Tag Archives: real madrid

A Not-So-Special Press Conference

Since June 2004, when he anointed himself the “special one” on his very first day in Chelsea - Jose Mourinho Press ConferenceEnglish soccer, Chelsea coach Jose Mourinho has proven a reliable source of press-conference mischief. In 2005, Mourinho labeled Arsenal’s Arsene Wenger “a voyeur” with “a big telescope to see what happens in other families.” He refused to apologize after television cameras caught him poking Barcelona assistant manager Tito Villanova in the eye. Over the past decade, he has launched a series of carefully timed verbal assaults on referees and opponents, a technique borrowed directly from the Sir Alex Ferguson media-distraction playbook.

But the events of the past week suggest Mourinho is beginning to lose his touch. On Tuesday, in a light-hearted interview with the Spanish newspaper La Region, Montserrat Benitez, whose husband, Real Madrid manager Rafael Benitez, has coached several of Mourinho’s former clubs, quipped that she and Rafa “tidy up [Mourinho’s] messes.” Mourinho was not amused. “I’m not laughing,” he said. “If she takes care of her husband’s diet, she will have less time to speak about me.”

Mourinho’s juvenile fat joke drew widespread criticism. (Though perhaps Benitez should be flattered. When Mourinho gets really angry, when his trademark smirk hardens into a sneer, he likes to emphasize the sheer unimportance of his critics: “I do not know who he is,” Mourinho told the Italian media after Catania CEO Pietro Lo Monaco publicly denounced him. “I have heard of Bayern Monaco and the Monaco GP, the Tibetan Monaco and the Principality of Monaco. I’ve never heard of any others.”)

On the face of it, Mourinho’s comments simply mark the latest episode in an ancient feud between two of the prickliest coaches in European soccer. (Benitez claims that “me and Jose were really good friends until Liverpool started beating Chelsea.”) But Mourinho’s recent misbehavior – a slightly unfair comment about Manchester United’s summer spending, as well as the gratuitous Benitez joke – feels fundamentally different from the years of tactical bluster that preceded it.

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Mourn Casillas, Blame Perez

The sight of legendary Spanish goalkeeper Iker Casillas sobbing into a press-conference casillasmicrophone as he bid farewell after 25 years with Real Madrid shouldn’t merely sadden Real fans nostalgic for past glories. It should send them charging to the gates of the Bernabeu, torches blazing and pitchforks aloft.

Casillas, who is on his way to Porto, is the highest-profile victim of the internecine political feuding that has consumed Real since megalomaniacal businessman Florentino Perez returned as president in 2009. In a recent tell-all interview with El Mundo, Casillas’ parents claimed that Perez had long hoped to replace Casillas, whom he allegedly considers too “short” to play in goal, with a signing of his own. “It’s been an attempt to hunt him and destroy him,” Casillas’ father said.

Perez has faced widespread criticism for his management of Casillas’ final weeks at Real. In May, after Real failed to win a single major trophy for the second time in three seasons, Casillas emphatically declared, “I can’t conceive of myself at any other club next season.” Nevertheless, Perez proceeded to conduct a very public flirtation with Manchester United keeper David de Gea, who grew up in Madrid and reportedly “dreams of playing at the Bernabeu. Sunday’s press conference was a half-hearted affair noticeably bereft of the fanfare that usually accompanies the departure of a club legend.

Given Casillas’ poor form, the decision to sell him seems perfectly defensible. But the years of rancor – the accusations and counter-accusations, the rumors of dressing-room unrest, the personality clashes – that precipitated his on-field decline raise uncomfortable questions about Perez’s player management.

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In The Shadow of Cristiano

Manchester United supporters never came up with a catchy chant to celebrate the nani ronaldopowerful long-distance shooting and intermittently successful step-overs of Portuguese international Luis Nani. But that didn’t stop fans from yelling Nani’s name. A few seasons ago, one exasperated season-ticket holder, seated close enough to the television microphones that his cheering occasionally interrupted live broadcasts, would shout “Come on, Nani, lad!” when the winger conceded possession.

