Saturday, August 28, 2010

La Liga Weekly Podcast 2010-2011 season Episode 1

'Tis the season to talk Real Madrid once again as the La Liga season kicks off... and that meant podcasting time as well for myself, Corey from Real MAdrid Offside & Kevin from the Own Goal Network.
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We're calling it the La Liga Weekly Podcast though as we'll be taking the format of the podcast to cover a bit more ground this time
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Enjoy!


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Finding Meaning from the SEEMINGLY Meaningless


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It may have been just a friendly match against one of Spanish Football’s ‘minnow teams’… the newly-promoted: Hercules: but last sunday night’s match brought to mind some interesting thoughts. Here are some of them.
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The Absentees
Jose Mourinho left out the Starting XI of this past World Cup’s Spanish team, namely: Casillas, Xabi Alonso & Sergio Ramos. He also left out Cristiano Ronaldo. Each of the 4 are crucial members of the team. Casillas’ absence was made very apparent by Antonio Adan’s goalkeeping howler (a trend it seems these days). We were without Sergio Ramos’ aerial power or rampaging runs from the right flank either. Also, everyone knows that Real Madrid aren’t quite the same team without Xabi Alonso (we usually play like a bunch of drunks without him) and of course, there would be no Cristiano Ronaldo to save us with a moment of brilliance or a trademark free kick a.k.a. RPG (Ronaldo-Propelled-Goal). Despite facing minnows, it was interesting to see how Real Madrid would cope without the critical spine that has allowed us to stand / survive this past season.
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The result of course was very pleasing. We started then game lacking clarity and definition in our attacking plays (lots of intercepted passes) but a generally solid performance (despite Adan’s howler). By the end of the match, the best result in my eyes was not so much the 3-1 scoreline but the chance to see the fruits of Mourinho & Valdano’s labor.
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Blah Blah Performances

Let's give Ozil some time to adapt
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Most of Madridisimo was of course looking for the chance to see Mesut Ozil play, hopeing for Zidane-like moments and such. As expected however, perhaps it was too early to expect that type of performance. Sporting jersey #26 (which means that Real Madrid didn’t have to unnecessarily humiliate a player by taking his jersey number away ala Van Der Vaart last summer), he seems to have started on the right side with Canales behind the 2 strikers. Our attacking midfielder from outer space spent much of the first half linking play between himself, his international teammate Khedira & wonderkid Canales but didn’t do much damage to Hercules. I suppose we’ll have to give him a bit of time to get into the thick of things.
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Sadly, the same could be said of Canales though I have to say that what impressed me about the 18-year old was his audacity and boldness to have a go at the opposing defense: by trying to dribble straight through them.
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Rafael Van Der Vaart
It was Van Der Vaart however who showed the 2 youngsters how to hold the baton of the midfield to guide the attacks with the few minutes he was allowed to play. It is sad to know that he is the one guy who is really looking like the odd man out in this process to trim the squad down from 26 to Mourinho’s preferred squad size of 23 (with 3 goalkeepers). I continue to hope that Mourinho can find a formula to fit our 4 attacking midfielders within his system for the suqad while avoiding situations where the players would undeservedly spend long stretches of time on the bench. The idea of playing Ozil, who has the versatility to play on the wing is not a bad idea, though its effectiveness is yet to be proven. Should the Dutchman have to leave us, I can only hope it’s to a top level team that can value him the way his honorable behavior deserves and one that will make him happy.
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Karim Benzema

