Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Water Polo and the Cantera Games (Levante 1 - Real Madrid 2)

David Navarro is a thug. Thankfully, neither the pitch nor Levante's extensive practice of Football's 'Dark Arts' got in the way of getting 3 points tonight for us.

For some odd TV scheduling reason, by the time I switched the TV on at 4:30am this morning to watch Levante-Real Madrid, Atletico vs Getafe was still on (82’). By the time the TV coverage of last night’s Levante-Real Madrid match started, the match was already at 7’ and the FIRST picture of the match that showed on TV was Ronaldo’s sporting that ugly blackeye. ‘Holy F%ck’ I said to myself: not even 10 minutes into the game, and already Levante are sticking it to our boys with their elbows, punches and kicks. At that point in time, I had not yet seen the replay that showed David Navarro’s UFC-style elbow maneuver on Ronaldo.
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If my memory serves me right, Real Madrid have failed to win at Levante for the past 2 seasons, which was why I looked at this game as one that was far from a being a secure 3 points, regardless of our injury situation. Levante after all are a team who make no bones about using the game's 'dark arts' to full effect in order to get the results they need. This is why I am aghast at the reactions of certain Levante players who are putting on this show of outrage over what happened last night. 'We wuz robbed' they say. Robbed??? You guys almost cracked Ronaldo's skull open you dipshits! Their players' reactions I must say smacked of being sore losers: after going through a game whose conditions favored their 'style' more than ours, it was Mourinho's men who came out on top for the simple fact that it was Real Madrid who adjusted better to the appalling pitch conditions. Even as I rant here about how Barca would surely throw a bitch fit if they had to play through such conditions, I too have to say that it was an embarrassment for a top-tier football match to be allowed to be played under such conditions. How can a professional Football League even make a claim to among the best (if not the best) football leagues in the world if a match between its defending champion and one of its representatives in continental competition can hardly even be called a football match? The Ciudad de Valencia Stadium's pitch resembled a swimming pool given how it allowed the ball to move. They might as well have asked both teams to play water polo last night.
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Pool Games
The winner of last night's match was also clearly the team that managed to adjust best to the fact that the match's farcical conditions had degraded to a water polo match - and that was the surprise. Who knew that in a match about rough-and-tumble tactics and long balls, that Real Madrid could manage 2-goals and win against Levante? Needless to say, some Real Madrid players adjusted to the match conditions better than others.
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For Real Madrid, it would be the our 2 midfielders: Xabi Alonso and Michael Essien, both of whom have seen their fair share of 'A Cold Night in Stoke'-type of battles from the Premiership who excelled. Xabi Alonso won practically every 50-50 ball and made some fantastic long balls that created lots of danger at the Levante box (I'll chalk up his missed penalty which he blasted right through the middle as wanting to take a 'risk-free' shot). For Essien, his strength, power and tidiness in possession helped Madrid take control of the game. Indeed, the 2 played as if they missed those water-logged pitches in lower league division teams in England whom they'd visit in their cup runs - not to mention the wet rainy conditions they frequently had to train under during their weekdays in England. Our first goal would be scored by Ronaldo (another Premier League veteran), who despite reportedly having lost vision on both eyes form Navarro's elbow, still knew where the goal was and had the presence of mind to control and bounce the ball off his thigh before striking it home - fully knowing that allowing the ball to make contact with the ground could see the scoring chance go up in smoke. It must be noted though that despite being declared as Real Madrid's designated '9' for the night, Ronaldo hardly played there - spending most of his 45-minute spell playing off Callejon, who pretty much functioned as the team's '9' for most of the night until Morata came on. i also felt that Vanilla Jose Callejon's tireless running, coupled by the simplicity of his game (no elaborate dribbling or risky passing attempts) was indeed very useful out there on Levante's 'water polo pitch'.
