Monday, December 24, 2007

2008 Wish List Part I: Lulinha

Madrid are almost incessantly linked to high priced transfer talent, ranging from Didier Drogba to Diego to Kaka.

Madrid is behind a lot of the top European talent in terms of future stars, and they should try to stockpile as much young talent as possible in order to find their Giovani dos Santos, Bojan, or Alexandre Pato. Madrid simply don't have anyone near that level, and there are several young players that could be on that level that Madrid should target in the coming year.

The first such player is Lulinha, (Luiz Marcelo Morais dos Reis), born in Maua, Brazil on April 10, 1990.

Already being dubbed the "The new Ronaldinho" by, this 17 year-old world-beater is well on his way to a big-time transfer in the near future.

The 17 year-old just recently committed his future to his Brazilian club Corinthians, and it will *keep* him with the club until December 31, 2012. The four-and-a-half year deal will reportedly pay him the equivalent of £24million, an amazing sum for the young star. Lulinha actually rejected advances from top European talent, namely Chelsea and also Inter Milan, so it will be a project to get him to leave before the end of his contract.

Corinthians President Andres Sanchez, understandably proud of being able to keep top world clubs at bay, said after the signing, "Now to take him off Corinthians, the interested club would have to pay $50 million American dollars, and the player has 25 per cent of his rights."

This kind of statement, while some may read it as saying the player is off-limits, I interpret as an admission that Lulinha can be had, for the right price. People that are curious may note that, for a club dealing in euros, $50 million is a shrinking figure, and certainly not an outrageous sum for Madrid to pay for a young player.

Need I remind anyone of the two headscratchers of the past year, namely the 20 million euro transfer fee payed by Madrid for little known midfielder Fernando Gago, as well the outrageous 30 million euro transfer paid for little known defender Pepe. Neither was rated anywhere near Lulinha's stratosphere, but the Madrid brass deemed them worth those hefty transfer fees.

Madrid have the money, as well as the gall, to pay 34.7 million euros for a player who's unproven at the highest level. He is, according to a article, blessed, "With his breathtaking cocktail of flicks and tricks, defence-splitting through-balls and assured finishing, the 17-year-old, who is equally at home in an attacking midfield role or operating as a second forward, is every bit the classic Brazilian No10." He's about as good a bet to be worth a big time transfer as anyone, much like Sergio Ramos was when Madrid paid Sevilla crazy money back in 2005. That's worked out nicely I would say.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Greatest Christmas Gift...

Madrid have beaten Barcelona 0-1 at the Camp Nou, riding a stunning goal by Julio Baptista to victory.

This season, Barcelona has kept the tradition of turning the Camp Nou into a fortress alive, posting a perfect 8-0-0 record going into Sunday's Clasico with Madrid. Their dominance at home was backed up by impressive statistics, such as a 2.75 goals per game average, compared to a miniscule 0.50 goals against average. They had outscored opponents 22-4 at the Camp Nou, and without question Madrid were in for a difficult match.

Things started to turn in Madrid's favor last weekend, when Barcelona's (and arguably the world's) best player Lionel Messi was lost to injury and ruled unavailable for "El Clasico."

Messi is Barcelona's key player, disrupting defenses with his blistering pace, setting up his teammates (6 assists in all competitions so far), and finishing with deadly accuracy (12 goals in 19 matches in the current 07-08 season). He's a player to behold, and he uses his diminutive size (5-7, 148 lbs.) to his advantage while running circles around defenders.

Barcelona just isn't the same without the Little Genius, but that should not take away anything from a hard fought victory for Madrid. It just needs to be noted, Barcelona wasn't 100%, or even 90% at that, since they were also without Thierry Henry.

To Madrid's credit, they had what is, in my opinion, the recipe for success at the Nou Camp: defend, counterattack, defend, counterattack, score, defend, defend, counter when given the opportunity, defend, defend, etc. Madrid did not leave themselves exposed very often, and their back 4 were exception tonight.

Sergio Ramos, Cannavaro, Pepe, and Heinze were simply brilliant as a unit, and the fact that Barcelona was held goalless at home in such a big game speaks volumes, with or without Messi.

Special mention must be given to 30 million euro centerback Pepe, who showed today why Ramon Calderon thought it'd be wise to pay thrice what any defender of his pedigree should cost. He was epic, combining excellent endeavor with brave, well-timed tackles. He also put a nice header on frame, redirecting excellent service and showing off some heading skills.

Also flashing brilliance was, surprise surprise, keeper Iker Casillas, who quashed several Barcelona opportunities. He was especially good on a Bojan Krkic missile in the 84th, a shot which could have equalized and kept Barcelona within 4 points of Madrid at the top of the table.

