The Blond Arrow Shoots Away

There are footballers. There are great players.There are legends. And then there is one Alfredo di Stefano. Debopam Roy pays tribute to him through Goalden Times.

Alfredo di Stefano
Alfredo di Stefano
At a time when everyone is gearing up for  clash of the heavyweights in World Cup Semi-finals, the world has lost one of its most illustrious footballers – one who is arguably the best the world of football has ever seen. Alfredo di Stefano, the man whom Real Madrid placed at the top of its numerous legends, has passed away from a heart attack just 4 days after celebrating his 88th birthday. The fact that he passed away after having witnessed his beloved club win its much coveted La Decima of European triumphs, half of which he himself had won in the ‘50s, would have given him a huge satisfaction.

In many ways this is a story of indomitable will and a sense of adventure coupling together to produce the finest and most refined skill one can dream about in any profession. Alfredo Stéfanodi Stéfano Laulhé was born to Alfredo Di Stéfano, a first-generation Italian Argentine, and Eulalia Laulhé Gilmont, an Argentine woman of French and Irish descent on July 4, 1926 in Barracas, a neighbourhood of Buenos Aires.  He was from a farming family and had a gruelling upbringing. This probably ensured his physical prowess and stamina was supremely developed even before his footballing skills could bloom.

His footballing apprenticeship was with the amateur club Los Cardales with whom he won the amateur championship at 12. Within three years, he was included in the youth sector of the famed River Plate who were in the midst of their golden “La Maquina” generation. Di Stefano was a rising star and led them to a stunning championship win in 1947 scoring 27 goals himself.

His next footballing stop was in Colombia with the Millonarios. Over four years, he scored 267 goals for them in just 292 games. So much so that he was also included in the Colombian national team for 4 unofficial matches. This would in turn come back to haunt him as FIFA found him ineligible for the 1954 World Cup team of Argentina since he had made those appearances with Colombia. Earlier he had missed the 1950 world cup as Argentina had refused to participate.

Wizard with the ball
Wizard with the ball

His next footballing stop was Spain and this probably was his most glorious phase. But the start was not glorious as there were controversies galore concerning his transfer from Millonarios to Barcelona and finally to Real Madrid. There are many stories about his transfer from Millonarios to Real Madrid – most outrageous among them is how the Spanish football federation had asked Barcelona and Real Madrid to share the player for four seasons – two seasons each. Ultimately sanity prevailed and he was probably the lead Galáctico in the first set of Galácticos that Real Madrid had hired. And what a set it was. Di Stefano was joined by the likes of Ferenc Puskás, Paco Gento, Raymond Kopa, Jose Santamaria, Francisco Gento and Hector Rial. Together they would combine to give Real Madrid the first five European Cups. Di Stefano has the unique achievement of scoring four goals in four consecutive winning finals, and then a hat trick in the fifth. His record of seven goals in European final matches is only matched by his partner Puskás, but even his tally came from only two finals. The last of those finals, where Real Madrid played a 7-3 humdinger with Eintracht Frankfurt is still widely regarded as the best European Cup final ever.

One of only 4 players to win 5 European Cups
One of only 4 players to win 5 European Cups

Despite the club level achievements, Di Stefano couldn’t feature in the biggest stage of them all – the World Cup. Having been disqualified from participating for Argentina in 1954, he had acquired Spanish citizenship. Ironically, Spain failed to qualify for the 1958 World Cup and then fate in its unkindest cut, dealt him a muscular injury just before the 1962 competition. He had helped Spain qualify for the finals but himself could not play in that. He retired soon afterward.

For many of us, all that di Stefano embodies is captured in highlight reels and any greatest list compilation but there are some statistics which do not lie, his scoring record for example. His record of 305 goals – in mere 392 matches– for Real Madrid was broken only by Raul. The 49 goals he scored in the European championships in only 58 games stood almost 50 years. His advent in Spanish football meant that Telmo Zarra, the all-time leading scorer in Spanish league ever, did not win another Pichichi Trophy after 1952-53.

The debate between Pele and Maradona seem irrelevant when we hear Pele saying “People talk about the best being Pele or Diego Maradona, but for me the best player ever was Alfredo Di Stefano”. In the same vein, Diego himself would say “I don’t know if I was a better player than Pele but I can say without doubt that Di Stefano was better than Pele.”

In one week’s time we will have a new World Champion. But we have lost one of the champions of the footballing world.

The Legend of Ruth Malosso

He was not only a great inspiration but also an important figure in upholding the values, principles and feelings of football, even after finishing his career,” says Chelsea manager, José Mourinho. Srinwantu Dey tries to pay a humble tribute to the immortal ‘O Rei’, a wonderful soul and modest ambassador for both Portuguese football and Benfica

In one of football’s most recognizable traditions, live bald eagles swoop around the 65,000 odd crowd before every game at one of Portugal’s “Big Three” as mascots – Vitória and Glória (Victory and Glory). It’s a sad day for football lovers as Portugal and Benfica legend Eusébio leaves for his heavenly abode, leaving millions in grief, following a heart attack earlier today. His legacy can never fade into oblivion as long as ‘Victory’ and ‘Glory’ keep entertaining us – symbols befittingly synonymous to The Black Pearl.  Penning a tribute piece on this legend is a Herculean task I believe, as his stature, statistics and accolades are far too astonishing to translate into words. Let us instead look through a few incidents from the early years of his career, which announced to the world in the 60’s – a legend has arrived to rule Europe!

