Real Madrid, Gareth Bale and why it’s not just about the football

At the Santiago Bernabeu, the stage is literally set for what could be the unveiling of the world’s most-expensive footballer. Gareth Bale’s proposed move from Tottenham to Real Madrid has understandably monopolised recent back pages as fans await the conclusion of a transfer saga that has left many questioning the financial implications of the reported £85 million deal.

Aside from the moral qualms many have about such an astronomical figure, most fans have been left querying whether Bale is worth the record-breaking fee. The Welshman is a phenomenal footballer on a par with other Premier League heavyweights; Luis Suarez, Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie. Yet these players aren’t nearly attracting the astronomical figures to their names as Bale. Robin van Persie, last season’s top goalscorer, was bought for a measly £22.5 million last year. One of the finest all-round English players of the last decade, Wayne Rooney, was only recently valued at a mere £25 million by Chelsea. Luis Suarez, scorer of 30 goals last season, has attracted massive offers from Arsenal but that famous 40 million and a one pound pales in comparison to the reported Bale fee.

The residing question then is this: what exactly are Madrid up to? Gareth Bale is undoubtedly a superb footballer. Not even the most ardent of Arsenal fans would question that. For club and country, the midfielder scored 31 goals last term. He single-handedly won games for his team in sublime fashion on more than a handful of occasions. These are facts that nobody can deny. They are also facts that fans of Manchester United (Rooney and van Persie) and Liverpool can boast of their stars yet no record transfer fee hangs over the heads of these players. Real Madrid president Florentine Perez obviously sees value in the Welshman and is willing to part with £85 million to prove it.

Real Madrid are no strangers to blockbuster signings. In 2001 it was Zinedine Zidane (a then world record £45.6 million). In 2009, it was Kaka (another world record of around £56m) and then Cristiano Ronaldo (yet another world record fee of £80 million). At a cheaper, but no less significant, level they signed David Beckham from Manchester United in 2003 for £24.5 million.

Real Madrid is unashamedly a brand and each of the players mentioned slotted perfectly into the on-going mission to solidify the Galácticos as the largest global brand in football. Through sponsorships and worldwide touring Madrid have become the most recognised football club on the planet.

Gareth Bale

With Beckham they acquired Europe’s most valuable sporting personality. From the very beginning of his Spanish adventure David Beckham was helping his new club recoup the money they had dished out on him – even his medical was sponsored by a health-care firm. Add this to multi-million pound Adidas deal to match Madrid’s and a merchandising agreement that reportedly had Beckham handing 50% of his personal sponsorship earnings to Madrid then it is safe to say that the Spanish giants have an idea of how to spend money to make money.

‘Brand Madrid’ seek players that are able to enhance not just their on-field success but also that off it. Jose Mourinho’s managerial credentials need no clarification yet he was considered surplus to requirements at Madrid as his controversial antics were just not in keeping with the angelic sheen of the nine-time European Cup winners. When Mourinho was seen to poke then Barcelona assistant Tito Vilanova in the eye the Spanish press called it ‘deplorable’. Not an image football’s biggest commercial club wished to convey.

Madrid were often linked to Liverpool’s Luis Suarez this summer, a player with statistics that at times outshine Bale’s, yet this interest never gathered any momentum and it can only be assumed that this is down to the tainted image of the Uruguayan. Like Mourinho, Suarez is capable of too much brand-damaging controversy to justify spending such amounts of money regardless of his talent.

Just a quick glance at Real Madrid’s history of signings provides a clearer picture of why they are willing to spend such an enormous amount on a clean-cut, fresh faced, superstar in the making. In Bale, Madrid have a young star in the making that they will be able to mould and shape to fit their own needs. In Madrid, Bale has a platform to expand his own brand. It was not so long that it was revealed Bale was attempting to trademark his heart-shaped goal celebration – he is clearly aware of the benefits of building his own brand beyond the game and the benefits of a Madrid move will not be lost on the 24-year-old.