As it turned out, Barcelona dropped a game to Madrid at the Camp Nou for only the third time in a stunning 24 years. Madrid had a plan, stuck with it, and executed to perfection. Madrid even had a few more good opportunities to make it 0-2, but they couldn't finish a couple nice chances against Barcelona keeper Victor Valdez.

Also of note in this game is the continued emergence of Julio Baptista, a player for which this writer has been lobbying for all season. He has gotten his chance, and he is running with it. His goal today was pure magic, and it will be hard for Schuster to do anything but continue to play the Beast. I'm alright with that.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Arjen Robben: Suffering from Anxiety to Impress

Arjen Robben, the 36 million euro summer signing, has once again injured himself.

I have heard great things about Robben and his immense potential, and as a newer fan to football, I have barely seen him play. It surprised me that Madrid would fork over over 30 million euros for a player who: 1) has an incredible history of injury 2) was injured at the time of the signing 3) was two years away from being a free transfer 4) was not needed, given Robinho's play out on the flank and the signing of Roysten Drenthe 5) was unhappy at Chelsea, and wanted to leave...why pay 36 million if he's given Madrid incredible bargaining power?

Apparently Robben has a lot of heart, and he has been trying too hard to get back on the pitch. He hurts himself, recovers, then pushes too hard when he returns, and hurts himself again. Madrid skipper Bernd Schuster summed it up best, "All this is simply a result of anxiety. He wants to play and demonstrate why he is here. That anxiety has worked against him. It's nothing serious, but we have to try and control it."

I beg to differ Bernd, it is serious. Your sporting directors decided to pay almost 40 million euros for a guy who seemed to have no other suitors, and it's time he started to pay some dividends. This is open message to Arjen: please slow down. Make your signing akin to Madrid paying big money for Sergio Ramos (which turned out to be a great signing) rather than becoming the next Nicolas Anelka, a £22m disaster who scored a whopping 8 goals (2 league) for Madrid before being cast away to PSG.

I hope Robben will overcome his physical problems and blossom into the promising winger he was at Chelsea. I've seen flashes of his play, and he can unsettle any defense with his speed when he's right.

The thought of Robben and Robinho on the flanks makes me giddy, but I'll wait to see it first. Robben has only been on the team a few months and he's already filled me with illusion only to dissapoint. I've learned my lesson and I'll let his play inspire me, if he can get ever get healthy.

Monday, December 10, 2007

A Beast Emerges...

As a fan of Madrid, few things make me happier while watching a game than seeing two names in the starting lineup, "Baptista, Julio."

A player with skill, power, finish, and endless heart, Julio Baptista has won me over for life. He can move to Barcelona and score the winning goal in the Champions League Final against Madrid, and I would smile and say, "This guy deserves it."

For all of you familiar with baseball, this guy has the courage of David Eckstein, but with a far greater skill set.

He is strong, possessing a thick, Roberto Carlos like build. He shows vision, with some precise long-range passes and through balls. He shows flair, as evidenced by his magnificent bicycle kick goal earlier this season. He shows power; some of his goals are pinpoint laser shots.

I know some naysayers will say he lacks touch and perhaps pace, but that's nick picking. The man is an asset to any club, with his positive attitude, play, and almost absolute deference to the club.

It's about time he got a few starts in a row, and I hope he takes off with the opportunity. I'd love to see him playing up front, where I feel his skills are best suited, but I'm happy just seeing him play.

Go ahead and say it, it sounds like a man-crush. Make no mistake, it is.

The man has shown what he can do, scoring 20 and 22 goals for Sevilla in 2003-05. I don't doubt that he could net 15-18 if given the same playing time an absolute like Raul or van Nistelrooy gets.

Bernd, continue to show the Beast the love. I love Guti's play, but I don't like his outbursts and sending-offs. I don't envy Schuster, it's not an easy job picking an 11 from 14-15 that are qualified. Julio is one of the 11 in my mind, and I hope he continues this all the way through to June.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

The Second Coming of Raul

One of the most talked about players in the last few weeks for both Real Madrid and the Spanish national team has been none other than team captain Raul. These talks were increased after his two goal performance against Racing Santander last weekend. Raul seems to have gotten his second wind career wise and is scoring goals left and right. He currently sits atop the Pichichi race, which is the award given to the player with the most goals in La Liga. He has performed so well that Spain's coach, Luis Aragones, has had to go back on his words that Raul would never play for Spain again. Raul has not been recalled yet but Aragones has said that if his form continues he will find a spot on the national team.