The victory and glory of Eusébio will always be remembered
The victory and glory of Eusébio will always be remembered

The Myth of Ruth Malosso

Eusébio was born to a poverty-stricken family in Portuguese East Africa (now Mozambique). Football was more than a game to him and he was often found playing on the streets instead of attending school. As a result, he was the only member of his family who couldn’t finish schooling. He was an amazing talent since his childhood and no wonder he caught the eyes of several talent scouts. The scenario at Mozambique was very different back then – it was a Portuguese colony and there was no professional setup for playing football. The better clubs were actually feeder clubs of famous football clubs of Portugal. Eusébio was picked up by a local club – Sporting Clube de Lourenço Marques which had a tie-up with the very famous Sporting Clube de Portugal, Lisbon.

Being a subsidiary of big clubs of Portugal, often they used to get a chance to play against big guns of Portugal and other top clubs during their African tours. Such a tour of ‘Clube de Futebol Os Belenenses’ (current Portuguese Cup winners, 1960) discovered a young 17-year old boy who scored two goals against them with blistering pace. Former Brazilian international, José Carlos Bauer was the first person to notice his immense ability who was travelling to Mozambique at the same time with his São Paulo based club Ferroviária de Araraquara. Surprised by his skill level, Bauer immediately referred him to São Paulo, but the Brazilian club denied the chance to take risks for an unknown African footballer. There is a myth that after returning to his home town, Bauer went to a hair-cutting salon where he came across his old acquaintance Béla Guttmann. Guttmann, a Jewish-Hungarian, who was a former manager of São Paulo – was managing S.L. Benfica at the time. During a friendly conversation, Bauer mentioned to him about this young talent of Southeast Africa.

Eusébio with manager Béla Guttmann
Eusébio with manager Béla Guttmann

 

Guttmann was known to be a gold digger. He had just sacked 20 senior players after taking charge of Benfica and was looking for fresh faces. He enquired about Eusébio and came to know about his fascinating skills. He also learnt that Eusébio is currently playing for their biggest rival’s feeder club. At the same time, slow movements had started at other side of Lisbon when Eusébio’s childhood friend Hilário da Conceição – who already was an established defender of Sporting Lisbon – had recommended him to his club. Guttmann didn’t take any chances as he knew it was easier for Sporting to capture this raw talent as he was playing for their subsidiary club. This being a highly sensitive issue, the Benfica board decided that they will never use Eusébio’s name in any communication before the deal finalizes, and thus given a code name – Ruth Malosso. Guttmann went straight to Eusébio’s family home and convinced both him and his mother for this move and got him to sign a contract. He was brought to Portugal secretly after that in December 1960, and sent to the outskirts of Lisbon to prevent any kidnapping. After a long running tug-of-war between two rival clubs, it was agreed upon that Eusébio will be playing for Benfica and he was registered in May, 1961.

After seeing Eusébio train for the first time at the Estadio da Luz, Guttmann shouted to his assistant Fernando Caiado, “It is gold. It is gold”.  José Aguas, Benfica’s #9 and captain, promptly suggested “If it has to be me then so be it, but somebody has to drop out for him to play.” And the rest was history.

 

‘Eusébio 3-2 Pelé’

Just after Eusébio started displaying his charisma in Portugal, Benfica were invited to play in the Tornio International de Paris in 1961 and in the final they played against an exceptional Santos side, led by the ‘best in planet’ footballer Pelé. Within an hour, Benfica found themselves trailing by an insulting 5-0 scoreline, where Pelé struck twice. Guttman had to unleash his last weapon, codename Malosso, from the reserve. He was not mistaken. The 18-year old substitute scored a rapid hat-trick within 63rd to 80th minute of the match. He also won a penalty, which his teammate failed to converted. Guttmann’s young team eventually lost the tie 6-3 to a star-studded Santos team, but the young prodigy won everybody’s heart on that day. Next day, prestigious French magazine L’Équipe made a headline neglecting the main scoreline and Santos’ victory which read as ‘Eusébio 3-2 Pelé’. Later, Pelé stated about Eusébio – “He scored beautiful goals. All of the Santos players, including myself, thought Eusébio was a great player even if none of us knew who he was at that time.” After this encounter, they met quite a few times, but this game truly announced that another black pearl has come to rule the world.

Eusébio consoling Pelé during the 1966 World Cup
Eusébio consoling Pelé during the 1966 World Cup

 

Taking on the Galácticos

A crowd of over 60,000 gathered in Amsterdam’s Olympic Stadium hoping to witness a clash of the titans at 1962 European Cup final between Real Madrid and Benfica. This was a game where Real was trying to re-establish their dominance on European kingdom, and reigning champions Benfica were establishing themselves as an unstoppable force in the Europian mainland. Eusébio was there too. But he was more mesmerized to play against his childhood hero – Alfredo Di Stéfano. The classic final started and soon Di Stéfano took over control of the midfield playing from the deep, while razor-sharp Ferenc Puskás kept threatening the Benfica defence continuously.  Within 25 minutes, the Hungarian wizard put Madrid upfront with a two-goal lead. Though Benfica equalized the score, but again before half time, Puskás completed his hat-trick and gave Madrid back the lead. In the second half, Guttmann was able to shut down Madrid’s mastermind Di Stéfano’s elegance and that is when the ‘Black Panther’ took over control of the stage. Once Mário Coluna made it 3-3, Eusébio scored two goals within 5 minutes, and eventually, Benfica was the winner with a thumping 5-3 scoreline. But Eusébio didn’t forget his dream, he collected the shirt of the Argentine genius and kept it hidden underneath his shorts so that nobody can steal it from him – it was pretty precious to him. The scene was symbolic, as it depicted the passing of legacy from one legend to another. Eusébio definitely didn’t disappoint Di Stéfano!

