From Galacticos to the Selecao, when Real
Madrid president Florentino Perez changes his mind, he, as the saying
goes, really changes his mind.
A few years ago, when he was deep into his "Galactico" philosophy, it
was all very simple. Perez didn't need any input from his manager or
sporting director. He just went out and bought the best possible player,
year after year, and worried about how it would all fit together later.
And so, one by one, they all moved to Madrid. Luis Figo, then Zinedine
Zidane, then Ronaldo, then David Beckham, then, well Michael Owen (who
perhaps wasn't quite a Galactico but nevertheless was a former European
Footballer of the Year). The idea was simple: superstars won trophies,
and, if you had enough of them, you were going to win. Worrying about
silly things like managers or tactics or a supporting cast was just a
waste of time.
Then, last fall, Perez looked around and began to take stock. Maybe his
policy was not so clever after all. Since the president's arrival in the
summer of 2000, Real had won two Liga titles and one Champions' League.
Not necessarily the return you'd expect when you've spent more than $300
million over four-and-a-half years.
So Perez changed direction. Radically. Instead of the low-profile
company men who had been managing Real, he brought in Brazilian coaching
legend Vanderlei Luxemburgo, a man so confident he makes Chelsea's Jose
Mourinho seem unsure of himself.
This summer Luxemburgo's vision is slowly coming together. The result is
a Real Madrid which looks like the Brazilian national team. Not the
recent world champion, mind you, but some kind of uber-offensive
Brazilian samba experiment from the '60s.
For starters, Luxemburgo's team features no wingers. Or, rather, there
are wingers, but they're masquerading as fullbacks. Roberto Carlos, 32,
and Michel Salgado, 30 in October, will provide all the offensive width
in what amounts to a 4-2-2-2 formation. Both are phenomenal attacking
fullbacks, but one has to wonder just how well they can cover the entire
flank on their own, particularly at their ages.
The "wingless" style (which, incidentally, is part of the reason why
Figo and Santiago Solari were dispatched) is aimed at maximizing freedom
to the front four, which is likely to consist of some combination of
Zidane, Raul, Ronaldo, Julio Baptista and Robinho (as soon as he signs).
By having four uber-gifted front men who are free to move and create as
they please, Real will continually befuddle opponents -- or so goes the
When it works -- if it works -- it will be a sight to behold. However,
defensively, it puts a huge burden on the back four and on the two
holding midfielders, who are likely to be Beckham and either Pablo
Garcia or Thomas Gravesen. Bear in mind that Beckham has been far less
productive playing centrally than in his familiar wide right role, which
will likely be manned by River Plate-signee Diogo, another right
wingback (who at least will give Michel Salgado an occasional breather).
Despite the changes, Real's central defense remains a sore issue. Walter
Samuel was a bust at Real and is now at Inter. Jonathan Woodgate is
injured (nothing new there). All of which means that unless another
defender materializes right away, Ivan Helguera (who also isn't getting
any younger) will be partnered with either Mejia, Francisco Pavon, Ruben
or Raul Bravo ... none of whom is Real Madrid material, certainly not in
the starting XI.
For his part, Luxemburgo doesn't appear to be concerned. After all,
Brazil won the Confederations Cup and the World Cup with Roque Junior in
central defense, which says a lot. But wining a knock out competition
over seven games is one thing, winning La Liga or the Champions League
is quite another. Brazil also has quality natural holding midfielders (Emerson,
Gilberto Silva, etc.), which Real does not have. And while Brazil did
have aging attacking fullbacks at the World Cup (Cafu and Roberto Carlos)
(much like Real), Brazil also played with three central defenders (unlike
It's going to be very interesting to see how Luxemburgo makes it all fit
together. Another $60 odd million has been spent this summer and, when
the dust settles (and Owen leaves) it remains be to seen whether Real
will be any better than last season.
Speaking of Owen, why won't anyone sign him? Does he have body odor?
What is it? Owen is 25-years-old and has averaged nearly 17 league goals
a season over the past eight years. Real has put him up for sale (fair
enough, he's fourth-choice at the Bernabeu) but it's puzzling that
nobody has pounced. Owen is making around $7 million a year, but his
transfer price is likely to be reasonable (in the $10 million to $15
million range). Perhaps the slow market is a result of the reputation
Owen has developed as a pure goal-scorer who is somewhat one-dimensional.
These days, banging it into the back of the net clearly isn't enough for
some people. ... Juventus is very proud of its show-piece central
midfield of Emerson and Patrick Vieira, two of the best holding
midfielders in the world. But are they so good, they may not want to do
the grunt work? Lost in all the excitement over their signings is the
fact that each played alongside guys last year who did the dirty work (Manuele
Blasi at Juve, Gilberto Silva at Arsenal). Now, they're going to have to
take turns doing it. Whether they can (or even want to) roll up their
sleeves, so to speak, at their age and with a World Cup on the horizon
remains to be seen. We expect the unspectacular Giuliano Giannichedda to
get plenty of playing time. ... So now Rio Ferdinand is being booed by
Manchester United fans, unhappy that he is holding out for a Ј11 million
a year contract, rather than the Ј9.5 million offered by the club. What
does he expect? No defender in the world makes that much money, not even
those who are better than Ferdinand (Alessandro Nesta) or those who have
had more recent success (John Terry, Jamie Carragher). Time for a
reality check. Unless, of course, it's all just a ploy to force the club
to sell him. In which case, you can understand why the fans are booing.
Manchester United still hasn't added any players to their aging midfield
(with the exception of Park Ji-Sung, who's likely to be deployed on the
left). Do you think it has a realistic chance of regaining the
Premiership title? Who do you think would be an ideal signing for their
-- Andy, Farmington, England
United has an outside chance, although I think it will take something
bad happening to Chelsea and/or Arsenal for Sir Alex Ferguson to notch
another title. Park Ji-Sung will be a boost, if he settles. Like you,
I'm surprised that United has not boosted the midfield, given Roy
Keane's age (and injuries), not to mention the fact that Paul Scholes is
also getting on in years. I know Ferguson likes Darren Fletcher a lot,
but to me that area of the pitch still requires strengthening.
Personally, I would have gone for Mickael Essien (to make an instant
impact) or, thinking longer term, Javier Mascherano, a guy with
seemingly unlimited potential.