Much of Raul's success in this campaign can be attributed to the fact that Bernd Schuster has moved him back to the postion where he feels most comfortable. Schuster has moved him closer to the goal, whereas Capello had him playing out wide where he became wholly ineffective. Also, he and Rudd Van Nistelroy seem to have a great understanding of one another and play very well together.

While this run of form has been fantastic for Raul and the team, there are some negative effects to this. Madrid have a plethora of talented strikers who have not had a chance to play due to Raul. As of right now no one can argue that Raul doesn't deserve to be starting. However, one can only hope that Schuster keeps a careful eye on Raul because he does have a tendency to disappear from games. This is completely understandable considering his age, but it would be unfair for the other players and the team if Schuster didn't bring in a dangerous striker (which he has in Baptista, Higuain and Soldado) simply because he has Raul.

Raul is a very interesting player because it seems that whenever he is backed into a wall he comes out and does so looking like a hero. Last year when Madrid were struggling, Capello made him an automatic starter despite criticisms from fans. Raul silenced those critics by finding the back of the net and it is no coincidence that Madrid's resurgence came at the same time as Raul's. Now Aragones has kicked him out of the Spain squad and once again Raul has come back and proved his critics wrong.

Will Raul continue this current form he finds himself in? No one knows for sure but for now let's all enjoy watching the hardest working player on Real Madrid reap some of the benefits of his hard work.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Jozy to Madrid? is reporting that Real Madrid are interested in signing New York Red Bulls forward Jozy Altidore in the winter transfer period.

Altidore has been known to MLS fans for a few years, but burst onto the international stage at the U-20 World Cup in Canada this summer. His considerable size, strength, and speed make him a formidable target for any team, and at just 18 years of age he could become the greatest striker the US has ever produced.

AS reporters are claiming that Altidore has a chance to be the next Freddie Kanoute, a striker whose aerial ability and daft footwork have brought him scoring and European titles most recently with Sevilla.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Madrid, Incandescent

Saturday night's match with Sevilla put a wrap on a week that saw Madrid play 3 times in just 7 days, a crucial stretch for a club struggling with form and injury issues. The results: passionate football, 6 points, some moments of pure genius, and at least a few more days in the top spot in the league table.

There was the 3-1 win against Deportivo La Coruna, followed by a tie with a Valencia squad very much in transition. Valencia manager Quique Sanchez Flores was sacked following Valencia's 3-0 loss against Sevilla, and their match against Madrid was the first in the post-Sanchez era.

Madrid went to the Mestalla in Valencia and put on a clinic in flowing, attacking, one-touch football. It seemed that everything that had “failed” during the beginning of the season came together all at once.

The midfield, too often the cause of a lack of cohesion on the pitch, was epic. The defense was sturdy, supported by the double pivot of Diarra-Gago. Gago flashed brilliance during the match, providing long-range passes and support to the true engine of the team, GUTI.HAZ.

The golden locks were prominent, linking up with Van Nistelrooy and Raul up top with some absolutely deadly passes. Guti provided through balls, little lobs, vision, creativity, and deadly accuracy. With the support in the middle of the park from Diarra-Gago, Guti actually had less work, but was as prolific as ever.

Guti set up a goal for Sergio Ramos that can best be described as a low-flying missile off the far post and into the back of the net. On that wonderstike, one can see that Ramos grew up a forward. That kind of powerful shot with a lethal finish is usually seen from the Samuel Etoo’s and Didier Drogba’s of the world.

Robinho continued to provide flair from the left wing, disrupting defenders and creating openings for the forwards.

As for the the match, the possession flowed through the Madrid midfield like a checkers piece performing triple and quadruple jumps. It was quite a sight, the kind of performance that brings the chills, goosebumps, dare I say it, a salty discharge from the eye. The kind you just dab lightly.

It was that good of a performance. I plan on showing my kids this game, along with the 2-14-06 wonder against Real Zaragoza, when I tell them why I love football.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Real Madrid 3, Deportivo La Coruna 1

Just days after being publically reprimanded by the club for being unexcusedly tardy in his return to the squad, Robinho put on a galactic display at the Santiago Bernabeu, and Real Madrid posted a 3-1 victory over Deportivo La Coruna on Saturday.

It was a stunning first few minutes as Depor opened the scoring on a goal by Xisco in just the second minute. But ever the reliable goal-scorer, Ruud notched the equalizer just four minutes later on a penalty. The next 70 minutes were a mix of yellow cards and close chances for both sides, and it wasn't until Schuster had made enough substitutions to put out the 11 that beat Olympiacos last Wednesday that Los Merengues began to click. By the 70th minute, Madrid were dominating, Robinho having already rocketed a shot off the crossbar.