Eusébio after winning 1962 European Cup
Eusébio after winning 1962 European Cup

 

The Legacy

In his decorated career, he kept scoring goals and making history for Benfica and Portugal. Numbers do the talking for him. One may browse the digital media to find countless lists of his achievements. For me he was a legend true to his own style – a perfect striker with blistering speed, silky skills and enormous power! Guttmann aptly described his shots like watching Sputnik launch into space!

His arrival in Europe was definitely not the first among Africans. Even before him, Maghrebi star player Larbi Ben Barek or Sebastião Lucas de Fonseca of Maputo – who was known as the eighth wonder of theworld among Portuguese – already pioneered that Africans also can contribute to European football.  But Eusébio was definitely the first imported African who ruled the European football demography for more than a decade. The floodgate was opened by him, leading to European powerhouses starting thorough scouting in their colonized provinces. He couldn’t play for his own country Mozambique. Mozambique football association wasn’t established until 1976, after they earned their sovereignty the preceding year. From early 60’s, Portugal regime was involved in turmoil, insurgencies and other political pressure. Rather his inclusion and glorious performance for the Portuguese national team helped the regime to highlight the unity of the metropole and the colonies, leading to racial harmony.  His nickname given as ‘O Rei’ (The King) had massive significance in a regime of fascist dictators.

New Picture
Weeping Eusebio after ‘Jogo das Lágrimas’ – ‘the game of tears’

Being a thorough gentleman and great ambassador of the game, Eusébio won the hearts of all his compatriots and opponents. During the ‘Game of Tears’ where Portugal lost to England 2-1 at Wembley and were knocked out of the 1966 World Cup, Eusébio was found to break down in tears and comforted to the dressing room by both team-mates and opponents. Truly, the greatest victory ever for Benfica over Sporting Lisbon has been nothing but winning Eusébio from them.

Rest in peace, Panther.

MAXIMUS TACTICUS : Real Madrid

One of the most famous and successful football clubs of today, Real Madrid have time and again assembled a league of extraordinary footballers to form the Galácticos. Their astronomical bids have re-written the transfer logbook over the years. This year too has been no different. Carlo Ancelotti has received a star-studded team which will be expected to win every match. May be more than that – play exciting football, score at will and then WIN. Debojyoti Chakraborty analyzes how Real Madrid are going about achieving their goal this season

It should seem like an altogether different team – to the players, supporters and critics alike. Carlo Ancelotti has taken over at Santiago Bernabeu and he has wasted no time in stamping his authority. He is much calmer compared to his predecessor. The same approach is evident in their playing philosophy also. While José Mourinho deployed a quick transition from attack to defence, Ancelotti likes to build up an attack – hold on to the ball and pass it decisively.

One thing that has not changed is Iker Casillas being still sidelined. Diego Lopez has made the goalkeeper’s position his own since his introduction last season and has not let Casillas a foot in. This has been a peculiar situation with Spain’s national team captain and first choice shot-stopper not getting picked in his club team. Casillas is yet to play in La Liga – his appearances have been limited to a few Champions League games and domestic cup matches. But this is far from ideal for both Casillas and Vicente Del Bosque, national team coach with World Cup in Brazil just months away.

Sergio Ramos, the acting captain in the absence of Casillas, is partnered in the heart of the defensive unit by Pepe. He has been ever so consistent with his on-field theatrics, giving a hard time to Ancelotti as well as the whole team. None so evident than in the Champions League group stage match against Galatasaray where Ramos got himself sent off leaving Real to battle it out with 10 men on the pitch.

Luka Modrić: The Playmaker
Luka Modrić: The Playmaker

 

As far as the central midfielders are concerned, Luka Modrić has featured in the most number of matches this season and looks set to continue the trend. He is the complete playmaker Ancelotti wants – great command over the ball, perfect visionary and unmatched game reading. He knows when to slow the game down and when to raise the tempo. He will be pivotal in guiding the young midfielders like Isco, Asier Illarramendi and Casemiro playing around him.

With the introduction of Gareth Bale and departure of Mesut Özil, a revamp of attacking forces was evident. Actually, the shape has changed completely as Ancelotti does not prefer to have a number 10, so integral in a 4-2-3-1 system. He thrives on 4-4-2 with good quality midfielders who have good command over the ball, pass accurately and link up attack with defence. In his new set up, Bale has occupied the right wing, replacing Angel Di Maria, and Isco has been preferred in the middle to play just behind the striker up front. After a superb start to the season, the youngster has mellowed down a bit but definitely, he is a future star in the making. On the left is Cristiano Ronaldo – making it inverted wingers in both the flanks as both Ronaldo and Bale do not miss any opportunity to cut inside and shoot with their stronger foot.

