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...