There were three yellow-cards in a span of four minutes before Raul was able to poke the ball across the line after a pass from the Dutchman Van Nistelrooy. And just 5 minutes later, Robinho put the game out of reach at 3-1 with a dazzling display of artistry in overtaking the keeper.

Madrid now look to Valencia on the weekend at the Mestalla, where they have not lost in 3 straight matches. Valencia are also coming off the recent firing of their manager, Quique Sanchez, so their performance could be negatively effected by the statement of the front office.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

CL Wrap: The Return of Capello's Boys

Real Madrid downed Olympiakos 4-2 on Wednesday night, seemingly with same spirit (and good fortunes) that marked the 2007 La Liga title.

Madrid got off to a great start, with Raul knocking in the 1-0 in the 2nd minute of play.

Things were looking good, as the team had momentum in front of their home crowd, and an early lead to build on.

That's when everything went wrong. Olympiakos equalized in the 7th minute, and then had Vassilas Torosidis sent off in the 13th. I assumed that meant that Madrid would go ahead and win handily, taking advantage of the extra man.

Instead, Madrid played the same sort of ugly, fruitless football that plagued them for stretches of last season and this season. They allowed Olympiakos to go up 2-1 on a Julio C├ęsar free kick deflection, along the way exposing a shaky defense ravaged by injury.

Sergio Ramos, usually a key component to the offense with his explosive runs up the flank, was shifted into the center of defense. He wasn't able to support the attack as he would have liked, and it was little-used Michel Salgado who was bombing up the wing, without any success.

The team continued to play some awful football, unable to put up much of an offensive attack until Robinho headed home the equalizer in the 68th.

Robinho energized the squad, and they started to play some exciting, attacking football. The midfield came alive, and in the blink of an eye, Guti, Sneijder, and Gago were delivering gorgeous long-range passes to the wingers. Robinho, enjoying this support from the midfield engine, later scored the 3-2 in the 83rd.

The fun was just beginning, as Madrid had to withstand a wave of dangerous attacks from the 10-man Olympiakos squad. Iker Casillas made some absolutely incredible saves, drawing a deafening ovation from the Madrid fans at the Bernabeu.

It was the kind of nervous excitement Real Madrid fans came to expect towards the end of the 2006-2007 league run under Fabio Capello. I can't lie, it was absolutely breathtaking football. Occasionally beautiful, sometimes hideous, but always with an entertaining finish.

Javier Balboa, who replaced Wesley Sneijder in the 82nd, scored the 4-2 and secured the victory in the 90th.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Madrid-Olympiakos: Crucial CL Clash

Group C co-leaders (4 points each from two matches) Real Madrid and Olympiakos will meet at the Santiago Bernabeu in Madrid on Wednesday. Madrid are coming into this match in dire form, dropping their match Saturday against Espanyol (see match recap) amidst a flurry of injuries and poor play.

Half of the starting 10 outfield players manager Bernd Schuster envisioned before the season are out with injuries.

Just this weekend they lost center back Fabio Cannavaro and defensive midfielder Diarra, both out of the match with Olympiakos. These injuries are added to the long list of walking wounded, as starting left back Gabriel Heinze, center back Pepe, and left winger Arjen Robben are also out.

Madrid CL Results:

Madrid's Champions League run has produced mixed results, much like their start to the Spanish League. They downed Werder Bremen 2-1 at home in their first match, winning but not winning convincingly. They followed that by drawing 2-2 with Lazio in Rome, a match that was theirs for the taking.

The draw at Lazio was painful, given that defensive lapses caused the team to twice blow leads and eventually settle for a draw.

Squad vs. Olympiakos:

The defense is going to be makeshift at best against Olympiakos on Wednesday, as Schuster will likely have to move Sergio Ramos from his preferred right back position into the center of defense, alongside Christoph Metzelder. A combination of Michel Salgado, Marcelo, or Miguel Torres will be covering the right and left back slots.

The midfield will likely comprise of Guti and Gago in the middle, with Wesley Sneijder and either Gonzalo Higuain or Robinho on the flanks.

Ruud van Nistelrooy and Raul will likely play up front, but it is worth noting Schuster brought in little used striker Roberto Soldado late in the game during the weekend. Given the dire performances recently, it would not be surprising to see Schuster make more ample use of his backup strikers, meaning Soldado and Javier Saviola may see minutes if the offensive struggles to produce.

Schuster should give Julio Baptista some minutes, as his outstanding effort and goal-scoring ability would be a welcome addition to the starting rotation. Odds are Baptista won't see a minute of time, but he could be a difference maker if given the chance.

