Wednesday 11 March ~
Liverpool's emphatic victory over Real Madrid demonstrated the gulf in class that seems to be forever widening between the Premier League and La Liga. While full of praise for the "Spanish Reds", today’s football press in Spain were damning in their verdict on Real Madrid following last night's capitulation, with Iker Casillas the only player to escape the journalists' wrath. Headlines such as "Casillas didn't deserve this” and "Total dressing down for Madrid" will have done little to uplift the players’ moods. Juande Ramos, who cut a forlorn figure, is no doubt going to add to the rising level of unemployment in Spain come the end of the season.
Last night's defeat was the fifth consecutive exit at the last 16 of the Champions League for Real Madrid. Although two La Liga titles have softened the blow slightly, Real's old air of invincibility in Europe has long since evaporated. The club's board are quite naturally looking to address the problem, but the question is how and at whose expense? Spanish media reports suggest that three men are in contention for the job: Carlo Ancelotti, Rafael Benitez and Arsene Wenger, with the latter being touted as the favourite.
The Spanish press seem to be pretty confident that the noted Barcelona supporter Cesc Fabregas wouldn't take too much convincing to swap London for Madrid having previously revealed a conversation with former president Ramon Calderon, saying: "I told him that now wasn't the time to go to Madrid but being wanted by Madrid, one of the biggest teams in history, is important." Speculation surrounding Wenger still seems a tad optimistic, however, given his long loyalty to Arsenal and the fact he has never broken a contract.
But if anyone can make it happen then former club president Florentino Perez would be the man. Perez, remembered for his role in bringing Luis Figo, Zinedine Zidane and David Beckham to the club, enjoyed a successful tenure, albeit one marred by controversy up until his departure in 2006. His campaign for re-election has already started, with an ambassadorial role proposed for Zidane, whom many believe will act as go between with his compatriot Wenger.
There always remains the possibility that Benitez, the man who finally exposed to the world what a shambles Madrid are, could take over. The former Real youth coach has already indicated that he would like to return one day. Whether that day is too come sooner rather than later remains to be seen, but with another summer pursuit of Cristiano Ronaldo also in the offing, Madrid seem to believe that the Premier League will provide solutions to their various problems. Miguel Anton