Looking at the starting position of the players, it looks like Ancelotti is taking the tried and tested route of 4-4-2 or its derivative, 4-4-1-1. But that is only a superficial view of things. The right-sided attacking midfielder – be it Di Maria or Bale – is encouraged to stay wide all the time. This allows Isco to join Ronaldo and Benzema in attack, making it a lopsided 4-3-3. Alvaro Arbeloa, the right-back, needs to double up for this strategy to work. He is not a naturally attacking full-back and this is where Ancelotti is using Daniel Carvajal very effectively – Carvajal has started in 10 matches for Madrid, same compared to a much more experienced Arbeloa. Even after pampering the flanks, Madrid is keen to play through the defences to create an opening. Cut backs and one-twos are the order of the day – number of crosses measures up to only 4% of their total number of passes.

Madrid first choice XI
Madrid first choice XI

To give more stability to the team, the lone defensive midfielder is slotted in the right hand side of the park. Xabi Alonso, a perfect midfield anchorman and a technically brilliant footballer occupies this spot. His deputy, Illarramendi is another promising midfielder but he may eventually take up a more advanced role as he matures. Already facing stiff competition from Isco, this does not at all sound good for Sami Khedira.

Since the midfielders and attackers are shifting towards the left side of the pitch, leaving the right wing for Bale or overlapping Carvajal, the left full-back need not venture forward that much. This is where calm and composed Nacho could find himself being preferred to the flamboyant Marcello. Being a centre-back, Nacho gives an extra stability to Pepe and Ramos as well to make it a solid back three when rest of the team is in attack.

Up front there are question marks. Gonzalo Higuain has moved on to Napoli and Karim Benzema is the only recognised senior striker. He is deputised by promising newcomers Alvaro Morata and Jesé. This is far from ideal for a club of Real Madrid’s stature. Lack of options has seen Ronaldo sometimes been deployed as the frontman flanked by Bale and Di Maria in fluid and interchangeable front three of 4-3-3 line-up, but not with much success – most notably in El Clásico. But having Isco as a false 9 flanked by Ronaldo and Bale would be a mouth-watering prospect for launching a quick counter-attack. Besides, it gives Ancelotti the luxury of having one more central midfielder. Considering Ancelotti’s love for compact midfields, don’t be surprised if Real Madrid tries out this strategy, especially against very attack-minded opponents like Barcelona and Bayern Munich.

Let us put things into perspective and compare the statistics of Real Madrid with their main competitors in La Liga.

Team

Chances Created

Shot Accuracy

Goals Scored

Set Piece

Goals Conceded

Possession

Pass Accuracy

Avg. Pass Length (m)

Barcelona

194

49%

49

5

12

57%

88%

16

Atletico Madrid

176

48%

46

11

11

45%

78%

19

Real Madrid

257

45%

49

14

21

53%

86%

18

Stats Galore from La Liga

Real are miles ahead in terms of chance created so far in the league. But most of these chances are not clear-cut ones – these chances have led to almost same number of shots towards goal and subsequent conversion compared to Barcelona and Atletico Madrid. May be a more potent striker (poacher?) would have got them more goals out of half chances. For now, Real have to depend more on the set pieces – no wonder when you have Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale to blast free kicks. But the most concerning part is the defence. Injury to Xabi Alonso has hurt them but Real are playing a more expansive game this season, unlike a more compact one à la José Mourinho squad. Real have conceded 21 goals so far – close to the combined figure of Barcelona and Atletico Madrid. This is way too high for a club of Real’s stature – 18 of those have been from inside the box – and might just cost them the title.

Ancelotti: Cherishing the talent at his disposal
Ancelotti: Cherishing the talent at his disposal

Real Madrid current squad is still very young – only three players are aged over 30 including two goalkeepers. Yet the team is quite strong and there is no dearth of match winners. Add to that the amazing youth system all across Spain, and Real do possess a galaxy of upcoming superstars. Ancelotti will have hard times picking the right team for every match and giving adequate match time to his squad players. An intriguing challenge indeed. The task has taken its toll as Real have fallen behind a bit in La Liga. But the second half of the season could be much worse with a tricky tie against Schalke 04 waiting in the Champions League, Round of 16. One thing is for sure – Ancelotti will have lots to think about in 2014.

Spanish Corner | Looking beyond FC Barcelona and Real Madrid

In this feature we will bring in stories from Spain. In the first of its series, Indranath Mukherjee looks beyond Barça and Real Madrid and shows how Spanish football is more than the sum of the two giants

The 2012-13 La Liga season started earlier than usual and after five games, FC Barcelona is sitting at the top of the table with a perfect record while the defending champions, Real Madrid are 8 points behind. But we all know that by the end of the season the 7 teams that separate the two champion sides will fail to keep pace and the league will turn out to be a two-horse race.  To quote José Mourinho, Barcelona and Real Madrid will make any football league in the world a two-horse race. On the basis of the last two-three years, there is merit in what José has said. Look at the nominees for the Ballon d’Or awards for the last few years and you will see that arguably the best players of the world today play for either of the two clubs. They have been playing incredible football weekend after weekend and it’s not easy to end the season with 99 or 100 points, however superior they may be, compared to rest of the clubs in the league. Barcelona and Real Madrid look like two sides from a different planet and we shall talk about their rivalry throughout the season. But for now let us turn our attention to the other clubs in Spain and see if there’s an interesting story somewhere.