Olympiakos Update:

For their part, Olympiakos just recently ended an 11-year, 31 match winless streak in Champions League away matches. They beat Werder Bremen 1-3 at Bremen, and they are starting to believe in themselves. Olympiakos striker Lomana LuaLua said, "You always want to face teams like Real Madrid because they're one of the best sides in the world, but we really believe we can beat anyone. We've already shown we can win away from home, so why not?"

They currently sit second in the Super Greece League, 4 points behind A.E.K Athens. They won the 2006-2007 Super Greece League title, and hence earned a Champions League berth.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Espanyol-Madrid Recap: Return of Poor Play

Well, per my prediction Madrid lost to Espanyol 2-1 in what was arguably their most lackluser performance of the season. This loss seemed to be inevitable coming into the match. Madrid has been on a downward slope since the beginning of the season, and Espanyol has become somewhat of a giant killer in this young season, taking down Valencia, Sevilla, and now Madrid. Also, Madrid was hit hard during the international break due to injuries and the "incident in Rio." Robben, Heinze, Robinho and Baptista all succumbed to the curse of the international break.

Madrid's game was thrown off when Albert Riera put in a header for Espanyol in the first minute of play. The rest of the game was mostly one-sided with most of possession and the scoring chances going to Espanyol. The midfield was simply shocking for Madrid. Sneijdner did nothing, Guti spent more time rolling on the ground asking for calls than actually creating anything, and Diarra was decent but got hurt in a collision and his play suffered. The only spark in the middle was Higuain, who was active but not good enough.

Early in the second half, Raul Tamudo put in a beautifully crafted goal just out of the reach of Casillas. That turned out to be the game winner, as even after the goal, Madrid's game was sluggish and unimpressive for most of the half. This changed in the 90th minute when Sergio Ramos (the only Madrid player who played well the entire game) put one in on a corner kick with a left-footed volley he redirected into the net. The first goal put some life back into the team and they seemed to have that Capello-era belief that they could win. However it was too little too late, and shortly after the goal the final whistle blew.

Madrid's run of getting results despite weak play appears to have come to an end. This week's Champions League tie will be a very big test for them, as we get to see how they'll react to their first setback of the year. An interesting story to watch is what will come of Baptista and Robinho. It was clear in the game on Saturday that Robinho was needed to inject some life into the team. However we still don't know exactly why he and Baptista missed their flight and what Schuster will do in response.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Espanyol-Madrid Preview: Injury Woes Headline...

Don't look now, but it appears Real Madrid are going into crisis mode yet again. This time, it's not about poor results (they haven't played in a while), but rather an injury bug that seems to have touched their entire squad.

Going into this recently concluded international break, Madrid was reeling. Their center backs were all injured, none more so than 30 million euro Pepe, who's been out for over a month with thigh problems. Fabio Cannavaro was also out, dealing with a bruised knee, and 6'4'' beast Christoph Metzelder was recovering with an injury picked up in a Champions League clash with Werder Bremen.

Luckily for Madrid, all three appear to be getting healthy and a couple may return for this weekend's clash with very in-form Espanyol. (Yes, the same Espanyol who drew with Barca late last season to preserve Madrid's title hopes.)

One defender who will not be ready will be left-back Gabriel Heinze, who suffered a groin tear while with Argentina and will miss at least 3 weeks.

The defense will be going through more rotations until everyone is healthy, so we should expect to see a bit of Miguel Torres, Michel Salgado (ahh), and Marcelo in the coming weeks.

The midfield is ravaged for this weekend and possibly for a few more, as they have lost the services of made-of-glass winger Arjen Robben for a month and a half. He picked up a left muscle tear on international duty (why was he even playing?), and that signals some minutes for hot-and-cold winger Royston Drenthe.

Creative midfielder Guti, who was not on international duty, is a question mark after picking up a heavy knock on his right leg during training earlier in the week.

The Brazilian World Cup Qualifier against Ecuador has cost Madrid dearly for this weekend, as they will be without right winger Robinho and attacking midfielder Julio Baptista. Luckily neither is injured, but both had problems getting back in time for training.

For his part, Robinho was reported to be partying into the wee hours of the night, following Brazil's victory over Ecuador on Wednesday. The Brazilian daily "O Globo" reported that the party took place in Catwalk, one of the most luxurious discos in the city. Apparently other players attended as well, and allegedly Robinho had himself a fantastic time, and left after 5 am.

Not surprisingly, the wiser Baptista did not attend this party, and was considered to be late due to travel issues. Regardless, Schuster is not happy and did not include either for the game this weekend.