Even on a brand-building level, Bale at such a price will still be seen as a gamble for Madrid. Unlike, Zidane, Kaka, Ronaldo or Beckham, he is not a pre-packaged global star just waiting to become a shirt-selling machine. He doesn’t yet transcend sport like, say, Beckham did. The more cynical of supporters will assume the long drawn-out pursuit of Bale by Madrid is merely a clever marketing ploy to allow the world time to catch up and get to know the world’s most expensive footballer-elect before the eventual finalities are complete.

Simply by being attached to such lucrative and high-profile transfers in recent history, Real Madrid have ensured their names in both the history books and newspapers all around the world; the Gareth Bale situation is no different. Madrid are being talked about by football fans and non-fans alike the world over, and that is just the way the like it as the brand continues to flourish with the latest star commodity preparing his keepy-up skills for the big Bernabeu reveal.

by Jack Poland

Juan Sebastian Veron at Manchester United: Why it didn’t work.

Juan Sebastian Veron is considered to be Sir Alex Ferguson’s one truly expensive flop purchase in the transfer market. He always makes his way on to lists of United’s and even the Premier League’s worst ever signings and so it is easy to forget that he arrived as a bona fide world-class player, much desired around Europe, who was expected to be a key man in Manchester United’s domestic dominance as well as getting them back to another Champions League final. So why didn’t he?

Veron joined a United side in 2001 which had just won the three previous Premier League titles and the 1999 Champions League as part of the famous treble. Veron cost a then British record £28m from Lazio, who had themselves completed a domestic treble in 2000. He was their key player, the driving force in their central midfield in a team managed by Sven Goran Eriksson who’s own achievements at the club won him the England job.

Juan Sebastian Veron

Veron was a technically sublime player. He scored and made goals but his primary strength was his full range of passing. At Lazio he would dictate the tempo of the team’s moves. When receiving the ball he always had his head up looking for the next pass, which kept Lazio ticking along at a pace that their opponents could rarely cope with. He wasn’t blessed with pace but he was a hard worker. He was a pure playmaker, wanting everything to come through him, and if it did then things were invariably good for Lazio. He was, in every way, the fulcrum of their team. An absolutely complete package of a central midfielder.

With this in mind, it’s not hard to see why Ferguson was tempted. Since winning the Champions League in 1999, Manchester United had suffered consecutive quarter-finals defeats against teams that had this kind of midfield centrepiece. In 2000 they lost to a Real Madrid side that had the obscenely talented Fernando Redondo at it’s heart. Indeed, the most dramatic piece of skill in the famous tie saw him do this to set up the winning goal. For all the talk of Ronaldo it was Redondo who Ferguson was purring about after the game. In 2001 they were put out by a Bayern Munich team that buzzed around the talent of Stefan Effenberg. Effenberg played ‘arrogantly’ with his head up, making everything happen that was good. On both occasions the side that put United out went on to win the Champions League in the very same season.

Ferguson wanted his own one of these and identified Veron as the man to fulfil the role. The strange thing is though, he already seemed to have one in the form of Paul Scholes. Scholes’ partnership with Roy Keane was in full bloom in the middle of United’s 4-4-2 with David Beckham and Ryan Giggs either side, the epitome of United’s Premier League achievement. So why did Ferguson need Veron? Well, he didn’t. He didn’t need him, but he wanted him. This was a time when pretty much all that United were playing for was the Champions League seemingly, having coasted to three titles in a row. The thing to remember with 2001 Paul Scholes is that he was, although a fabulous player, still developing his tactical understanding. He wasn’t the playmaker that he became in later years and at this point was more of the goal getting bustling all action version of himself. Veron seemed to be the ideal candidate to plug in next to the ferocious Roy Keane in Europe. He would also have given Ferguson the tactical flexibility to play all three of them at the same time and dominate possession.

Roy Keane

But Veron never became the United fulcrum. So, why? The oft forgotten thing is that in Europe he was excellent for United, particularly in the 2002/03 campaign where he was the absolute main man. As we’ve seen though, in the league with Scholes and Keane also options, Veron wasn’t the main man. He wasn’t the centre of things like he had been at Lazio and because of this, found it difficult to impose himself. Veron had never been a complimentary player in Italy and was never able to come to terms with that role at United.