Football is a way of life in Spain and it reflects the country’s regional cultures much more than any other country in Europe. Each region feels so special about their identity that many could even take offense to the term ‘Spanish’ in the title of the story. Many pundits call the Europa League the true test of a league’s depth and if there is any element of truth in it then La Liga would certainly claim to be one of the strongest leagues in the world. And this is despite the criminally discriminating television rights that are systematically destroying any possibility of the other clubs to be competitive in the league. Yet Spanish football cannot be about its two giants only.

Most recently, we saw Atlético Madrid completely destroying the Champions League winners, Chelsea in the UEFA Super Cup final. Last year, in the UEFA Europa League we saw how Athletic Bilbao dominated Manchester United both home and away. Valencia was perhaps a relatively familiar name in Europe even before the beginning of the millennium. They, in fact, made it to consecutive UEFA Champions League finals in 2000 and 2001 but football historians perhaps remember them from the 1980 European Cup Winners’ Cup final when they beat Arsenal FC 5-4 on penalties. Celta de Vigo came from the wilds of Galicia to knock out Aston Villa and Liverpool, in the 1998-99 UEFA Cup. Deportivo de La Coruña, from the same region, won La Liga in 1999-2000 in some style finishing five points ahead of the runners-up Barcelona. In 1999, Real Mallorca from the Balearic Islands stormed into the final of the last Cup Winners’ Cup only to lose out 2-1 to Lazio at Villa Park in Birmingham. The rise of Alavés, in 2001, was brief but astonishing to say the least. In the 2001 UEFA Cup final at the Westfalenstadion in Dortmund they came from behind twice to finish the match 4-4 against Liverpool. Pool went on to win the final on the golden goal rule, thanks to a Delfí Geli header in his own net and thus completed a treble of Football League Cup, FA Cup and UEFA Cup.

Valencia Club de Fútbol came into European prominence after winning the UEFA Cup Winners Cup in 1980

 

With the advent of the likes of ESPN, Sky Sports, Eurosports, Ten Sports and more importantly the World Wide Web, football fans across the world now know a lot more about Spanish football. For instance, they know that there exists another football club in Barcelona called Espanyol, but what they may not know is that the club have officially changed the spelling of their name in Catalan since 1994, using the ‘y’ in place of the previous Castilian ‘ñ’, as in Español, the provocative name given to them back in 1902.

Villarreal CF, the small town club in the province of Castellón within the Valencian Community won the Intertoto Cup in 2003-04, thus qualifying for the old UEFA Cup where they went on to reach the semi-finals only to lose out to the eventual champions, Valencia CF. But their dream season in Europe was 2005-06 when they qualified for the UEFA Champions League by defeating Everton in the play-off. In the group stage, they had drawn both their games with Manchester United and eliminated Internazionale on away goals in the quarter-finals. They went out in the semi-final against Arsenal after Jens Lehmann saved a Juan Román Riquelme penalty in the 89th minute of the second leg at Villarreal. But by then The Yellow Submarine had won the hearts of millions of football fans across the globe.

Miguel Pérez Cuesta, nicknamed Michu, has gained instant popularity in England for his display at Swansea City. Folks there know that he hails from Rayo Vallecano, a football club based in Madrid, in the neighbourhood of Vallecas. Another Madrid club, Getafe made it to the quarter-finals of the UEFA Cup in 2007-08 and gave a gutsy performance against Bayern Munich to draw 3-3 in Madrid but lost out on aggregate.

Three Spanish clubs have won five of the last nine UEFA Cup / Europa League competitions, and we are not talking about Barcelona or Real Madrid here. This in itself is ample testimony to the fact that Spanish football is more than the sum of the Madrid and Catalan giants.

The infamous missed penalty in the 89th minute of the second leg of the UCL semi-final against Arsenal

 

The football rivalry within Spain also goes beyond Madrid and Barcelona and by some distance. The rivalry in Spain exists in two layers: one among clubs competing from different regions and the other among clubs competing from the same city. The atrocious animosity that exists between Sevilla and Betis, for instance, may make the British derbies, except the Glasgow one, look like friendly matches. The primary difference between the two clubs stems from a socio-economic divide – Betis representing the relatively poorer, working class in the city while Sevilla is more a club of the bourgeois. We know that there is no discrete charm in the coexistence of the working class and the prosperous ones anywhere in the world; the economic gap between the two classes in Spain is much less than it is in England. Probably because football is a way of life in Spain, they need it to allow class consciousness to manifest itself. In 1998, when Betis president Manuel Ruiz de Lopera announced the most expensive transfer of the season with the £22m acquisition of the over-hyped Brazilian Denílson, it was actually a statement made to the other side of the city.

Another derby in Spain which is among the bitterest is the Asturian one, when Real Oviedo visit Sporting de Gijón, supporters apparently wear blue helmets (symbol of workmen) to avoid the barrage of objects thrown at them as they approach the stadium. This ‘throwing of objects’ is symbolic too; the residents of Gijón throw coals (symbolic, or even literal at times) to accuse the visitors of having more to eat at the onset of the civil war. Although the Asturians in general were anti-Francisco Franco, and Real Oviedo’s own suffering was no less heroic – the local interpretation is somewhat ironical.

Similar class differences get manifested, although to a much lesser extent, between Barcelona and Espanyol, Deportivo and Celta, and Real Madrid and Atlético; in the capital though the actual working class is represented by Rayo Vallecano. According to Vicente del Bosque, putting regional tensions aside has helped Spain achieve international success. There is apparent merit in what he says but if one looks at the Spanish society in general, sense of nationalism is still strong in Catalonia and the Basque Country. It’s that Spain now has a golden generation of footballers and in players like Xavi Hernández and Iker Casillas, Spain have found leaders who understand the worth of defending the national side. Otherwise for the Spanish, ‘Provenance is Everything’ and it will remain that way. Football will always be among the key, if not the medium, through which the differences between the social classes will get manifested.

