THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

José Mourinho can count himself lucky that he doesn't answer to Real Madrid's president. Phil Ball reports

Can’t somebody just ban Real Madrid, for ever? Their behaviour since the resignation of president Florentino Pérez in February has defied all codes of both sporting and business practice – an assault on basic decency so serious that it is only surpassed in surrealism by the fact that no one saw fit to do anything about it. Arrogance and a certain disrespect for others have always been the hallmark of Real Madrid CF, traditionally a curious mixture of market-led imperialism and the worst type of insularity. But the recent goings-on have stretched the club’s credibility to limits beyond the known galaxy, from where many of their players were originally rumoured to have come.

Pérez lap-dog Fernando Martin was given the push as stop-gap president in April. Of the five candidates to replace him, Juan Miguel Villar Mir was widely tipped to win, mainly because he had been a government minister (just after Franco’s death) and owned a number of corporations, one of which had previously won the contract to build the club’s new sports complex. A man with just the right CV to take over Spain’s most recognisable right-wing cultural icon.

The idea that this might be a new beginning for the club seemed somewhat soured by the expectation that Mir would win. But instead he came third to Ramón Calderón, a 55-year-old lawyer whose main trick had been to promise the arrival of Fabio Capello then force an injunction on the postal vote, thereby depriving some 60 per cent of the club membership of its vote, a move that is widely seen as having robbed Mir of victory.

Be that as it may, each candidate was clearly lying through his teeth in almost every public declaration. Since Pérez himself began the tradition of announcing which players might belong to the club in the event of his election (in his case Luis Figo – which was true) the practice has become a necessary part of both Real’s and Barcelona’s presidential campaigns. Joan Laporta got away with suggesting that he had signed Beckham for Barça, but Kaká, Fabregás, Henry, Alonso, Van Nistelrooy, Robben, Cristiano Ronaldo, Reyes and Ashley Cole were all said to have been on their way to the Bernabéu, according to confident announcements from the hustings of the various candidates. Mir was adamant that he had “persuaded” Arsène Wenger to uproot from London. He also claimed, much to the detriment of Alex Ferguson’s complexion, that he had “signed” Cristiano Ronaldo, too. All nonsense, of course, but an integral part of the candidate game, it would seem.

Calderón himself claimed to be interested in José Mourinho as well, just in case Juventus were let off the hook and Capello decided not to desert the ship. It’s not known whether Mourinho ever claimed to be interested in Real Madrid. Wenger certainly let it be known, in his usual implicit and diplomatic tones, that he had not the slightest intention of lowering himself into the Bernabéu madhouse. Good for him.

The pretension on Madrid’s part that every player and manager of note in the world will be happy to join them is as bizarre as it is disrespectful. They have the money, sure enough, but to date only Fabio Cannavaro and Emerson have taken the plunge and only then after it became obvious that there was to be no reprieve for Juventus. “I’ll give my heart and soul for Real Madrid,” declared Cannavaro on his presentation day. Well, so would most of us for £7 million a year.

The three Rs – Raúl, Ronaldo and Roberto Carlos – remain, simmering malcontents of a previous regime. Until they go there will be no real revolution. The mutual respect between Capello and these three may save them for now, but the feeling is that Calderón, oddly enough, may prove to be the man who can effect real change, due to his lack of links with the previous generals. He has largely flushed out the old executive structure, sparing only José Angel Sánchez, head of marketing and the true architect of Pérez’s dreams. The money man stays, but the mild-mannered Emilio Butragueño has gone, to be replaced as director of football by the more thrusting and canny Predrag Mijatovic, ex-player and more recently an agent.

Meanwhile, the stench of corporate chutzpah hangs thickly in the air. Maybe Real Madrid will finally get it together this season and wipe the slate cleaner, but it may take rather longer for the recent circus to fade from the memory.

From WSC 235 September 2006. What was happening this month

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