It’s often said that his main problem was adapting to the pace of the Premier League and although this was true to an extent, this was made much harder for him because it wasn’t him setting the tempo. Ideally, Veron would have played at a slower tempo than the hectic one often set by Keane and Scholes, who both had a much more direct style. Perhaps this was Veron’s failing but it is important to remember that he joined with Keane not only at the peak of his on-pitch powers but his off-field influence. He was the highest paid player in the land and had been at United for nearly a decade. It was almost impossible for Veron to come in to a club like United and change the way they played with Keane’s dominant presence to overcome. As it was, Veron tried to fit in to the quicker style he was having to play and couldn’t thrive. He was second fiddle and it completely neutralised his style.

In the end Veron was never going to be successful at United. He joined the team to play the specific role as the fulcrum in Ferguson’s team that would win the Champions League. However, he couldn’t ever become that when stepping in to such an established team with as imposing a man as Roy Keane to have to overthrow for leadership of the team. Veron had spent his career being the main man but he could never be that at United and so was never in a position to recapture his Serie A form. He flopped at Chelsea for the same reason but has achieved great success in Argentina back in his role as the focus of the team.

You can read more original, research based content daily by Max at thefootballspace.com

The Loan Debate: Is it good for the parent club?

With Fifa Financial Fair Play coming into effect and extortionate transfer fees blighting some clubs’ efforts to reinforce, the tried-and-tested loan system is an option can make or break a team’s season. One only has to look at the track record of young players evolving into top-class athletes whilst on loan deals, or a club being boosted by a temporary signing. It’s seemingly good for the player and parent club, as first-team football leads to development, and the smaller team gets the benefit of having a player they most likely couldn’t buy outright.

However, the loan system is not perfect, seems only to work when there is a match between the player and both his clubs and has a number of negative countering factors.

Pros

There is no doubt that loaning a player can make his career, as he returns to the parent club revitalised and improved after a run of regular football. The list of players to have undergone this process is startling, with three recent cases catching the eye:

  • Jack Wilshere – A promising youngster when he left the Emirates Stadium to join Bolton in 2009-10, he returned to the north London club ready to play an important role for club and country. Would he be the player he is now without the six-month spell of regular Premier League football at the Reebok Stadium?
  • Kyle Walker – Bought by Tottenham back in 2009, the young full back was not immediately considered by Harry Redknapp, and spent short spells at QPR and Aston Villa before becoming an ever-present at White Hart Lane this season.
  • Daniel Sturridge – Signed by Chelsea from Manchester City, youthful Sturridge could not get a game under Carlo Ancelotti and was loaned, again to Bolton. Eight goals in twelve games showed that the attacker was ready for regular Premier League inclusion, and he is now a key player at Stamford Bridge.

The list continues; Danny Welbeck and Jonny Evans at Manchester United, Jermian Defoe at West Ham, Aaron Ramsey at Arsenal, Joe Hart at Manchester City – plenty of young players have cut their teeth elsewhere and gone on to become international players.

In fact, looking at the England squad for the international fixture against Sweden in November 2011, 16 of the 25-man squad have been subject to loan deals. This spans back years and decades, with David Beckham’s successful stint at Preston North End in 1995 proving this is no recent phenomenon. The case of Emmanuel Adebayor at Tottenham shows that bringing in an experienced head on loan also works. Robbie Keane has looked sharper than ever since joining Aston Villa and inspired Celtic fans by scoring 12 goals in 16 games back in 2010.

The player’s wages are generally taken on fully or partly by the loaning club, so everyone’s happy. Right?

Cons

Despite the advantages of the loan system, sometimes for one reason or another it just doesn’t work. There are also a number of negative factors that must be considered when sending/taking a player on a temporary basis.