Benzema: We are all hoping Mourninho awakens the Beast in him
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Marca’s headline was something like ‘He’s awake at 11’ (with Benzema at the cover) after spouting out Mourinho’s criticism of him all over its pages: ‘With you I have to train at 12 midnight because at 10-11 am, you’re still asleep!’ the paper quotes the Special One as saying over the Frenchman’s lackadaisical attitude in training. The 22-year old, now sporting the ‘9’ with his pouty face really does bring back images of the Incredible Sulk. His volley to score Madrid’s first goal did show off his nasty talent (though he was given an hour to control then strike the ball off Khedira’s pass). He missed his hat trick by fluffing the goalscoring opportunity that Van Der Vaart served on a silver platter for him but he did make up for it with a neat finish from a nice distance to make the score 3-1. All in all, it’s nice to see the 2nd of Madrid’s 2 strikers finally break his duck in the pre-season. This is a good start for him. He scored 9 last season. If he manages 15 this season with Pipita as the first choice striker, then we might finally really have liftoff for him. Let’s all keep our fingers crossed.
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Pedro Leon
He tarnished his evening with a Red Card for a nasty kickout. But I can’t help but mention how impressed I am with him. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a winger play for Madrid who can zip along the by-line, beat his man and unleash a nasty cross that wreaks total havoc in the opposing penalty box. He’s done this all pre-season long. Hmmm… if only we had a classic Hulk-type ‘9’ striker ala Fernando Llorente. Either way, it’s easy to imagine a streaking CR96 to head those in… or even Pipita to scrap it out for those balls and poke those in.
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Angel Di Maria

A Few More Goals like that and Di Maria will hold Madridismo's heart in his hands.
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He showed off his Speedy Gonzales-like qualities with his goal: latching on to a pass onto space, zooming past 2-3 defenders, and then very elegantly stepping away from the on-rushing goalkeeper before walking the ball into the net. While his pace offered the attacking threat that kept the opposiung defense at bay, I still find that it remains to be seen whether he can really be the Pedro Leon-type of winger who can assist from the wing apart from being the poor-ER man’s Cristiano Ronaldo or Arjen Robben (cut in from the wing and shoot). All in all, I thought he had a good game.
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Juanfran
He came in at the 73rd minute (I think) and with the score at 3-1 showed the audacity to dribble through and take potshots from long distance. His few minutes on the pitch was generally positive. There is talk in the Spanish press about Jose Mourinho lusting for another striker (further confirmed by his statements to today’s press conference): which has led to the names of Dzeko, Adebayor and even Drogba coming out. With 2 superbly-talented young strikers in Pipita and Benzema, bringing in the likes of them would only hinder the progress of our developing strike team. Raul or Ruud would’ve been perfect for this, but without I’d much rather that we make use of CR96 (despite the ‘9’ not being his best position) while making better use of our midfield resources to fill in for Cristiano (Di Maria, Pedro Leon or even Canales & Ozil)… or even better, try out our Cantera products too.
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Sami Khedira

Sami played like a Midfield Monster against Hercules.
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He was my favorite Real Madrid player on the night. The half-Tunisian midfielder gave us all an exciting glimpse of what he can do as Xabi Alonso’s partner: intercept balls, tackle, impose his physical presence, deliver through balls for attackers to score on (Benzema’s opening goal is the perfect example) and even make late runs into the box and take long distance potshots. His performance undid the image he established in the early pre-season games in the US & against Bayern & Standard Liege. With him as the last ‘feature’ for my review of the Hercules game, I’d like to conclude with this: The most critical element of our success this season will be how to surgically enhance our midfield presence beside Xabi Alonso. It will determine the fluidity of the attack and the vulnerability of the defense. It will be the difference between being the bride or merely the bridesmaid once again. If this is the Sami we will see throughout the season, then the authorities at the city of Madrid better get La Cibeles ready once again.
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Sami & Xabi – I like the sound of that.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Thoughts from the Revolving Door