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Unlike our midfielders, Ronaldo and Callejon, Real Madrid still had a few players who failed in adjusting to the match conditions. The most guilty culprit of all was Angel Di Maria. Mourinho did praise him after the game - that praise in my opinion however is only deserved for his effort and his live wire performance. When it came to the actual goods however, Di Maria's propensity to make the wrong decision on-the-fly was made worse by his inability to alter this approach to the game with the circumstances: Di Maria continued attempting those through-passes and found many of his balls intercepted, he attempted too many dribbling manuevers that didn't come off (also thanks to the pitch conditions) and worst of all, he made an unnecessarily cheeky attempt to chip the goalkeeper on the break and fail. His miss would cost dearly with Levante finding an equalizer. The Madrid player however who had an absolute stinker was Raul Albiol. Jose Mourinho brought him on as a sub in the second half as the bottom tip of a diamond midfield to bring security to the back. He did the opposite: committing countless errors that required some great saves from Iker to erase.
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Canterano Questions
A Cantera Hero is born: We all knew Morata was special and we were all waiting for validation of it for the past few seasons. We all got it last night. We're proud of you Alvarito!

The man of the night last night (or perhaps 'boy' of the night?) as Alvaro Morata. Needing a goal after Levante's equalizer, I had tweeted that perhaps Mou ought to send Kaka in for Ozil to bring some fresh legs onto the match (given how the soggy pitch would have been surely energy-sapping especially for the low-stamina Ozil) and to send Morata in for Callejon in order to give Real Madrid a target man out there for them to knock those long balls and dead balls. Many had in fact commented that Mourinho sent him on too late (he only had 8 minutes). It was Morata though who scored the cathartic game-winner for us with his first touch of the ball last night.
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It's of course now impossible not to talk about what happened last night without talking about Real Madrid's 'Canterano Question' in light of Mourinho's public 'confrontation' with Alberto Toril. There now 2 main questions that I wish to answer in this regard. The first question in my opinion is the most important one of all:
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What Now for Morata?
Despite having been awarded a professional contract by Mourinho, it is my understanding that there is a maximum number of games that Morata is allowed to appear for the first team before he is made ineligible for Real Madrid Castilla. Where then does he go in light of the now-undeniable evidence (we knew he had the goods to play for the first team but there wasn't that blatant evidence until last night) that he is first team material... that letting him slip would be like letting our last true gem, Juan Mata slip away. Part of this question also goes to Jose Mourinho who has 2 world-class strikers at his disposal with neither of them fit. Does Mourinho formally take Morata away from Castilla? And if he does, is it good for the young Morientes-doppelganger to be playing behind 2 world-class strikers?
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Pre-season reports show Morata being considered by Mourinho as a Cristiano Ronaldo substitute (as if Cristiano really ever gets substituted) in light of his successful deployment on the left wing last season. His height and undeniable history as a successful '9' though means that he is also a legitimate backup to Benzema and Higuain and can play the 'Adebayor' role for the team: the specialist target man who can be brought on in specific instances of a match like last night where his skills are best suited (just as a way to get young Alvaro started). My opinion on the matter is that we should let circumstances dictate the course of action. Taking Morata from Castilla just for the sake of it might see this young gem pegged back in the pecking order with little chance to play. Leaving him in Castilla on the other hand would mean that the first team would be denied the use of such a wonderful talent in times of need and also deprive him of the chance to make the jump. In my opinion, Mourinho should continue to call him up for games where he is needed and be kept as a sub in games where Mourinho has an available striker. He should however, not consider the 'quota' when deciding whether to use or not to use Morata for the match: if the match needs young Alvaro, then send him in and let the chips fall where they may: if Morata exceeds the limit of appearances that sees him cross the threshold to become a full time first team player - then so be it.
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Exciting times for La Fabrica. RMFB's Twitter handler (Kaushik?) commented that last night's events reminded him of Raul. I replied back saying that Morata reminded me much more of Raul's BFF Morientes. His reply summed it up wonderfully: the style of play was clearly Morientes, the narrative however was all Raul. At this point in time, I can honestly say that there isn't a player out there whom I crave to see a Real Madrid shirt. In my opinion, the team has reached is peak in terms of quality, personnel-wise - it must now take the next step to blood our young talents from La Fabrica and mix them with its young world class talent to construct the Real Madrid of Madridismo's dreams.