Arsene Wenger has strong opinions on the loan system, and despite taking advantage of it in the cases of Ramsey and Wilshere, he has seen the other side of the coin with a number of other players. Brazilian youngster Pedro Botelho was bought by The Gunners in 2007, but since has been loaned out to five different Spanish teams with little or no benefit to Arsenal. Samuel Galindo is a Bolivian defender signed by Arsenal, but was not granted a work permit. He is in his second loan spell in Spain, and struggles to get any regular football, the same is the case with Wellington Silva, who is now at Alcoyano.

It’s not all roses for the club getting the player on loan either.

  • Overdependence – An overdependence on temporary players is seemingly occurring in the lower leagues, as a team can bring in up to five loan players at any one time, almost half a team. Add to that the fact that the parent club can generally recall the player at any point, and it makes for a shaky alliance.
  • Is he ‘our player’? – The fans at times struggle to feel any real loyalty or bond with players who will be leaving in six months, and depart the club after showing any semblance of form or ability. The loanee’s motivations will always be questioned also, as he naturally will be more interested in putting himself in the shop window and progressing with the parent club than aiding his temporary team’s plight.
  • Youth systems – A loan deal may well benefit the parent club’s youth system, but what of the lesser of the two clubs? Wilshere’s loan to Bolton or Walker’s to Aston Villa, although successful for the duo, is stopping another home-grown young prospect from progressing at the Reebok Stadium or Villa Park.
  • Knock on effect – With the sheer number of players on loan, it is only natural that a team’s season can be decided by the actions of a temporary player. This also applies not only to the team the player goes from or to, but others in the division.

Arsene Wenger’s main gripe with the loan system is typified by the example of Adebayor, who helped Spurs challenge for the Champions League spots, but wasn’t available to potentially derail Manchester City’s title charge.

Published – Soccerlens

Football’s Great Chokes

Football is a funny old game. One minute your team looks like they have a match or a league title in the bag, the next it can escape their grasp. The term ‘choke’ is synonymous in sporting circles with people or teams that are in a commanding position but suffer a meltdown mentally, losing their composure and consequently the match or competition. With the United States choke against Panama in the Gold Cup fresh in the memory, I have decided to look at some of the famous footballing chokes over the years.

AC Milan, Champions League Final 2005
The Champions League final is the biggest stage in world club football and AC Milan and Liverpool contested the 2005 final in Istanbul, Turkey. The game was a story of two choking sides, firstly Liverpool were the team to freeze up as they were overawed by the occasion and let in a soft goal in the first minute to veteran Italian defender Paolo Maldini. From there Rafa Benitez’s team conceded two more in the first half, with Kaka the architect and Argentine striker Hernan Crespo the executioner. Half time; Liverpool 0 Milan 3, it looked like it could get embarrassing for the English side. However choking can be infectious and the Rossoneri caught the bug in the second half, as Steven Gerrard inspired his side to fight back and the Italian side capitulated under the pressure of being 45 minutes away from European glory. Goals from Gerrard, Vladimir Smicer and Xabi Alonso saw the match finish 3-3, go to penalties and it was Milan’s darling Andriy Shevchenko who eventually crumbled under the pressure and missed the decisive penalty, giving Liverpool the Champions League title.

Bayern Munich, Champions League Final 1999
Manchester United and Bayern Munich contested the 1999 Champions League final in the Nou Camp, Barcelona, in what would be a prime example of the footballing choke. In an end to end match the German side started the brighter, and deservedly took the lead through a Mario Basler effort after only six minutes. United attacked well but the German side had key chances to win the game by getting the decisive second goal; firstly Mehmet Scholl hit the post and then Carsten Jancker struck the crossbar with an overhead kick. With time almost up, Die Roten started to defend and retreat, looking to protect their precious goal advantage. Enter substitutes Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. In injury time Peter Schmeichel came forward to attack a United corner, and in a me-lay in the German box Sheringham managed to convert a poor clearance and give The Reds parity. However the best was yet to come as less than thirty seconds later Solskjaer toe poked home the winner following a Sheringham headed effort. Totally capitulation and a great football choke achieved by Ottmar Hitzfeld’s team in three minutes of injury time.