Valdano presents Real Madrid's 'Last' incoming player for the 2010 summer transfer season: Mesut Ozil
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As our (my) favorite Martian from the World Cup (Ozil) lands at Madrid… I’ve finally gotten the feeling that Real Madrid has seen its last incoming player of the coming season. The revolving door will continue to turn of course as the arrival of new players will mean the departure of some of our current ones. Having said that, let’s go through the ones who have gone in and out the revolving door.
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Out (as of 2010-08-18): Raul, Guti & Metzelder
My more sentimental thoughts (more like feelings) on the departure of club legends are captured in my ‘tribute posts’ to Raul & Guti posted in the last couple of weeks. Seeing it from a footballing perspective however, it’s a bit different.
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Raul (to Schalke 07 – forget the ‘04’ bit)
Perhaps I’d have to say that it was the loss of Raul that was a bit of a blow as his departure leaves the club with only 2 pure strikers: Higuain & Benzema. Despite that fact that we no longer live in the age of the 4-4-2 (or the 2-striker formation)… having 2 only strikers in the squad leaves the team threadbare up front. To have the ageing-but-still-effective Champions League’s all-time leading goalscorer and club talisman in the role of 3rd striker would have been great. Sadly however, it was not to be.
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Guti (to Besiktas)
Despite the rush of sentimentality due to his departure, I’d really have to say that having Guti in this squad would’ve likely turned into a match made in hell between him and Jose Mourinho. His bad temper, primma donna tendencies & slack attitude in training would’ve surely caught the ire of the Portuguese disciplinarian. When you couple that with the backing he receives from many of the club’s loyal fans, you get a PR nightmare for the club. His departure gives the midfield a bit of breathing room given the glut of central midfielders we have at the moment.
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Christoph Metzelder (to Schalke 04)
Highly-paid, injury-prone & slow. To his credit, he was a model professional despite getting superglued to the bench in his years in Madrid – hardly making a fuss to the press, management or the coaching staff. And when he played, he was decent. His departure doesn’t make much of a difference.
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In (as of 2010-08-18): Canales, Pedro Leon, Di Maria, Khedira, Carvalho & Ozil
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Sergio Canales (from Racing Santander)

The FUTURE of Spanish Football: Sergio Canales
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When news broke out that Real Madrid had signed Sergio Canales from Racing Santander but was going to loan him out to Racing On Loan, I went ‘Oh shit… here we go again.’ I questioned the wisdom of his signing yet another attacking midfielder over a few highlight reels (which smacked of ‘impulse buying’ to me). When I saw him play wearing a Real Madrid shirt for the first time (against Club America) however, I went ‘Oh Shit… this KID is amazing’. He looks like the real deal to me and has already convinced the known-to-favor-veterans Mourinho. If we take good care of this kid and allow him to develop steadily according to his potentials… we might actually have ourselves a Spanish Kaka… or better… a Spanish Zidane!
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Pedro Leon (from Getafe)

Pedro Leon: He just might turn out to be the steal of this Transfer Season
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The truth about Getafe will come out soon enough: that one day it will be renamed to either: Real Madrid Castilla Senior or Real Madrid Lite. Their survival in La Liga and even their European success has been driven in large part by their relationship with Real Madrid: as the Test Bed for Real Madrid’s most promising canteranos (among them: Dela Red, Soldado, Granero, Parejo, Codina, Adrian, etc.). They get to field talented young players trained by one of the word’s best youth academies, while we find out if our boys are the Real Deal. If they are, we then pay Getafe with a ‘Finder’s Fee’ (the buyback clause). What’s great about the Pedro Leon deal is that it brings us one of THEIR top young (only 23) players, at a position we were lacking on in our roster. At 10m euros, I’m not sure you can get a 23-year old winger with his quality in the market today. That he’s Spanish is also a big bonus.
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Angel Di Maria (from Benfica)

I 'discovered' Di Maria as a top class player in the Beijing Olympics.
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The 22-year old Argentine left winger was the most expensive signing this summer at 25m Euros plus reportedly another 11m from incentives. With Pedro Leon on the right, CR96 as a natural winger and Marcelo having shown us that he’s much better without being burdened by the obligation to defend… I wasn’t of the opinion that we needed yet another winger: especially one at 25m Euros (plus reportedly another 11m in clauses which can total to a Robben-like figure of 36m!). Don’t get me wrong: Di Maria is a wonderful player and I’ve been a fan of his since the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. I’ve no doubts about his abilities… only his price. If the reports are true however that he came from Mourinho’s shortlist… then maybe it’s not so bad as it tells us that the one thing we all hoped for: that for once, Florentino would hire a coach / manager and listen to what he asks.
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Sami Khedira (from Stuttgart)

