Monday, July 18, 2011

The Ex-Galacticos vs. The Galaxy (Part 1): Jersey Numbers and then Some…

Ah here they are again at last: Real Madrid matches. Nevermind that they’re only friendlies. For die-hard Madridistas like myself, there are never enough of them… and though fatherhood has helped a lot with the Real Madrid withdrawal symptoms, they never go away permanently. Last Sunday morning (Saturday evening LA time I think), Real Madrid played their first pre-season match against the LA Galaxy who were in the middle of their season.
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My Little Madridsita
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The boys in white had ridiculous tans. I blame either the California sun for this or Cristiano Ronaldo’s metrosexual-tendencies-on-steroids becoming a pervading influence on the entire team (they were in Hollywood after all). As this will be my first post in a long time, forgive the rust. It didn’t help of course that the game coincided with my ‘shift’ to take care of my nearly 2-month old little Madridista during the time the game was showing online (I HATE the Singapore Cable TV networks’ coverage of this football preseason thus far). And since there was no Ronaldo, Ozil, Benzema or Xabi Alonso on show in the first half, he wasn’t too keen on watching (I had to carry him, walking about a few rounds around the apartment to keep him from getting bored – resulting in me missing out on patches of on-the-pitch action).
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I’ve got a couple of thoughts on the tactics used for the match which I’ll post sometime this week. Some of these thoughts of course will overlap with my thoughts on individual players and their respective performances. Anyway, here goes:
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Pre-season Jersey Numbers aren’t usually the ‘final’ rubber-stamped jersey numbers for the season but they’re a pretty good indication on what will be rubber stamped on the backs of the players’ jerseys come the season. Someone at RMFB was asking why there were no names on the jerseys… well, this is because it’s somewhat ‘protocol’ for friendlies. Either way, let’s go through some notable performances from the boys yesterday:
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6 – Sami Khedira. So Sami’s finally taken the ‘6’, left out by Diarra and Adebayor. One would have thought this’d be a good number for Lass too, but being that he’s waiting for someone to pay 18m Euros for him in Madrid, Sami then took the number and looked good in it – it was as I remember also his number for the German National team.
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7 – Cristiano Ronaldo. Cristiano Ronaldo is as close to Hollywood as you would get to a European Footballer (Becks after all is ALREADY in Hollywood). The fans went nuts when they saw him get up to warm up and totally went bonkers when a moment that got me yelling ‘Pass it you F%cking ball hog!’ ended with a ‘Bloody F#ck. What a Goal!’. As the fans and Ronaldo’s teammates went nuts, for me, it ended with ‘Can you please watch your mouth when you’re with the baby!’ from the wife.
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8 – Kaka. He looked fit, he looked lively, he asked for the ball, he took defenders on (and almost had them fall on their own ankles, backpedalling to keep up) and created some fabulous goalscoring opportunities (including the opening goal). Mourinho spoke about wanting to get the old Kaka back – maybe he wasn’t just talking out of his ass when he said that.
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10 – Ozil. Boy did our google-eyed Martian playmaker look a nice fit for the ‘10’ (I’ve got him wearing it on my PSP already hahaha). With Man-Ci-Ni of Man-Ci-Ty expressing his desire for Aguero as a replacement to Argentine-Copa-America-Sacrificial-Lamb Tevez, perhaps Ozil’s comment that the ’10’ is waiting for Aguero won’t come true. His neat interplaying with Ronaldo in the second half was a nice sight to see again and one that befits a fantasista wearing Real Madrid’s ‘10’.
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11 – Granero. ‘Barn’ or ‘Grain Dealer’ (Google Translate’s names for him) played in the ‘Alonso role’ at the heart of the midfield alongside Khedira. Maybe it’s because we were playing an MLS side on ‘friendly mode’… or maybe he just had a really good game. Maybe not. Maybe he’s just really that good and for the first time in a long time, we saw the Granero that we all wanted to see: kept the passing patterns of the team well-oiled and logical (i.e. no mindless passing over and over back to the defense ala Lady Gago). He even got everyone to piss off the ball because he wanted to take the Free Kick late in the first half.
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15 – Fabio Coentrao. Coentrao took the ‘15’ which Drenthe will hopefully never wear again. It’s interesting to compare the current and former ‘15’ of Real Madrid. The former (Drenthe) came to Madrid as a PROSPECT at the cost of 14m supposedly as some sort of athletic phenomenon whose position on the pitch we never quite knew at that time. We pretty much ‘settled’ it as him being either a Left Back or a Left-Sided midfielder: he is still neither. Seriously, if Real Madrid can’t find a club who will take him (or whom he will take), perhaps we can find a Reggae band or a Hip Hop Group who will?
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The current 15 (Coentrao) on the other hand, has come as a ridiculously over-priced player (30m including Garay) for a supposedly a position we’re already covered nicely for: Left Back. On the back of yesterday’s performance however, it’s clear that he’s more than that. Playing the first half as part of the 3-man attack between the lone-striker and the double pivot, he interchanged positions constantly with Callejon and Kaka creating absolute mayhem in the LA midfield and defense. In the second half, he played as a ‘pivot’ alongside Xabi Alonso too, but occasionally making ‘raids’ forward that continued to befuddle the Galaxy. He was as comfortable in those multiple roles as a surfer dude with his bleach-blonde hairdo in California.
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30m for a Left Back is indeed too much. 30m for a Left Back / Left-or-Right-Winger / Attacking Midfielder / Central Midfielder… now that’s a thought. Looking back to Royston Drenthe, the prospect whose athleticism and physical gifts many marveled at some years back, perhaps this was what was envisioned of him. On the back of yesterday’s performance, Fabio Coentrao fulfilled the role that many perhaps hoped Drenthe would fill: an amazingly fit, all-action player who could play almost everywhere: a true Mourinho player.
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Just a thought: Coentrao is the 2nd Benfica player in consecutive seasons whom we signed and had many balking at the price. Last year it was Di Maria: he’s not so overpriced at 25m Euros now. And to put things perhaps further into context (or maybe out of it): in the AXL (Almighty Xenophobe League), Liverpool signed 27-year old Stewart Downing for 20 GBP (23m Euros), they truly believe wholeheartedly that with this super critical signing, they can make FIFTH place in the AXL.
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19 – Raphael Varane. Just as Coentrao seems to be the man to accomplish the unfulfilled role envisioned for Drenthe, Varane seems to be the man envisioned to do the same for Garay: that of a ‘trainee’ centerback who can one day grow into grand-daddy Carvalho’s boots. Varane and Garay make for a very interesting comparison. It wasn’t too long ago where we found a Racing Santander starlet who looked like having the goods to play for a us… and Barca supposedly wanted him too! (No, I’m not talking about Sergio Canales YET) A Centerback, who might be able to play DM too who took nasty free kicks and was also a penalty specialist (even scoring 2 daggers against us). We bought him for 10m (same price as Canales). We loaned him out for one year to Racing to let him keep getting first team experience (like we plan to now with Canales) and when he finally joins us, we realize that perhaps he’s not Real Madrid-Starting XI-calibre after all.
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Here’s the difference: Garay, now at a point wherein we know he’s never going to be a first choice Centerback for Real Madrid after all those years of him being a ‘prospect’ is now 24. If Garay was truly going to be good enough to be a starting XI player for Real Madrid, we’d have known by now – especially during the Pellegrini season where he played alongside Albiol. He never gave me that ‘Ah…yes… he’s a Real Madrid player’ moment during the times he played (I remember feeling that way about Pepe once I saw him play fully fit). As of now, there are 2 players who are of this ‘tenure track’ at Madrid: the 20-year-old Canales and Varane at 18 years of age. Both at around 10million each: we will find out if they will either become the Spanish Ozil or French Pique or if they will turn out to be the Spanish Gago or the French Garay.
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Over the last few years, Madrid spent money on a series of promising youth prospects: 13m for Higuain, 6m for Marcelo, 20m for Gago, 10m for Garay and 14m for Drenthe. That’s 63m Euros. Today, I value Higuain at 35m, Marcelo at 25m, Gago for 8, Garay for 8, Drenthe for 3 = 79m (a difference of +16m). On the same principle, even if only one of Canales and Varane turn out to fulfill their perceived potential, we stand to gain a ‘profit’. If both live true to their perceived potential over the next couple of years, then we can let Carvalho and even Kaka to retire in grace.
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So is Callejon our new Pop-star in the team post-Lady Gago? What should we call him? JoeCal? Vanilla Merengue?