Tottenham, vs Manchester United, September 2001 and April 2009
Tottenham took on English Champions Manchester United at White Hart Lane on Saturday September 29th 2001, with much anticipation around the London club. In a barnstorming first half performance by the home side, goals from Dean Richards, Les Ferdinand and Christian Ziege gave Spurs a 3-0 lead at the break. North London was full of energy. This could be the start of something big for Glenn Hoddle’s men. Sir Alex Ferguson and United had other ideas as five second half goals from Andy Cole, Laurent Blanc, Ruud van Nistlerooy, Juan Sebastian Veron and David Beckham broke Spurs hearts and the game ended 5-3.

Almost eight years later and Harry Redknapp took his talented Tottenham side to Old Trafford to lock horns with The Reds, and in an attacking performance in the first half the London club found themselves 2-0 up at half time with goals from Darren Bent and Luka Modric. Redknapp will have urged his team not to solely sit back and defend, to have belief in themselves and to go and win the game in his half time teamtalk, but instead his team choked and again conceded five second half goals to Cristiano Ronaldo (2), Wayne Rooney (2) and ex-striker Dimitar Berbatov, with the game finishing 5-2 to United.

Chelsea, vs Arsenal, October 1999
Fourth placed Chelsea hosted second placed Arsenal at Stamford Bridge in a highly charged match on 23rd October 1999, with local bragging rights and the Premiership title up for grabs. Arsene Wenger had started to mould the Gunners team into his own, an had signed Nigerian striker Nwankwo Kanu from Inter Milan in February 1999. In the match Chelsea took the lead through Norwegian striker Tore Andre Flo on 39 minutes and Dan Petrescu gave The Blues a 2-0 advantage on 51 minutes. The chant of “we want five” rang around The Bridge from a euphoric Chelsea support. In a wet and windy day, Kanu stepped up and got one back for Arsenal on 75 minutes, slotting home a miscued Marc Overmars shot, and the home side, and their fans, became slightly edgy. Kanu shocked the home faithful with seven minutes remaining as he drove home an Overmars cross, but the African striker still had more to come. In the last minute of the game, Kanu closed down a clearance and found himself close to the cornerflag, confronted by home keeper Ed de Goey, who had rushed out of his goal. The lanky striker avoided de Goey’s sliding tackle and converted from the tightest and most impossible angle to give the Gunners the match 3-2, with Chelsea in despair.
Real Madrid, 2003-2004 La Liga Season
In the 2003-04 La Liga season, Real Madrid had a star studded team full of world beaters, were champions from the previous season and followers at the Bernabeu had Ronaldo, Beckham, Figo, Roberto Carlos and Zidane to surely lead them to a second consecutive title. This looked very likely, as by the end of February Los Blancos were eight points ahead at the top of the standings and looking for the treble. However a four month choke by Carlos Quieroz’s side saw them lose the Copa del Rey final to Real Zaragoza, get kicked out of Europe at the hands of Monaco and lose their grip on the domestic title. A loss in El Classico and a 4-1 home defeat to Real Sociedad on the last day of the season saw Valenica lift the title, and the Galacticos finish fourth behind Barcelona and Deportivo La Coruna.

Newcastle United, 1995-96 Premier League Season
Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle side of 1995-96 were labelled ‘The Entertainers’, as the Toon amassed a quality side with the likes of Les Ferdinand and David Ginola in their ranks. Keegan’s men dispatched all in front of them and rushed into a 12 point lead at the top of the Premier League. The Geordies had finished second a couple of years earlier, but for the St James Park faithful this would be the season of glory. However Keegan’s men fell victim to a run of inconsistent form and perennial strong finishers Manchester United caught Newcastle up, and won the league from under their noses. Newcastle have fallen from grace since, and the choke of 1996 has significantly impacted upon the team’s fortunes.

The old cliches of ‘it’s not over til it’s over’ and ‘it’s a game of two halves’ spring to mind when reminiscing about some of the great footballing chokes, and it shows that a team must be mentally prepared as well as physically and tactically to succeed at the highest level.

Published – http://www.footballfancast.com/2011/06/football-blogs/footballs-great-chokers-part-one

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