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Fifty Shades of Real Madrid Grey
"In Real Madrid's case, perhaps more than Barcelona's, you must also remember that the Madridistas' secret dream is to repeat the events of the mid-1980s, and forge a side from local stone with the same qualities as the mythical "Quinta del Buitre", the vulture squadron led by Emilio Butragueno and his local buddies (although one of the five, Miguel Pardeza, was from Huelva). This legacy haunts the club in many ways, and forces them to pretend that, in some not-so-distant future, the galacticos will return to their planets and the reserve side will supply a never-ending batch of spunky local youngsters, all up for the cause like Raul (who was actually brought up at Atletico, but never mind) and Michel, to quote just two. This truth is an ironic one, given the post-millennial notion that Barcelona is the cantera (youth set-up) and Madrid the cartera(wallet), when the reality of Barcelona's traditional mind-set was that of their cosmopolitanism, as opposed to Madrid's paternalistic Spanish outlook. You'd have to ask an older culé now what they think of all this. Famous Catalans have of course been present throughout the club's history, but it is only recently that the club has started to make a public virtue of this, probably to draw attention to Madrid's own lack of a youth policy. It's a touchy subject, and I'll leave it there."
-Phil Ball breaks the myth of Laporta's 'Barca-Cantera, Madrid-Cartera' propaganda and raises a few questions of for Real Madrid to ponder. Full article here:
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We must remember that even before Morata's performance last night, a media war has been going on between Mourinho and Castilla Coach Alberto Toril supported by many Spanish Pundits. To me, the matter is a 'grey area' - because while I think that Mourinho's points are correct (I'll explain below), I question his motives.
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Mourinho is in my opinion correct to say that he is NOT the culprit Real Madrid's disappointing treatment of its cantera. Indeed it was not he who let the likes Etoo, Negredo, Soldado, Mata and Borja Valero leave the club and show the world that Real Madrid missed out. Granero did leave under Mou's watch - but El Pirata himself said that Mourinho didn't want him to leave. We should also not forget that last night's goal-scoring debutate hero Morata credits Mourinho for the chance he was afforded. Perhaps its because we remember Mourinho's Chelsea core as its current 'old guard' despite the fact that the core of that team (Terry, Lampard, Essien, Robben, the 2 Coles, Drogba) were all about the same age as Ozil, Di Maria & Khedira when he arrived / brought them in. Perhaps it was because apart from a few pieces in their squad, the core of Mourinho's treble-winning Inter was comprised of more 'senior players.' Either way, I do find that tagging Mou as anti-Cantera is unfair.
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i also find Mourinho's gripes re: the Cantera to be valid. I agree with him that Real Madrid Castilla should prioritize the development of young players over league placing objectives. Mourinho is right: if a Castilla player reaches the age of 23 / 24 (the age Ozil / Di Maria / Khedira joined us), they are likely no longer going to make the Real Madrid first team and instead promising teenagers like Jose Rodriguez should be prioritized in terms of playing time and be given more than bit parts. He's also right that Castilla, Real Madrid C and even the juvenil sides ought to be playing the same system as the first team to allow the seamless transition of players from one level to another - and that any candidates for the first team should be played in the position they are being eyed for in the first team. Heck, even Barca horn tooters share this opinion.
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Having said that, it's also fitting to discuss all of this after seeing the kind of physical beating our first team just went through at Levante. Physical play, a bag full of dirty tricks and shit pitches: these are the sort of teams that populate the Segunda A. These are the sort of teams that also eat teenage 'puppies' for breakfast - especially if those pups are wearing uniforms with a Real Madrid badge on their chests. And with keeping the team within the Segunda A important, striking a balance between winning and staying in segunda A and developing the team's young talent is imperative. This is where the communication factor across the various levels of the club football program becomes important... something that Real Madrid seem to be really lacking at the moment.
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Despite Mourinho's very valid points however, it's hard to keep him off the grey areas given certain points:
1.) Why does he need to air it out in a public forum?
2.) The timing of this statements seems clearly aimed to take attention off Madrid's failure to beat Borussia Dortmund over 2 games
3.) Is he trying to get Toril fired? In favor of another one of his buddies (or Jorge Mendes clients?)
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Thus, though the footballing logic behind his rants are clear and are more than valid, it's also difficult to get around what over motives he might have over the ruckus that he has raised over the Cantera. Regardless of all this though, I do think that it's fair to say that Jose Mourinho is no enemy of the Cantera and that he in fact should be given some credit, even just a bit. This to me isn't a case of black and white, but a murky territory with various shades of grey.
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Happy Deepavali
Finally, I'd like to end this post by wishing all our Indian Readers a Happy Deepavali!

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