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21 – Jose Callejon. He took Pedro Leon’s ‘21’. Hmmm… #21 playing on the flanks for Madrid: anyone remember the well-loved and classy Santi Solari? He was no Galactico but played more than competently alongside them as starter and sub for many years. Here’s to hoping Callejon (or ‘Alley’ or ‘Lane’ as Google Translate likes to call him) doing the same without having to get shafted out of the club by a mindless Galactico policy like Santi did.
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Suggestion to the Marketing Executives of the club: First, get a SUPER lucrative endorsement deal with a hairgel company: can you imagine the pile of cash the club stands to earn with CRon and JoeCal endorsing those? Next idea: manufacture and sell Callejon-hairstyle wigs at the club shop: you guys will make a killing.
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29 – Joselu. Unlike some of my co-RMFB writers, I’m not a diehard cantera fan. I embrace the fact that Real Madrid is not just the club of Madrid or Spain, but it is the club of the World. On that basis, I am a believer that only the absolute best players that can be put together to form a TEAM are to play with for my beloved Merengues. Thus, I’m not naïve enough to believe that the best 25 players of the world can be put together and be called a Real Madrid squad. I believe in a realistic balance of players to assemble the best team.
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Here’s where my opinion on the Cantera come in: IF there are cantera players that are truly good enough to play for Real Madrid’s first team, then they should. Canteranos in my humble opinion are to play for Real Madrid if they are deemed good enough, not because they are canteranos. On that basis, I mourn the fact that the managements of the past were too stupid to recognize the talents of world-class canteranos who were once amongst us (I speak of Etoo, Cambiasso, Borja Valero and Mata among others)… or enact strategies that would have allowed us to hold on to them for long enough us to hold onto them till they reached their true level.
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The return of Callejon (supposedly at the request of Mourinho) and the presence of the likes of Arbeloa and Granero, both Canternos deemed important to the squad though not necessarily as starters is a return to the cantera direction that I favor. I would imagine though that Etoo and perhaps Borja or even Cambiasso would be good enough to start even in this Real Madrid. It is on this basis that I believe that the 3rd striker of Real Madrid should be a Canterano.
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When a youngster like Joselu would have the audacity to pull a Robinho-esque maneuver on David Beckham (run on the left flank and then turn to the right to shoot between his legs) and succeed, it tells you that there are resources there that we may not necessarily be tapping fully into. If Mourinho wants a real #9 Target Man, I’d rather we let Alvaro Morata be that guy even if we can manage to land Adebayor on the cheap with a paycut.
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More thoughts on yesterday's game on Part 2. Thoughts on Tactics up next...

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