Coming back to 2012-13 La Liga season, it’s still very young and we will keep talking about what’s happening, in the course of the next nine months. But for now, it’s great to have Deportivo back in the top flight!

First Whistle – April, 2012

At the impressionable age, when I just entered high school, the goal that left a lasting impression is what we depicted on the cover of our very first issue. We call it the ‘Locus of God’. But that’s not the only way to score a great goal. There could be a set of amazing passes leading into a goal, or a chip or a free-kick. Our revamped look from March onwards is somewhat a convex combination of such techniques; largely run solo, but ably assisted by other key players in team Goalden Times. We have received encouraging feedback on our new layout from our readers and this kind of support eggs us on to continuously improve and enrich our content.

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Moving on to the football pitch, news of Antonio Cassano, the Milan and Italy striker finally receiving a go-ahead to resume playing following  a heart surgery has been very heartening. With the collective prayer of football fans around the globe, Fabrice Ndala Muamba is getting better and Eric Abidal is progressing fine.  However, not all news has been good for the heart. We would like to take this opportunity to send our sincere best wishes to Aston Villa’s captain Stiliyan Petrov, who doctors say, has been a victim of the Chernobyl disaster. We wish him a positive outcome and speedy recovery. The game also lost a great man in Livorno midfieder Piermario Morosini who collapsed on the pitch and died of cardiac failure last week. We extend our condolences to his family and friends.

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Outside of health hazards, Carlos Tevez is back doing what he does best – showing his (hat)tricks on the football pitch. But his club, Manchester City is now 5 points behind the city rival United with five matches to go. In Italy, just 1 point separates the league leader Juventus, still unbeaten this season, and AC Milan. Borussia Dortmund seems to have a decisive 8-point lead over Bayern Munich in Bundesliga. In La Liga, Real Madrid won an El Clásico inalmost five years at the Camp Nou to almost seal the top spot. Elsewhere in Europe, Montpellier has a narrow 3-point lead over their nearest rival – the big spending Paris Saint-Germain, while Ajax is 6 points ahead of AZ Alkmaar and Feyenoord Rotterdam. In India, Dempo Sporting Club has clinched the I-League title.

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Odds are of another El Clásico on May 19 in the UEFA Champions League final. There is a distinct possibility of an all-Spanish final in the UEFA Europa League as well with three Spanish clubs in the final four.

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We shall see how the Spanish national team dominates the UEFA Euro 2012 starting June 8, in Poland and Ukraine. Goalden Times will celebrate Euro and football in more ways than one. Keep watching this space, our Facebook page and Twitter.

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UEFA Champions League and Europa Cup Semi-Final Preview

The biggest club team honour is reaching its finale while the second-tier club competition in Europe is gathering momentum too. Get the showdown of the semi-final encounters with Debojyoti Chakraborty

The quarter-final stage of the Champions League 2011-12 got over without much brouhaha. A Milan faithful may not agree, but Barcelona was a clear favourite for this tie. Real Madrid surged past APOEL FC leaving them looking rather distraught. Their opponents, Bayern Munich also eased their way through to the last four after seeing Marseille off. Chelsea had to endure the toughest of the ties as they shook off a strong fightback from a 10-man Benfica. Teams to feature in the semi-finals have been really consistent throughout the tournament as is evident from the fact that they have topped their respective groups. Spain continued its dominance here as well while Real and Barcelona established themselves as the two top club teams. Italy have lost out on one Champions League spot to Germany from next season and they should not feel hard done by as none of the Serie A teams could make it to the last four whereas German Champions Bayern Munich look to challenge the Spanish Armada. The biggest surprise in the lineup is Chelsea, who have managed to come so far this season. So after a roller coaster ride, it is that time of the season when finally men are separated from the boys. Now let us prepare for the last two-legged encounter of the season.

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FC Bayern Munchen (GER) vs Real Madrid FC (ESP)

April 17, 2012

Fußball Arena München, Munich (GER)

Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, Madrid (ESP)

April 25, 2012

Top European Cup / Champions League Honours:

Winner – 4, Runners-up – 4

Top European Cup / Champions League Honours:

Winner – 9, Runners-up – 3

Quarter-Final

Quarter-Final

Olympique de Marseille (2-0, 2-0)

Apoel FC (3-0, 5-2)

Round of 16

Round of 16

FC Basel 1893 (0-1, 7-0)

PFC CSKA Moskva (1-1, 4-1)