If he plays like the midfield beast that he was in the World Cup: The World better watch out for Real Madrid
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This is a signing that’s got Jose Mourinho’s fingerprints all over it: a strong, workhorse-type box-to-box midfielder known to plug the holes and do well enough with ball distribution. I’ve read quite a few comments in the blogs that I follow raving about Khedira. I saw for myself during the World Cup. After last season, where we struggled perpetually to find a suitable partner for Xabi Alonso, a 15m Euro purchase for a 23-year old player of such caliber is a great signing. With the ‘transferables’ in this position being: Diarra (last year of his contract), Lass (with the cosndierable interest in him by a host of different clubs), Gago (given his can’t-do-anything qualities) & even Granero (a forgettable past season), it’s looking likely that the next movements of the revolving door will see one of them being greeted out.
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Ricardo Carvalho (from Chelsea)

Ricardo Carvalho: Top Class
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Under Jose Mourinho at Porto, he became one of the World’s best Central Defenders. Mourinho brought him to England, tried (but failed) to bring him to Italy and now Jose Mourinho’s prodigal footballing son has rejoined him once again. At 32 years old, 8m Euros is a bit steep. Unlike Metzelder (who came for free) however, he won’t have Madridistas losing sleep at the thought of him filling in for an injured or suspended Pepe/Garay/Albiol/Ramos… or even starting ahead of them. And here’s the best part: we didn’t have to spend 30m on the 30 year old Maicon (a brilliant Right Back with a greedy agent).
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Mesut Ozil (from Mars… err... Werder Bremen)

This Half-Turkish, Half-Alien German was my favorite player in the 2010 World Cup. I never thought he'd end up in my favorite club though...
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There are many reasons to look at his signing and scratch one’s head: don’t we already have Kaka & Rafa Van Der Vaart (who proved to us last season that he has the quality and the mentality to be in Real Madrid) in for the position of attacking midfielder? Don’t we already have Sergio Canales as their understudy? And what about the return of Dani Parejo? But at a “mere” 15m Euros, the player already dubbed the ‘Turkish Messi’ whose talent can actually turn him into the future ‘Messi of Madrid’ is a deal too good to refuse (an opportunity that won’t come again). And with Mourinho publicly declaring his support to sign the player, then we can all only hope that he will know how to get this Real Madrid to play with possibly 4 attacking midfielders in the squad. Upon seeing Germany play in the World Cup, I told my wife the next day ‘They Germans have this alien-looking creature of a player called Ozil who looks like only being a couple of years away from becoming a Real Madrid-calibre player. I take much comfort in the fact that Mourinho thinks he’s
ALREADY a Real Madrid-calibre player and Florentino has already made him a Real Madrid player.
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More thoughts on the additional departures when they finally leave…



Wednesday, August 4, 2010

O Captain, My Captain.

