Monday, January 3, 2011

New Year – Old Problems

The Club that loves to buy attacking players so much, is short on strikers. Hilarious.
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I slept with my Real Madrid Jersey on New Year’s Eve as part of my wish for titles this 2011. Today, typing this over my lunch break in my first days back to work from my Holidays in Manila… I’m kick-starting 2011 to talk about a several-month-old problem that threatens the possibilities of seeing the team visit La Cibeles this year. It seems that it’s now clear and inevitable that my current favorite Real Madrid player, Gonzalo ‘Pipita’ Higuain will be gone for the rest of the season as he goes under the knife to sort out his back’s herniated disc.
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It smelled inevitable from the beginning, yet somehow, the club, the player and the fans (including this one) allowed an unhealthy dose of hope to creep in only to delay the inevitable and even prolong the effects of the situation.
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Even, according to the official website’s ‘official’ translation of Mourinho’s statement, his anger and frustration at those who have given us all false hope is palpable:
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“The Medical Staff and myself have been certain for one month that Higuain must have surgery. There were some enlightened people who said he could recover without surgery and people tend to accept as truth that which they want to hear. These enlightened people changed their opinion after a month and Higuain must now have an operation.”
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The Marca Version essentially calls Dr. Enric Caceres a wise-ass, with Mourinho’s statement mentioning: “A Lie Repeated Becomes the Truth.”
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The Consequences
The result of this classic case of ‘I Told You So!’ now means that Real Madrid, if it chooses not to go into the transfer market will have to rely on the unreliable Karim Benzema as our main weapon up front… at least until Kaka can regain full match fitness to give us some additional, albeit unconventional formations up front (i.e. Ronaldo as a striker). Despite not always agreeing to his commentary, I have to say that I found myself nodding as I read AS’s Alfredo Relano’s column today … especially when he says that ‘So far, Karim Benzema has only managed to solve 2 problems that didn’t really exist: Auxerre and Levante’ - referring to the Frenchman’s 2 Cup Hat tricks in essentially meaningless games (though the Levante game did in fact count – albeit not in the sense that they REALLY worried us).
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So now that we’ve miserably put ourselves into the dangerous position forewarned by Jose Mourinho earlier this season… we must now seriously ponder the choices that are available to us. Choice, thankfully is a luxury that Real Madrid still have now that the winter transfer window has opened.
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Option – 1 Acquire a New Striker
I'm willing to wait till the summer for Llorente
The operative word in the above statement is “acquire”: something which can be done by either purchasing a player or by loaning a player. My theory on the matter is that Madrid are trying their best to NOT make a signing in order to keep this coming summer’s acquisition plans (I smell Fernando Llorente). Below are some of the options being mooted in the press:

Emmanuel Adebayor
I really liked Adebayor at Arsenal... before he turned into a sulky loser at Man City. I do think that a loan deal for him would be great though.
Positives: Adebayor is no Julian Faubert despite his current state of sulking. During his best days at Arsenal and in his early days with Man City, the Togolese striker has shown the capability to score goals effectively in a lone striker role, frequently with his back to the goal – just the sort of thing Jose Mourinho was looking for in the first place. Taking him on loan in my opinion would NOT be a bad idea. In a way, it’d be like what we did with Jose Antonio Reyes several years back: he didn’t set the League on fire, but he did make a significant enough of a contribution to our La Liga title-winning campaign. If Adebayor turns out to be a revelation, then it’s all good… if he sulks (unlikely to happen under Mourinho) and performs poorly, we can just happily ship him back off to Manchester and allow our annual summer purchasing roller coaster to take place. Credibility to the rumors of his possible loan to us will reach is peak if Man City manage to acquire Dzeko for Wolfsburg.
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Negatives: Apart from the fact that any striker signing would be an indirect statement to Benzema that he isn’t trusted (despite that fact already being plain for all to see), Adebayor’s reportedly high salary might also ruffle a few feathers in the Madrid dressing room.
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Verdict: If it’s a loan deal: go for it!
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Miroslav Klose
Positives: A proven goal scorer. He can score in big games too! With just under a year to go in his contract, the German World Cup scoring star would be a neat pickup as he’d likely be available at cut-price. He’d feel right at home too with the likes of Khedira and Ozil already in the team. Also, given his age (32), there’s a unique selling point to finishing your career with Real Madrid in your CV. If he can be convinced into accepting the role, he can be like Pippo Inzaghi for Milan: play when the 1st choice strikers are out or come in as an impact sub.
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Negatives: NOT a proven consistent goalscorer AT CLUB LEVEL. The thing that turns me off about him however is that he’s ‘just a striker’. He’s not the hulking physical presence up front at Mourinho likes. Looking into the future, the possibility of luring Llorente would only be logical if we all finally decide to give up on Benzema.
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Verdict: Ok – only if he’s worth less than 10m, is willing to accept being a squad player once Pipita is available again or if Benzema realizes his potential.
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Nelson Valdez
Positives: The Paraguayan striker is proven in La Liga given his current exploits for Hercules where his goalscoring numbers have impressed and his workrate has astounded many. His character in big games, especially after his performance against Barca also cannot be questioned. The big attraction point to him however is his pricetag: 5m Euros for a guy who’s scored 6 goals in 11 games for is cheap.
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Negatives: While his workrate would undoubtedly impress Jose Mourinho, his natural position as a guy who drifts back and forth from the front lines to the midfield is not what we currently need. Signing him would also mean a possible re-think of our summer signing strategy up front.
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Verdict: While buying players who are value for money is a virtue to be praised, I feel that going for Valdez would be a purchase made more for his value rather than for the purpose of fulfilling a need. Valdez, despite being a great pickup is ultimately not the ‘9’ we are looking for.
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Romelu Lukaku
Positives: The Belgian Beast is every bit as menacing as the player he is currently being compared to: Didier Drogba… 13 years from now according to my PSP (I’ve got him playing for my team in FIFA11’s Manager Mode). Either way, despite playing in the ‘weaker’ Belgian League: being topscorer in a European League at age 17 however is no joke. By the way, did I mention that he’s already publicly stated his dream to play for Real Madrid and Jose Mourinho?
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Negatives: He’s 17! And he costs 15m.
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Verdict: Signing him at this point would make little sense if the objective is to get someone proven and reliable to rescue us in the goalscoring department. Bringing him in would be a neat prospect if we were to strategize from the point of view of for example, signing Klose, then purchasing him once the German retires while Pipita and Benzema at 24-25 years old can count on a 20-21 year old Lukaku as backup. Otherwise, we might as well take our chances with Benzema and Morata (see below)
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Edin Dzeko
Positives: The towering Bosnian striker is the hulking ‘9’ Mourinho seems to be looking for. 66 goals in 111 Bundesliga appearances, to lead his club in breaking Bayern’s German hegemony is a serious achievement. At age 24, he’s also at the right age to hit his best form.
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Negatives: He’s supposedly worth 40m Euros. Compare that to the La Liga-proven and World Cup-winning Fernando Llorente whose buyout clause is at 36m Euros, and you pretty much get an understanding as to why Florentino hasn’t gone nuts at the prospect of signing the Bosnian. The bidding process is no cakewalk either: having to battle with cash-rich Manchester City will be a tricky task (as I'm typing up this blog entry, Wiki-pedia actually has him as a Man City Player already).
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Verdict: Wait for Llorente in the summer. With Florentino’s supposed plan to ‘hispanicize the club’, Llorente fits the bill both for his qualities on the pitch as well as those off it. And with a buyout clause of 36m and a rival bidder (Barca) short on cash and stocked full of quality up front (Messi, Villa, Pedro), the possibilities are rosy this summer.
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Option 2 – Stick with the Current Roster
This is obviously not Mourinho’s preferred option. And why should we all be surprised? Mourinho knows that his massive ego, his enormous reputation, if not his job, is at stake here and he’s very understandably not keen to pin his hopes on the yet-to-REALLY-wake-up Karim Benzema, much less the Alvaro Morata, who despite his potential, is still essentially a project. Mourinho is not wrong to prefer a ‘safer’ approach to the problem through the purchase of a striker – it’s his job to prefer going for a striker.
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I on the other hand, am willing to see the club take a risk for the sake of a longer term plan that can allow us to REALLY test out whether we should but 1 or 2 strikers next summer: i.e. find out if Benzema is really a Real Madrid player. And if not, we should then buy Llorente + a replacement for the Frenchman as we also welcome Pipita back. (Easy for me to say given that it’s not my job on the line).
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In the meantime, we can use the 14 matches prior to the Lyon Champions League tie to:
1.) Test the mettle of Karim Benzema as our ‘9’
2.) Give Morata playing time and the chance for him to win a permanent spot in the squad
3.) Nurse Kaka back to full fitness with a view to playing him as part of the starting XI with Ronaldo in the striker’s role: giving us an alternative to Benzema in the starting XI within the 4-2-3-1 ‘Dog Formation’.
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Football Fans Know Better
This Lineup looks pretty menacing to me. A fully-fit Kaka would make us a Nightmare-on-the-Pitch for Opposing Teams
Assuming (a dangerous assumption however) that we can get a fully-fit Kaka to slot into Mourinho’s 4-2-3-1 to take Ronaldo’s place on the left side (where he can play as an inverted attacking midfielder / winger to drift inwards to his favored right foot). The rest of the attacking ‘trident’ behind the Striker will remain the same with Ozil in the middle and Di Maria on the right. Ronaldo will then take his place at the Center Forward position where he has the flexibility to play as a 9 using his height and aerial ability or as a false 9 ala Messi where he can drop deep to collect the ball and use his pace to run at defenders. I do think that it’s a pretty mean-looking attack.
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In any case, we’ve got a full month to watch the transfer market and see how it pans out. Let’s just all hope it turns out for the best.

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