Group Stage | Group A Winner

Group Stage | Group D Winner

Villarreal CF (A) 2-0

SSC Napoli (H) 3-2

GNK Dinamo Zagreb (A) 1-0

Olympique Lyonnais (A) 2-0

Manchester City (H) 2-0

Villarreal CF (H) 3-1

AFC Ajax (H) 3-0

GNZK Dinamo Zagreb (H) 6-2

SSC Napoli (A) 1-1

Manchester City (A) 0-2

Olympique Lyonnais (H) 4-0

AFC Ajax (A) 3-0

Talking Point

Talking Point

There is no bigger incentive for Bayern to win this tie than to feature in their home turf for the final on May 19. They face a mighty Real Madrid, a record nine-time conquerors of the continent. While many are preparing for another El Clasico in the final, it is the German Superpowers who seem to have a realistic chance of preventing that from happening. They had to come through the rigours of play-offs but they have looked sharper and clinical as the tournament approaches its crescendo. The Bavarians then topped the Group of Death before annihilating FC Basel 7-0 at home in the Round of 16 following a shock defeat in the first leg. A typical professional German display saw them ease past Marseille thereafter. Now they find themselves in a proper Big Match, and anyone can win it. Mario Gomez vs Karim Benzema, Franck Ribery vs Kaka, Philipp Lahm vs Sergio Ramos, Manuel Neuer vs Iker Casillas – it is perfect show time. These two superpowers of Europe have locked horns quite a few times resulting in almost even honours. Real has been in superb form from their group stages where they secured a perfect win record – only the fifth club in the history of the tournament to do so. A creditable draw in the freezing Moscow turf set them up nicely for the Round of 16. Los Blancos followed it up with bidding adieu to APOEL FC from little Cyprus – story of the season so far. Cristiano Ronaldo may be leading his counterpart in La Liga in terms of goal scoring but he is still some way behind in Europe. It will be a good stage for him to set the records straight as the competition nears its business end. Real has a star-studded side which is performing like a well-oiled machine – they have top two assist providers in Kaka and Karim Benzema, 3 out of the top 5 scorers are from Bernabéu (Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and José Callejón). Coupled with a compact defence which has conceded the least number of goals so far, this is a mouth-watering tie.

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Chelsea FC (ENG) vs FC Barcelona (ESP)

 

April 18, 2012

Stamford Bridge, London (ENG)

Camp Nou, Barcelona (ESP)

April 24, 2012

Top European Cup / Champions League Honours:

Runners-up – 1

Top European Cup / Champions League Honours:

Winner – 4, Runners-up – 3

Quarter-Final

Quarter-Final

SL Benfica (1-0, 2-1)

AC Milan (0-0, 3-1)

Round of 16

Round of 16

Napoli (1-3, 4-1)

Bayer 04 Leverkusen (1-3, 7-1)

Group Stage | Group E Winner

Group Stage | Group H Winner

Bayer 04 Leverkusen (H) 2-0

KRC Genk (A) 1-1

AC Milan (H) 2-2

FC Viktoria Plzen (A) 4-0

Valencia CF (A) 1-1

Bayer 04 Leverkusen (A) 1-2

FC Bate Borisov (A) 5-0

AC Milan (A) 3-2

KRC Genk (H) 5-0

Valencia CF (H) 3-0

FC Viktoria Plzen (H) 2-0

FC Bate Borisov (H) 4-0

Talking Point

Talking Point

Chelsea seem to have over-achieved this season in the Champions League considering their woeful domestic form and unrest in the dressing room. They saw off Valencia in the last match day in a must-win encounter in some style before staging one of the most memorable comebacks in the history of Champions League against Napoli in the Round of 16. Another tough nut waited in the quarter-finals and Chelsea rode their luck a little to knock out a resolute and gritty Benfica side. They would be determined to keep their continental form going as automatic Champions League qualification from the EPL is uncertain and hence winning this year’s Cup would be their only hope. They face the mighty Barcelona in a repeat fixture to 2009 edition. That time, Barcelona advanced on away goals and Chelsea would hope to do it one better this time.   Chelsea seem to be the weakest of the surviving teams – they have hardly been able to hold on to the ball, rarely threatened the goal mouth, scored the least and conceded the most number of goals. Add to that the quality of opposition over the two-legged semi-final tie – possibly the greatest club team ever to have played the game – and Chelsea seem down and out. But matches have never been won on paper and Chelsea would dearly love to prove this once again. Barcelona are through to the semi-finals of this competition fifth time in a row. By doing so, they have equalled the feat set by their archrivals Real Madrid in the late ‘50s – then known as the European Cup. And they would like to match another envious record held by their quarter-final rivals – win consecutive top European Club honours. Records are nothing new to the man named Lionel Messi. He became the youngest man, and fourth overall, to score 50 Champions League goals and also bettered his own Cup record of 12 goals in a season. The little magician has netted only 56 times so far this season and there will be hardly anyone who would bet against him scoring in this tie. People mesmerised by the tiki-taka brand of football often fail to appreciate their tight defence – Barca have not lost at home in Europe since 2009. They have some problem against aerial balls, but they more than make up for it through their defensive organisation. Except for Milan in the group stages, the Catalan side have conceded only 3 goals while scoring a staggering 28 in seven matches. They do keep the ball well – better than any other team in the competition – and make good use of it as they have outscored everyone else. This should be a good test for Barcelona, but not likely to be much more than a good warm-up for the impending final.

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The Europa Cup Previews

Some call it the poor cousin of the Champions League, but the teams vying for the Europa League would strongly object to that. After much blood, sweat and rigour of the horrific schedule, four teams survive to fight it out. The all-conquering Spanish dominance is even more evident here as we have Sporting Clube de Portugal sandwiched between three clubs from Spain. Some may argue that the competition is dampened by the reluctance of top clubs to compete in this demanding tournament and they have preferred to focus on their respective domestic leagues. But this, in no way, can undermine the achievements of the semi-finalists. Let us build up to these matches.