United fans spent most of Nani’s Old Trafford career exhorting him to improve – to score important goals, to commit fewer fouls, to be more like Cristiano Ronaldo. After signing in 2007, Nani produced enough highlights to fill an average-length YouTube montage – the showboating against Arsenal, the back-flip celebrations, the Champions League penalty conversion – without ever establishing himself as the dominant attacking force Sir Alex Ferguson had thought he would become. Yesterday Nani, who spent last season on loan at Sporting Lisbon, left United for Turkish club Fenerbahce. No one seems to care that much.

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Why We Should All Cheer for Arsenal

In 2011, midfielder Samir Nasri left Arsenal to join Manchester City, insisting cech arsenalhe wanted to play for a club capable of winning major trophies. Outraged Arsenal fans accused Nasri of selling out, and when City visited The Emirates in November, the home crowd booed Nasri mercilessly. Months later, after City clinched the Premier League title on the final day of the season, Nasri fired back at his critics. “I hope they are watching me now,” he said. “They should celebrate their third-place achievement, and I will focus on winning titles.”

Arsenal has not won the Premier League since 2004, when Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry led the team to an unbeaten campaign. Indeed, before defeating Hull in the 2014 FA Cup final, Arsenal had gone nine seasons without winning a single tournament. Over the years, the club’s long dry spell became a social media touchstone, the easy 140-character punch line to a joke that never seemed to get old. One popular website invited fans to tweet about everything they had accomplished in their personal lives since Arsenal last claimed silverware. Special 1 TV, the satirical talk show hosted by a Jose Mourinho puppet, dedicated numerous episodes to the travails of Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger. When Arsenal finally broke the streak, the real Mourinho, who once called Wenger “a specialist in failure,” responded with his signature brand of sarcastic condescension: “In the last nine years, Arsenal won an FA Cup. That is nice for them.”

Arsenal’s trophy-less run was not just a lesson in sustained athletic humiliation. It was also a graphic demonstration of the changing economics of English soccer. The taunts flying across Twitter, however trivial they seemed, were indications of a profound power shift. The influx of billionaire owners to the Premier League has elevated clubs like Chelsea and Manchester City, underperforming minnows for much of their histories, to awesome new heights, often at the expense of less wealthy competitors. Indeed, City’s newfound ability to poach star players has fundamentally destabilized Arsenal’s on-field development: Since 2009, Nasri, Emmanuel Adebayor, Gael Clichy, Kolo Toure and Bacary Sagna have all left Arsenal for the stadium formerly known as Eastlands. Earlier this month, City was rumored to be monitoring Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere.

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Bye-bye, Big Sam

It’s a sad day for English soccer. Sam Allardyce – Sir Alex Ferguson’s second-most reliable sam allardycepunching bag, Charles Reep’s spiritual descendant – is leaving West Ham. He intends to take next season off.

“As a manager, you just ignore your family 24/7 when you do this job, and it’s time for me to give the family a little bit of time,” Allardyce said after West Ham’s 2-0 loss to Newcastle, adding that he plans to fly to Spain next week to vacation with his grandchildren.

I can already picture Allardyce in some Spanish park, furiously punting long-balls to his grandson as Barcelona’s academy team plays keep-away on an adjacent field. But perhaps today’s interview was all an elaborate ruse. Might Florentino Perez have secretly tapped Allardyce, who once memorably claimed he was “well-suited” for the Real Madrid job, to replace Carlo Ancelotti in the Bernabeu dugout? We’ll just have to wait and see.

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Why Isn’t Wayne Rooney Considered A Great Player?

Wayne Rooney recently earned his 100th England cap in a European Championship Manchester United v Manchester Cityqualifier at Wembley Stadium. He scored in that game, and then netted another two goals in a friendly against Scotland, putting him within reach of Bobby Charlton’s England goal-scoring record. At club level, Rooney has won five Premier League titles, a Champions League, several domestic cups, and a handful of individual awards. And yet many pundits insist that, despite his prodigious talent, he will never join the pantheon of footballing greats.

Rooney’s detractors emphasize a few key criticisms. He has repeatedly underperformed at the World Cup. He has endured long goal-scoring droughts. He can’t control his temper. He smokes cigarettes and eats unhealthy food. But the real reason Rooney hasn’t achieved greatness – or, at least, the kind of greatness pundits recognize – is the same reason he continues to be one of the most interesting players in world football.