Raul Gonzales Blanco: There are few on the Planet who can match his understanding of the meaning of a Real Madrid badge.
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“O Captain my Captain! our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weathered every rack, the prize we sought is won;
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring…
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…O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for you the bugle trills;
For you bouquets and ribboned wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding;
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning…”
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-excerpts from Walt Whitman's 'O Captain, My Captain'
I’m finding it very difficult to get my head around the fact that Raul has finally left Real Madrid.
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Amidst the annual summer and winter transfer circuses…
Amidst the comings and going of coaches by the dozen…
Amidst the glory and infamy of many a Presidential Project…
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Raul Gonzalez Blanco was the one constant in Real Madrid. It really did seem that when God created the idea of a Real Madrid Captain: he was thinking about Raul. Born ‘on the wrong side of Madrid’ (i.e. started out as an apprentice of Atletico), turned out to be a prodigy and then into the Golden Boy of Madrid. He then of course ‘grew into a man’ and into the Captain’s armband – taking over from the emblematic Fernando Hierro. The world saw him develop from a skinny boy wonder – into the symbol of what every Real Madrid player must aspire for: unquestionable in talent, unrelenting in fighting spirit, and above all, an honorable, dignified human being even without the uniform.
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My being a Madridista has unfortunately no spanned long enough for me to see a scrawny 17-year old Raul make his debut in the ‘17’ jersey. I have instead seen what was pretty much a finished product: tireless effort and running on the pitch, great predatory instincts and an incredible footballing IQ, coupled with just the right level of technical ability to compensate for his lack of athletic gifts (he was never the fastest, strongest or most agile player). Guillem Balague once described him as a 7/10 in terms of the various skills of a footballer… but his overall contributions to his team add up to a 10/10. Through the course of his nearly 2 decades at Real Madrid, he has amassed a CV that very few footballers can ever match.
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Raul was on his way to joining a very exclusive group of one-club of players: reaching not just greatness as an individual footballer but also as a talisman for his club. This is perhaps the reason why many lament his decision NOT to join the likes of Ryan Giggs, Francesco Totti, Alessandro Del Piero and the like… much to the chagrin of many Madridistas.
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But perhaps this is the Real Madrid way? Real Madrid after all did not see the likes of Di Stefano, Butragueno & Juanito retire in the white shirt. Di Stefano went on to play for Espanyol while Butra & Juanito (Raul’s ‘ancestors’ in the ‘7’ shirt) played a few extra years in Mexico & Malaga respectively. It is true that all of us as fans yearn for a Michael Jordan-in-Chicago-like retirement (championship-winning jumper in the NBA Finals to clinch his 6th title) for one of the greatest footballers our beloved Real Madrid had ever seen. Despite the wonderful prospect of seeing our hero come to a story-book ending, we must accept and respect the warrior spirit in him that still keeps his desire to play on to burn fiercely.
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We must also accept that Raul has now come to a point in his career where he can no longer be that permanent fixture in Real Madrid’s starting XI... that had he stayed on with the club, he would still be the third choice striker after Higuain and even Benzema... that he would’ve been left to fight for the Copa Del Rey and to fill in during La Liga games for players being rested for an upcoming Champions League match (a tournament he craves so badly to play in). Many of his critics…those who have called him the black hand behind Madrid… were proven wrong last season as Raul gracefully accepted his diminished role in this era of the Florenteam.
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But his warrior-spirit craved for more. And it is this that has taken him to Germany – to continue his adventure as a PROFESSIONAL FOOTBALLER (instead of choosing to stay in Madrid, and bask in his god-like status from the bench)… to continue to scratch his itch to compete at the highest level (Schalke are after all in the Champions League and have been contenders in the Bundesliga)… turning the Billions of Madridistas the world over to cheer for the Bundesliga’s newest player and newest team: Schalke 07.
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Perhaps it is sad to see and realize that arguably Spain’s greatest ever footballer only managed to see his countrymen lift the World Cup just as he had lost his place in the National Team. Perhaps it is sad to see him leave at a time when Real Madrid are finally on the brink on assembling a balanced side under the orders of a World Class Manager who has finally been given the control over the team. But mostly many of us are sad to see him take this path because we’ve always thought about what WE wanted for Raul.
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As I’ve spent over a week to ponder this however, I’ve finally gotten to a point where I am now just that he’s happy. And I admire him more now for showing us all just how great his desire is to continue to compete. Florentino is right: this is not a ‘Good Bye’ but a ‘See you Soon’. For us Raul fans, the ‘7’ lives on: we will now actually once again have the chance to see him play every week again and midweek in the Champions League too.
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And for us Real Madrid Fans the ‘7’ must live on. Enough of this rubbish about retiring the ‘7’. Raul is now part of the heritage and lineage that every Real Madrid player must honor and live up to… and just as he has carried on the legacy of Juanito and Butragueno… so must the next bearer of Real Madrid’s ‘7’.
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To Raul, from all of us Madridistas… Thank You.
We will be still be cheering on for you… and of course, we await your return.