He is especially upset with Robinho, saying, "Robinho went to play for Brazil without even having medical permission. So it is really positive that he has got fit playing for his national team," he added with irony.

It's going to be an interesting weekend for the club at the Olympic Stadium in Catalunya. Espanyol are red-hot, driven by a powerful attack and a string of good results. They are led by forwards Raul Tamudo (17 goals in 06-07) & Luis Garcia (15 goals in 06-07), and powered by midfield engine Albert Riera (8 goals and 7 assists in 06-07). They have won 4 of their past 5 games, and this coupled with Madrid's injuries woes makes this look like a 2-1 Espanyol victory.

It should be a fun game to watch, as we may get a chance to see Higuan playing wide out right, with either Schneider or Drenthe wide out left. The last few matches have been ugly, so a change may actually spark some nice play. More likely, it may be more of the same as players are not used to the new cast of substitutes.

Thank you international are not only boring and interminable, but you are cruel.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Frank Lampard: Midfielder in Madrid's Future?

There has been growing speculation in the Spanish newspapers recently (you could tell there was an international break) that Real Madrid may go out and get Chelsea's center midfielder Frank Lampard.

: Lampard is clearly in the upper echelon of world midfield talent. His class and goal scoring ability have dominated the most competitive domestic league in the world, the Barclay's Premier League. He scored 23 goals last season, 20 the year before, and 23 the season before that. Those are insane numbers from the midfield, and they speak to his goal scoring prowess.

He also plays both sides of the ball, as he creates, scores, and tackles. He is complete.

Interestingly, on more than one occasion Madrid manager Bernd Schuster has said he would like an offensive minded, organizing midfielder to support the attack. Someone who can direct traffic and put the ball in the back of the net.

That midfield presence could be Frank Lampard, as he fits what Schuster wants perfectly, and better yet, he is not Cup-tied. He could star in the Champions League for Madrid. He is also turning 30 next June 20th, so he is not a permanent block for midfield talent such as Wesley Sneijder.

Another big plus of singing Lampard is that he could come cheap, in terms of a tranfer fee.

He could invoke Fifa's Article 17, which allows players to break a contract after a protected period ends. This is after three years if they signed when under the age of 28 (which Lampard did) or two years if they signed when 28 or over, regardless of how long their contract is. They have to pay compensation to do this, calculated using a formula based on wages and their original transfer fee, but it means they can effectively "buy out" their contract. (Thanks to the Independent Paper for this explanation)

In essence, Lampard can pay the remaining wages on his contract (8 million pounds before this 2007-2008 season began), and a pro rata sum towards the his original transfer cost. For Lampard, that pro rata sum is actually 0 because he signed his contract in 2001, and his 11 million pound transfer fee has already amortized.

He could earn his freedom for less than 8 million pounds, and seek out a new beginning in Madrid. It is no secret that Lampard was a big fan of the former Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho, who left following a falling out with management.

: The Real Madrid midfield is already clogged up, with Sneijder, Guti (Guti.Haz...what is that?), Julio Baptista (who should be playing up front), Diarra, Robinho (see Baptista), Royston Drenthe, Arjen Robben, Gonzalo Higuain, Fernando Gago, and Javier Balboa.

Truth be told, one Frank Lampard would likely produce as many goals as all of these midfielders put together, and he would only take up one spot. Regardless, he would still be one more player who will require Schuster to balance out playing time for his players. This causes some serious problems, (see previous post entitled Top of the league...)

Lampard would also earn some very highly weekly wages, but it's not like Madrid is strapped for cash.

In the end, this move makes sense for the most part, which is exactly why it probably won't happen. This isn't a criticism against Madrid management or Chelsea management, it's just that deals that make sense tend to never happen.

FEARLESS PREDICTION: As much as I don't like saying it, the most likely scenario is that Madrid tell the world how much they value Lamps, via the mouth of Schuster. The January transfer window comes around, talks will go down to the wire, and nothing will get done.

For now, watch the video and dream of this player in the middle of Madrid's attack (and defense)...

Friday, October 12, 2007

Top of the League...god they suck

Despite being on top of La Liga and second in their group in Champions League, Madrid fans and the Spanish media are unhappy with the team. Why is this so? Because when Real president Ramon Calderon fired Fabio Capello he promised that his new coach would deliver victory and style. So far, the team has delivered on half of those promises. Yes they have been winning but these victories are almost exactly the same as Capello's boys were getting last year. In fact, after their 1-0 win against Getafe earlier this season, their new coach, Bernd Schuster, credited their strong defense for the victory, definitely not what Calderon wanted to hear.