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The Great Manchester United Exodus Is Here. And About Time, Too.

Tomorrow is the last day of the summer transfer window, and the Great Manchester United Exodus is finally nani sportinggaining momentum. Last week, Luis Nani returned to Sporting Lisbon – though, thanks to Ed Woodward’s world-class negotiating, United still pays his wages. Earlier today, Shinji Kagawa re-signed for Borussia Dortmund. Javier Hernandez is about to complete a loan move to Real Madrid. Tom Cleverley looks set to join Aston Villa, where, hopefully, his “lack of ability and beady little eyes” won’t provoke quite so much outrage.

Woodward often delays important business until the end of the window. But I kind of doubt Arturo Vidal will leave Italian champions Juventus for a team that recently drew 0-0 with Burnley. So this year, my deadline-eve wish is rather modest. I want the long-overdue GMUE to keep rolling along.

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Five Transfer Headlines That Seem Important

Clint Dempsey to the Seattle Sounders: This transfer is pretty baffling. Clint Dempsey is in his prime. He plays dempsey seattlefor Tottenham Hotspur, which will qualify for next season’s Champions League. (You heard it here first.) He is a cult hero. So why did he decide to leave the Premier League?

I watch Major League Soccer regularly, manage an MLS fantasy team, and tolerate the incoherent bloviating of pundits like Alexi Lalas and Simon Borg. I am both an American soccer fan and a fan of American soccer. But I would love it (love it) if Dempsey stayed in England for a few more seasons.

Cesc Fabregas to Manchester United: Last month, Manchester United chief executive Ed Woodward left the team’s Asia Tour to attend to “urgent business.” According to the English media, Woodward was finalizing a deal for Cesc Fabregas, who lost interest in Barcelona when it became clear that Xavi Hernandez has resilient knees. Needless to say, Fabregas hasn’t joined United – nor, for that matter, has anyone else. I’m increasingly certain that David Moyes and Woodward, who replaced the unpopular but devastatingly effective David Gill, have no idea what they’re doing.

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Cliches about Cliches: The Wrong Way to Cover the Summer Transfer Window

Last month, Rory Smith, a writer for ESPNFC, published an article titled “Cracking the Transfer Window Code.” higuainSmith bills the piece as “a public service announcement” that will “help us pick our way through the endless night of summer,” then makes a few tired jokes about British tabloids (don’t believe everything you read, kids) and the transfer-window vernacular (United remains hopeful, despite rumors that want-away striker Wayne Rooney has set his heart on a move to Chelsea).

The football media comprises two main groups: the mischievous news outlets that report transfer gossip as if it were fact, and the “serious” sites that run Jonathan Wilson articles and care about things like, you know, ethics. Most of the year, the serious sites are the only ones worth visiting: they feature stories about tactical trends and neurotic South American coaches, while the tabloids explore the minutiae of Cristiano Ronaldo’s love life.

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Barcelona is the Best and You Know It: Graham Hunter’s 400-page Fanzine

FC Barcelona’s world-famous academy is no longer based at “La Masia,” the endearingly decrepit farmhouse in which Lionel Messi of Barcelonamany of Barca’s homegrown players spent their formative years. In 2011, the club moved its training complex to the shiny, modern Ciutat Esportiva Joan Gamper, which contains, among other things, an enormous sauna.

Over the last decade, Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez, Carles Puyol, Victor Valdes, Gerard Pique and Cesc Fabregas have graduated from the old, La Masia-based academy, where they learned drills like rondo, a kind of monkey-in-the-middle game that promotes quick passing and intelligent pressing. The place was legendary; as Graham Hunter explains in Barca: The Making of the Greatest Team in the World, it had become a byword for Barcelona’s unique philosophy, its more-than-a-club-ness.

In another era, the relocation might have provoked an angry backlash. But in early 2011 – a couple of months away from its second Champions League title in three seasons, cruising in La Liga, scoring brilliant goals just about every game – Barca could do no wrong. Twenty-eleven was also the year newly elected president Sandro Rosell decided that the club’s long-standing refusal to negotiate a jersey sponsorship constituted financial suicide, and quickly struck a deal with a Qatari airline – but not many people complained about that decision, either.

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