Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Reflecting on Player Movements in the Calderon-Mijatovic Era (Part 3)

Arrival – Arjen Robben
My cousin is among many who have called him the ‘glass man’. 36 million euros I would say I too much money for a guy who has spent the bulk of the past season on the injury list. Considering that Robinho was already the ‘holder’ of the Left Flank in attack and that we had already purchase Royston Drenthe at the time we bought him, I would say that it was pretty clear that his purchase was a political one: for Calderon to be able to show face to say that he is ‘on his way to fulfill his electoral promises.’
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What actually happened during the season turned out to be different: After beginning the season in blistering form, Robinho got hurt and mysteriously took a long time to ‘recover’ (we’re really not sure if he slacked or if his injury was just that bad). Drenthe on the other hand, turned out to be not really ready. And just when the Robinho-Drenthe situation had turned RM’s strength into a weakness, in comes Robben to fill in the gap and fill in very well, having just recovered from his injury.
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Bringing, glimpses of his form from his Chelsea days, Robben has come in with his lighting displays along the wings, slicing up defenses with his mazy dribbling and crossing. By the end of the season, he has appeared on a significant amount of highlight reels for RM’s past season: creating chances, assisting & scoring crucial goals (even with his head!).
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At the end of the day however, we can only really say that Robben’s acquisition has been a good one based on the actual number of games that he’s appeared in. Because if all we’re going to get from him for the rest of his stay in RM is a rendition of ‘Glass Man’, then those 36 million euros would have been money not well spent.
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Arrival – Gabriel Heinze
Roberto Carlos’ legend status in RM folklore that allowed him to be known as the best left back in the world was partly secured by then Captain Fernendo Hierro (with partner Helguera during better days): the old captain was able to cover the empty spaces he left as he charged forward to trouble defense with his pace, crossing ability and cannonball shot. Post-Hierro however, people has just branded R. Carlos as reckless and old as the gaps he left were left exposed and was tuned into madrid’s clear weakness for other teams.
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Thus, coming in, Gabby Heinze, has proven to be just the kind of medicine that the Real Madrid back 4 needed: an experienced and hard-nosed, defensive-minded DEFENDER, albeit left-sided one, who would be more keen to hack a few legs off of his opponents rather than mindlessly race forward to leave his back exposed. He is the perfect polar opposite to the baby Roberto Carlos-esque (albeit in much more naïve sense) Marcelo in the left back spot. Then of course there is his versatility to plug himself to the middle to fill in for an injured or suspended Cannavaro or Pepe (ditto for Metzelder).
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At times this season (e.g. El Clasico at the Camp Nou), Heinze has been brilliant (on defense!), locking down the left side, filling in the gaps and being an intimidating force to La Liga attackers who haven’t encountered such a rugged character waiting for them at the Madrid goal. When he was on at left back, Madrid no longer had 2 players aimlessly overlapping on the left side with acres of space behind them.
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On other times though, he was just plain atrocious (e.g. his screw ups against Roma), where one wonders what his value would be if his defense is off and he’s unable to offer anything on offense. Time will be the real judge of Heinze’s stint at RM: where we will find out if his blunders of the past season are but indications of his adjustment period to the Spanish game or if they are telling us all that the ‘Gringo’s’ time at the top level is coming to a close.

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