Thursday, November 13, 2008

Head on the Chopping Block

Seems like the Madrid press have completely turned on Bernd Schuster… they are all calling for his head. I suppose that he’s really had it coming, especially from these guys: with his constant gloomy moods, sarcastic answers and generally hostile posture towards them. Now that his team has completely fallen from grace towards absolute humiliation: the knives are out and they’re all waiting for his blood to be spilled, for the guillotine to come down on his head. Real Madrid’s dismal performances have become the perfect reason for them to ask for his head.
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Replacement names have been mentioned already: Miguel Angel Portugal, Michel from the inside to serve on an interim basis. Names of outsiders have also been mentioned: Juande Ramos and Roberto Mancini.
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The Madrid press is indicating that Calderon (to his credit in my opinion), has tried to temper the situation with Schuster, sharing a meal with him to discuss the matter, telling the German than he still has a job. I’ve never encountered a situation of a coach being replaced in the middle of a season where the team achieved success on that same season. To sack Schuster now might constitute dooming the entire season (or perhaps even the next few seasons) for the team: bringing us back to the circus days (or final couple of years) of the Florentino Perez era.
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Calls for Schuster’s head seem to be coming amidst reports that the team was not adequately prepared for the match against Real Union: that he didn’t display the kind of respect that the competition merited. It didn’t help that he once again bungled (something that is now a routine) the post-match conference and seemed indifferent throughout the entire match. Reports also suggest that he didn’t even speak to the players after the Real Union disaster match. Nevertheless, from what I read, unnamed RM players still feel that he must continue on this season.
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Schuster has a tough task ahead of him: he needs a good, convincing result against Valladolid this Saturday. We thrashed them 7-1 at the Bernabeu last season, but were beaten by a rocket of a goal in their stadium. Besides, this is not the same team as last season’s. To get a convincing result, Schuster must start with trying to get himself a clean sheet from this Saturday’s match. That will be a problem since Cannavaro and Metzelder are not looking fit for the match at the moment. Pepe is still probably not 100% and his likely partner will be this season’s Mr. Disaster, Gabriel Heinze. Scoring 3-4 goals would be good too... perhaps Schuster should give Alberto Bueno another call up too after his golazo against Real Union – after all, we are lacking in striking options.
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Schuster will also need to ensure Champions League qualification. If he fails this: he will be in for the sack almost for sure. It will be a complicated proposition for sure. Though BATE Borisov were absolutely shit against us in the Bernabeu, I am totally willing to believe that they will give us a heck of a hard time once we play in their ground. Zenit St. Petersburg will also be a pain in the ass for us: a game which happens on ‘Black December’: where we square off against La Liga superpowers Sevilla, Valencia and Dream-Team-Reincarnates Barca. If he manages to survive the year 2008 with Real Madrid still having momentum and within striking distance for the La Liga title (I won’t even expect La Liga leadership) along with a ticket to the last 16 of the Champions League, then the gauntlet will be thrown to the Board.
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For their part, the Real Madrid board will have a very difficult task of trying to compensate for their failures during the offseason. Real Madrid would do well to address the need for another striker (someone who won’t mind time on the bench once RVN is back but will score goals when he’s on the pitch) and a winger (an endangered species these days). Perhaps they would do well to reinforce the defense too. Names for the January window have begun to surface and I trust that there will be more to come, among them:
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Andre Arshavin: yet ANOTHER 'mediapunta'

Andre Arshavin (Zenit St. Petersburg): some have called him a genius, some however have called him the Russian Guti (1 brilliant game, 7 awful ones next). I for one see him as yet another ‘mediapunta’ who will compete for spots with Guti, Sneijder and VDV… he’s not the winger or goal scorer we need. He’s Cup-tied too for the Champions League
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Julio Cruz: A clear stop gap measure given his age (34). A reliable player though and a seemingly mature presence in the dressing room. I’m not too hot about it though. (Has Inter played him in the Champions League? If so, then perhaps he’s not a good idea either)
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Huntelaar: Is he good enough for La Liga? Can we still go after Benzema if we get him?
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Klaas Jan-Huntelaar (Ajax): RVN’s heir in the Dutch National team and a proven goal scorer… in the Dutch League. There have been those who have doubted if he can become successful in a top league like La Liga, but his age and track record seem to make him a good choice. He’s not cup-tied too. I think though, that it might become a question of price (sell or part-exchange with Saviola?). The other question I’d like to ask also however is: if we land him, does that mean we won’t go after Benzema in the summer? I certainly hope not.
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Or maybe we should just promote Alberto Bueno to the first team full time? If he can manage a few more goals as he showed us last Tuesday, then why not, right?
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Once we pass a January wherein the management makes the right decisions in the transfer market, then Schuster’s next task will be to take us beyond the last 16 in the Champions League. To do so would bring an incredible amount of credibility to him. I don’t know how things will unfold for us in La Liga given how Barca seem to be destroying every team they face. If they continue playing that way, then we might not win La Liga this year. We don’t look like we can win the Champions League either. But if we do manage to come in a respectable 2nd in La Liga and with at least a semi-final spot in the CL, then maybe, just maybe Schuster will be able to survive.
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But let’s not forget, he’ll have to learn to smile and maybe tell a few dirty jokes during post-match conferences first.
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Until then, here’s to hoping the circus decides NOT to drop by Madrid any time soon.

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