Monday, January 15, 2007

Guest rant: 2

I mentioned in episode 1 of these guest rants that it'd be an occasional series and so it's proved. Here now is the second, authored by Chris of the rarely-updated but oft-amusing Scratchcard Rants with a rant on a not-unrelated theme to the first one: Chelski. Take it away Chris.

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In Madrid they have a saying – ‘There are some certainties in life. Death, taxes, mediocre, skinny-jeans wearing indie lovers appearing as guests on Soccer AM, and Real Madrid screwing up La Liga’. Alright, so I’m lying, I’m fairly sure they don’t say that, unless they do get Soccer AM over there.

But the decline of El Real is very real, and shown none more poetically than their performances in their two most recent La Liga matches, at home to Recreativo Huelva before Christmas and away at Deportivo La Coruna following the festive break. Against promoted Recreativo, the galacticos were demolished 3-0 at the Bernabau almost single-handedly by Liverpool reject Florent Sinama-Pongolle (a tough but fair assessment, I think) and Nigerian tyro Uche, who turned Fabio Cannavarro (recently voted World Player of the Year) inside out for the second of the night. The Christmas recess evidently did not help the flagging team, who promptly turned up in Galicia and had a stinker. David Beckham, playing in what will prove to be his final league game at least under Fabio Capello, was terrible and wasn’t even the worst offender. Despite all the money spent since the Italian tactician arrived, he has not been able to reverse the dramatic slide in the club’s fortunes. Mahmadou Diarra, Marcelo, Emerson, Cannavarro, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, and more recently Argentine duo Fernando Gago and Gonzalo Higuain have all been added at considerable expense, without any real effect on their performances. And the rest of the country appears to be loving it, with Sevilla and Barcelona breaking away from the rest as title contenders. Real’s golden age of challenging for domestic and European honours has come to a crashing halt, and you sense only a major clear out (Capello ridding himself of Beckham is a good start) would correct this.

Why am I talking about this? Well, because over the weekend, the newspapers here in blighty were full of a perceived rift between Chelsea’s oligarch owner Roman Abramovich and Jose Mourinho, who, with a misfiring £30m striker and a threadbare defence, is probably under pressure for the first time in his tenure at Stamford Bridge. The Sun said Mourinho had had enough and was off to replace Capello in Spain; The Mirror said he’d be swapping Chelsea for Milan at Inter. Frankly, in this writer’s opinion, Roman and his minions Peter Kenyon and Frank Arnesen would be potty to let this happen. Mourinho is one of Europe’s finest coaches, he has delivered consistent success to Chelsea when others, such as Rainieri and Vialli (who had plenty of money to spend themselves) could not. His record both with Chelsea and Porto speaks for itself. And if they dismiss Mourinho, or force him out by suddenly coming over all thrifty, they set Chelsea on the road to becoming the next Real Madrid.

The roots of Real Madrid’s decline come in two forms – firstly, their inability to defend, which has been made no better by the acquisition of Fabio Cannavarro and Sergio Ramos, and Roberto Carlos, Michel Salgado, Fernando Pavon, Alvaro Mejia and Marcelo cannot defend either. This means they simply haemorrhage goals against good sides with intelligent attacking play. The second is their trigger-happy nature with coaches. It seems unlikely, if the current pattern continues, Capello will be in the hot-seat next season, and their record with coaches is chequered to say the least – the likes of Wanderley Luxembergo, Jose Antonio Camacho, Juan Ramon Lopez Caro and Carlos Quieroz were given maximum one season to produce results with a lop-sided squad littered with players – like Beckham, Ronaldo, Raul, Robinho and Cassano – for whom complacency has become the most prominent attribute. Should Mourinho walk out, there are few coaches good enough to fill his shoes – Frank Rijkaard will never move to Stamford Bridge, not with the two sides’ recent history, neither will Arsene Wenger; few other coaches have the record or knowledge of English football, nor ability to control a dressing room full of highly-paid international egos, to make a success of Chelski.

The possible parallels with the current situation at the Bernabau should make every Chelsea fan frightened. However, if they are all as cocksure as Soccer AM’s Tim Lovejoy, they won’t see it until it’s too late.

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