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well, apart from the fact they sometimes win stuff....


Nicholas Cage was at the Bernabéu on Wednesday, watching from the directors' box with politicians, judges and former players as Real Madrid crashed out of the Champions League. Before the match the star of Snake Eyes and Raising Arizona was presented with a Real Madrid shirt by the club president, Ramón Calderón. After the game he was taken into the home dressing room to meet the players.


There was just one problem. The man getting an access-all-areas pass was not Cage at all but an Italian impersonator - and after Madrid's 4-2 aggregate defeat by Roma it was easy to conclude that Calderón has been no more successful identifying players. Real's coach, Bernd Schuster, meanwhile, failed to identify defeat even as it stared him in the face, his grip on reality becoming even more tenuous. His grip on his job may prove just as loose.


When Calderón stood for Madrid's presidential elections he promised to sign Kaka, Cesc Fábregas and Arjen Robben. He did eventually sign Robben, a year late, but there is no sign of the world footballer of the year or the midfielder who outshone him at San Siro on Tuesday night.


In their absence Madrid have spent €220m (£168m) but have not broken a deeply concerning run - four years of falling at the European Cup's first knockout stage. There was a disquieting feeling yesterday that, although Madrid top La Liga, England and the rest of the continent has left Spain behind. One Madrid-supporting columnist wrote of "no excuses", not even the absences of Ruud van Nistelrooy and Sergio Ramos. This year Madrid have lost seven matches, threatening a collapse that many argue has been coming since the summer, kept at bay only by Iker Casillas's saves and Van Nistelrooy's goals.


Of Madrid's €100m of summer signings, not one has been a regular starter. Javier Saviola, a much trumpeted steal from Barcelona, has swapped one bench for another; Roberto Soldado and Royston Drenthe have been irrelevant and Robben and Christoph Metzelder came injured and have hardly played. There is no right midfielder, no one to lead from the middle and little cover. Worse still, of those who came the summer before only Van Nistelrooy has been an unqualified success.


That is why Schuster has not been the target, despite his evident discomfort with the pressure, his bizarre claim on Wednesday that "I do not consider this a defeat" and the fact he was brought in to replace the "boring" Fabio Capello but has changed little. Which is not to say he will not be the victim. Because the greater the pressure on Calderón, the greater the need for a scapegoat and a new miracle worker. Just as a certain Special One announces his intention to return.



they are quite funny though

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