodgate has yet to play a game. Thanks to constant thigh injuries, Woodgate is seen more with girlfriend Kate Lawler than even on the training pitch. Even though Woodgate’s signing was a smart one, it would not have happened if Michael Owen didn’t come. Why did Real Madrid, a team with Raul, Ronaldo, Morientes, and Guti need Michael Owen for? It represents the problem Real Madrid and even the New York Yankees have had. They go after big names and not necessarily the right players. But during the January transfer window, they took a step in the right direction signing hard working midfielder Thomas Graveson from Everton.

Changes will be made in Real Madrid. They have to be made if this team is ever going to get back to their glory days. Will they consistently make it to the Champions League? The answer is yes thanks to the massive amounts of talent but as Jose Mourinho showed all of us last year with Porto, it take a team to win the Champions League.


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