So what exactly has caused this group of talented players to become such an unexciting bunch? Many are blaming Schuster's constant tinkering with the squad. Critics are claiming that Schuster is rotating players too much and therefore the squad can't seem to hit their offensive stride. Schuster defends himself by saying that he has a deep squad and that he wants everyone to get minutes. While this is a good problem to have it's still a problem and the fans are getting more and more irritated. This is worsened by the fact that the team got off to a great start by beating Atletico Madrid with style and then trashing Villareal while looking like Arsenal in the process. Not surprisingly, the team had the same starting 11 in both those games. To be fair, Madrid seem seriously interested in winning all three of their major competitions (Liga, Champions, Copa Del Rey) and in order to do so a team needs to have many quality players. However some sense of cohesion is needed to make a team work. Players need to play together in order to adjust to one another and develop as a team. This is especially true when a team is made up mostly of players who have not played together before.

Personally I think the answer lies somewhere in the middle. The same 11, game in game out won't work because of injuries and fatigue. Constant rotations won't work either due to lack of team chemistry. What I think is the best solution is for Schuster to figure out his best 11 and make that his core squad. Once that is set then he can make rotations and substitutions based on that 11. When someone in the core needs a day off, rotate someone else for that individual position while maintaining the rest of that core squad intact. The fact that this team was put together at the last minute, looks to be a big reason as to why Schuster doesn't seem to know what his best team is. For example, Robben not only came late but came hurt so no one has seen his true ability yet. Because of this, it could take a few more weeks before Schuster and his staff truly have a sense of where all the players lie in the squad.

This is basically the same situation Rafa Benitez finds himself in Liverpool. However, they haven't been getting the results that Madrid has been getting and Reds' fans are already beginning to question Rafa's future for the team. As impatient as Madrid fans are I fear for Schuster if the results stop.

2006-2007 Season In Review

As we are in the midst of an international break, this is a good opportunity to do a quick recap of Madrid’s last season. Later on during this break we’ll look at the 2007 summer transfer window, and how the club has fared until now.

The 2006-2007 season was a stomach turning, nerve wracking, gut wrenching experience from start to finish. Coming into the season, Madrid was entering into their fourth season without any sort of title, an absolutely shocking figure considering the team was composed of the likes of Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo, Roberto Carlos, David Beckham, Raul, etc. Needless to say, expectations were high when the team hired former Juventus manager Fabio Capello to lead the squad. Capello experienced success everywhere he went, winning recent titles in Juventus and with Real Madrid back in the 1990s.

During the summer 2006 transfer window, the team, led by new President Ramon Calderon, made some absolutely crucial moves. They strengthened the attack by picking up world-class striker Ruud van Nistelrooy, after he experienced a falling out with Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson. This was by far the most important move Calderon made, as van Nistelrooy ended up top scoring in La Liga. He was a pillar for the team, especially given that fellow forwards Ronaldo and Raul were far from their best (or healthy) for most of the season.

Madrid benefited greatly during the transfer window from the Italian match fixing scandal, which saw powerhouse Juventus get relegated to Serie B. One of the effects of the scandal was a fairly large exodus of talent from Juventus, with world-class talent going to other big clubs. Notable examples include defenders Gianluca Zambrotta and Lilian Thuram leaving for Barcelona, and gifted striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic leaving for Inter Milan.

Madrid was able to sign Juventus manager Fabio Capello, as well as buy up Italy’s World Cup captain Fabio Cannavaro, right before he was handed the award for World Player of the Year. They also signed Juve’s defensive midfielder Emerson, as he was a key player in Capello’s “double pivot” center midfield alignment.

Madrid also, at the request of Capello, signed Lyon’s highly rated center defensive midfielder Mahamadou Diarra to form the double pivot with Emerson. Clearly, defense was a priority for Capello. Madrid had to pay out about 20 million euros combined to get Cannavaro and Emerson, two players that were quickly aging, and an amazing 26 million euros for Diarra. Not exactly good business, but they got the players Capello wanted to make his project a reality.

The team, with Capello’s defensive-minded approach, went on to endure some of the ugliest matches I’ve ever seen, playing some of the most unattractive football imaginable while barely squeezing out results. The team lost matches they had no business losing, against teams such as newly or recently promoted sides Recreativo Huelva (0-3), Celta Vigo (1-2), and Levante (0-1).

At points during the season, however, they played wonderfully passionate football, albeit it still lacked beauty. Memorably matches included both matches against Barcelona, which included a 2-0 victory at the Bernabeu, and an excellent 3-3 draw at the Nou Camp. The team was hanging around the top 4 for much of the season, but they did not look like they had a prayer to win the league fairly late in the season.

