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Madrid still a ticking timebomb


Florentino Pérez may be gone, but the dressing-room divisions and disharmony at Real Madrid remain, writes Sid Lowe


Monday March 6, 2006



So, having been through four directors of football, six coaches and twenty players in just three years, Florentino Pérez finally sacked the man really responsible for Real Madrid's crisis: himself. After years of pseudo-coaches and pseudo-directors, powerless pawns in a real-life game of Championship Manager that has cost the club ?440m in transfer fees, plus ?11m a year per galáctico, Madrid's real director of football and real coach fell on his sword at last.


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Sacking a third coach this season would have been too much even for Pérez. More significantly, by walking he avoids becoming the first man to preside over three successive seasons without a trophy since 1953. If there was something honourable about this one last desperate attempt to provoke a reaction against Arsenal and thus save the season, there was also something cowardly about it.

Even as he finally did the right thing, Pérez did the wrong thing. The man who attacked coach José Antonio Camacho for dumping Madrid right in it without stopping to ask why the sweaty-pitted one walked just four games into the season (but stopping to pay him off so he never told, naturally), has done exactly the same. Pérez departed leaving furious directors and an institutional crisis and pointing the finger, laying bare divisions within the squad and turning simmering conflicts into open warfare. Just days from the club's most important game of the season.


Even as he accepted blame, Pérez shifted it. Admitting that there was little harmony in a dressing room that has long been divided but tried to keep a lid on it, he insisted: "I have educated the players badly. They got confused and thought they were great; some thought they had to play every game." Suddenly, he had become the victim, devoured by the galactic monster he had created, an incorrigible romantic destroyed by footballers whose only true love is filthy lucre. As one enormous banner at the Santiago Bernabéu put it this weekend: "President, it wasn't your fault. Out with the mercenaries!" It was exactly what he would have wanted.


And yet, much as Pérez was truly hurt by Madrid's collapse (he has been a Madrid member since he was a kid and became enthralled to the galácticos), romance does not explain his presidency. Nor, indeed, does it explain his fall.


If anyone knows about filthy lucre it is he; if anyone wields power, the former UCD councillor and head of Spain's largest construction company, electrical giant and advertising agency is your man. A man capable of bringing his political and financial power to bare on the morning's headlines: no wonder he got such a good press, no wonder no one asked whether it was a bit odd for his company to be busily building great big expensive towers on Madrid's old training ground.


There is an episode of The Simpsons where Mr Burns buys up the world's most famous baseball players to win a local softball tournament and, more importantly, win $1m from another unscrupulous nuclear power plant owner. As he voraciously snaps up the stars, he crudely pushes the existing players out, Homer included, even though they took the team to the final. In the end, though, the bitter and mistreated original clan are forced to rescue the side, Homer inevitably hitting the home run (with his head). It could have been based on Madrid - if it wasn't for the fact that Madrid no longer win anything.


The galácticos thought they had to play every game? Maybe because they did have to play every game. The sight of David Beckham on the bench prompted Camacho's departure, while leaving Ronaldo out was the last thing Mariano García Remón did as coach - and the first thing Juan Ramón López Caro did as coach in the post-Pérez era. "From now on," he announced poetically, "we will play with hombres, no con nombres [men, not names]." From now on.


Maybe now Madrid can be a football team once more. Under Pérez they were not, and the consequences were dire. The non-galácticos quickly became aware of their utter irrelevance and came to resent an institution that forced them into summer tours instead of pre-season training, that forced out team-mates, that stripped the coach of all authority, that made a myth of meritocracy. "This club has lost its soul," as one first teamer put it.


Before Saturday's 2-1 derby win over Atlético (how kind of their neighbours to lend a hand yet again!), the Bernabéu scoreboard projected a montage of Pérez's greatest moments at the club to Oasis's Don't Look Back in Anger, in one last act of political spin doctoring. Florentino meets the King, the UN and Aznar. Madrid win the European Cup (nice to see the archive working). Florentino kisses the Pope's ring. Florentino presents the galácticos (funnily enough, Florentino doesn't present any normal players). Florentino lays the first brick at the new training ground. And so on.


But if all that, like Madrid's escape from crippling debt and newfound solvency (if we can believe figures over which doubts have been raised), is Florentino's legacy, there is more. The club needs a complete overhaul and Pérez has left a ticking timebomb. By departing with a dig at the players, he has left Ronaldo in the eye of the storm - yet another easy scapegoat - easy prey for new president Fernando Martín and the Brazilian's real nemesis: Raúl.


Smelling blood, the captain insisted that "Florentino should name names," but there was no need, for Martín immediately pulled out an iron fist, giving an aggressive speech in which he railed against a team of millionaires, demanded 24-hour dedication and physical perfection, and announced plans for a secret police force to spy on the players' off-field behaviour. With 82% of fans wanting him out, the target was obvious; Martín's speech had Ronaldo's name written all over it. Which is more than can be said for Saturday's teamsheet.




Villarreal 3 - 2 Alavés

Real Madrid 2 - 1 Atlético

Celta 2 - 0 Osasuna

Getafe 1 - 0 Betis

Sevilla 2 - 1 Athletic

Cádiz 2 - 0 Espanyol

Barcelona 3 - 2 Deportivo

Real Sociedad 1 - 3 Zaragoza

Racing 0 - 0 Mallorca

Málaga 0 - 0 Valencia




In a sense I'm slightly more irritated that the Arsenal - Madrid game is on the same time as us, more then I would be if the Barca - Chelsea game was.


Don't get me wrong, I want to see Chelsea get thrashed as much as the next man, but I think its going to be a fascinating game at Highbury on Wednesday.

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