The other competitions went poorly for Madrid in 2006-2007, as they were bounced out of the Champions League early by Bayern Munich in the knockout stage. The Copa del Rey was equally poor, as they were defeated 1-1 on aggregate by a comparatively weak side in Real Betis.

The league title became all Madrid had to play for, and they made an incredible push starting with a 2-1 win against Valencia on April 21. They went on to win 6 out of their final 7 games, only dropping 2 points with a memorable draw at Zaragoza (which I had the pleasure of attending).

The tie with Zaragoza was a perfect metaphor for the season…it was the second to last game of the season, with Madrid sitting top of the table, through only because they had the tiebreaker with co-leader Barcelona. Madrid were down 2-1, not playing particularly well, and running out of time (88th minute). Barcelona was also winning at the time, so they were on the verge of wrapping up the title run prematurely. It was looking grim, as it would take a miracle for Espanyol to equalize against Barcelona, as well as Madrid get a draw against a strong Zaragoza side.

In a matter of 18 seconds, Ruud van Nistelrooy scored a dramatic goal while Raul Tamudo became a part of Real Madrid lore by scoring the equalizer against Barcelona. 18 seconds changed the fate of Madrid, and I had the privilege of being in Zaragoza when it happened. It was drama like I’d never seen before, and it put the title within their grasp…all they would need to do is get one more win on the final day of the season.

That set up a June 17th clash with Mallorca to decide the league: if Madrid got the win, it would not matter what Barcelona did against Gnastic Tarragona, the title would be theirs. I’m happy to say I was also able to get tickets to this game, and this one was a classic very much like the game in Zaragoza.

Mallorca got off to a quick start, scoring in the 17th minute, with Madrid showing their usual dreadful start to games. They were not able to get much going, and they went to halftime down (0-1), and at that moment the title was Barcelona’s, as they were up in their match with soon to be relegated Gnastic.

David Beckham, playing his last game with Madrid, was all sorts of injured, and no matter how hard he tried he was just ineffective. That prompted Fabio Capello to make the move that, in hindsight, saved Madrid’s season. He brought in Jose Antonio Reyes in the 66th minute, and his speed made an immediate impact, as he scored in the 68th. The Bernabeu absolutely erupted. The magic that was present in the last two months of the season came back. In the 80th minute, Madrid still searching for the lead, Diarra sent a header that was deflected for an own goal. The title was within grasp, and the greatest moment was yet to come.

Jose Reyes put La Liga to bed, scoring a wonderstrike in the 82nd, providing every one of us at the Bernabeu with a moment we’ll never forget. It’s hard not to well up with tears watching this goal, as it reminds me that it was the most improbable title from a group of players that didn’t have half the talent Barcelona had. There were dozens of subplots during a season which, I have to admit, was looking like it was going nowhere, just like the 3 seasons before.

Madrid lost only once in the last 17 games, salvaging 3 out of the last 4 games in the final minutes, beating Espanyol 4-3, Recreativo 3-2, and the amazing 2-2 draw against Zaragoza. Fabio Capello cast away David Beckham at one point during the season, claiming he’d never play again for Madrid. Beckham of course came back, and it’s safe to say the title would be at the Nou Camp if it wasn’t for that decision. The Madrid fans waved the white flags during the season, asking for a drastic change. They ended up waving the white flags at the end of the season, only that this time the flags said “Campeones #30.”

You could not write drama like what was seen in 2006-2007, because no one would believe it. Madrid was a team that lacked talent, played hideous football (for a Madrid team), was left for dead halfway through the season, sold off maybe the greatest striker of all time (Ronaldo) halfway through the season and in the middle of a scoring drought. They lacked in every department, except for one: played with a great deal of heart, and they ended up winning in the most dramatic of ways.

Thank you to Beckham and Roberto Carlos, two integral greats who departed after this title. A better end I could not imagine. I’ve been blessed to be there when Madrid won the most dramatic title in recent memory, and I was blessed to see my Angels win the World Series in 2002. Now all that’s left is for Madrid to win the Champions League in 2008…

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Welcome the American Madristas Fan Site

Welcome to our new blog, dedicated at following the world's greatest club, Real Madrid, from an American perspective. All of our writers have lived in Madrid, but now all reside in the US. We have all kept up the connection with our team, watching every La Liga, Champions League, and King's Cup game we can find. This will be our forum to discuss the issues facing the squad, as there is never a lack of drama from the most honored, wealthiest, and most successful club in sports history. We begin the story on October 11, 2007, where Madrid sits at the top of the Spanish League table...