Club Atletico de Madrid vs Valencia CF

In their last meeting in Europe, Atletico Madrid edged past Valencia on the basis of away goals in the quarter-finals of Europa League in 2009-10 and went all the way to lift the trophy. This time they will host Valencia on April 19 with the away match a week later. The club from Madrid has failed to score against their La Liga counterpart in the domestic season and they would surely love to break the shackles this time. Thibaut Courtois, on loan from Chelsea, has been in superb form under the bars for them – taking over from the now Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea – conceding the least number of goals in the competition. Up front, Falcao Garcia, the leading goal scorer in the tournament, has impressed some cash rich clubs in Europe and he would surely like to prove his worth. Not only him – Adrian Lopez, Eduardo Salvio – Atletico have quite a few options going forward and they are clear favourites to clinch it.  They have shown the desire by eliminating Manchester United from the tournament. On the other hand, Valencia are the only team to have come from the Champions League, having been eliminated on the last match day of the group stages in the hands of Chelsea. They boast of a strong defence consisting of Victor Ruiz and Adil Rami. They have a free-flowing approach to the game, reminiscent of any modern top Spanish side. They have netted 4 goals in two consecutive home matches and they would look to hone their goal scoring skills once again against their Spanish compatriots.

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Sporting Clube de Portugal vs Athletic Club

Only non-Spanish team left in the competition, Sporting Club will entertain Athletic Club on April 19 in an Iberian derby. They are enjoying their best season in Europe since 2005. History favours the Portuguese side in this tie as they have beaten – that too after trailing in the first leg – Athletic Club in their only meeting so far, way back in 1985-86 season. But they will have to go past a fantastic Gorka Iraizoz who has made the most number of saves (37) in the competition. Sporting is inspired by the ex-Liverpool left-back Emiliano Insua who is having a tremendous season. Ricky van Wolfswinkel up front also has performed beyond expectation. They are up against an Athletic team, which is the only team to compete with Atletico de Madrid in terms of goal scoring. Diego da Cunha is leading the pack in the midfield as he leads the assists chart with four of them while chipping in a few on his own. They have come back from behind twice against FC Schalke 04 to clinch the tie which shows their hunger for success. In fact, they have had the most number of attempts – 67, close to six per match on an average – in goal amongst the teams surviving in the competition. Markel Susaeta has orchestrated the midfield quite well and he will have a major part to play in this tie as well. But they have leaked quite generously in the back and this is one area where they would like to improve. They will be further handicapped as star defender Javi Martinez has been suspended. This should be a fierce battle as both the teams rank right up there in terms of fouls committed throughout the tournament. Nonetheless, this promises to be an enthralling contest – plenty of goals, some shrewd tactics being employed and a nail-biting finish.

Hugo Boss Signature Models

Do you see any rivalries any more ? Well, don’t go by their faces. They are going to fight again soon in come April with an assurance of red cards, one or two (keeping aside the goals prediction). Till then enjoy the retro looks of Xavi Alonso, David Villa and Cesc Fabregas.

This Month in Football History – March

We look back at the most memorable happenings in the month of March in the world of Football

1 March 1921 – Jules Rimet Becomes President of FIFA

Jules Rimet never kicked a ball, but he set the game on its way to the global phenomenon that we have on our hands today. Jules Rimet became the third President of FIFA on 1 March 1921. He was one of the founder members and visionaries when FIFA was formed to bring about a world football competition.

It was on his initiative, that the first FIFA World Cup was held in 1930. The Jules Rimet Trophy was named in his honour. Rimet kept the top post at FIFA till 1954, seeing the organisation grow from a small 12-member to a massive 85 countries, and in 1956 he was even nominated for the Nobel Prize.

6 March 1902 – Real Madrid Founded

Real’s origin goes back as early as 1897 when Football Club Sky was founded by the faculty and students of Madrid’s Institución Libre de Enseñanza. But FC Sky split in three years. One half formed Club Español de Madrid, which itself split in 1902 when club president Julian Palácios left to create Sociedad Madrid FC. King Alfonso XIII conferred royal favour on the club, changing its name to Real (Spanish for royal) Madrid Club de Fútbol in 1920.

Madrid’s win over Athletic Bilbao in the 1905 Copa del Rey final landed them with their first silverware.

It has since grown to become one of the most internationally acclaimed clubs, standing currently as the richest football club, in terms of annual revenue.

9 March 1908 – Another club is founded – Inter Milan

Some players belonging to the Milan Cricket and Football Club, or AC Milan as we know it today were not too pleased with their club’s restrictions on inducting foreign players. On 9 March 1908, they thus formed their own club which they named Internazionale Milano. Inter has since become one of Italy’s most decorated clubs, with 30 national trophies, 6 European and 3 international titles.

Known as the Nerazzurri for their black and blue striped home shirts, Inter won their first scudetto in 1910. They are the only team in Italy to remain in Serie A for their entire existence.

Disapproving Inter’s policy of recruiting foreign players, the Fascist government, in 1928, forced the club to play under the name “Ambrosiana.”

Inter’s greatest period came in the 1960s under manager Helenio Herrera, when they were nicknamed “La Grande Inter” for their successes.

11 March 1898 – AC Milan Kicks Off

English lace-maker Herbert Kilpin moved to Turin to work in the textile industry in Torino. He soon became the first Englishman to play professional football abroad. In 1897 Kilpin moved to Milan. Unlike most ideas that a group of drunk men have come up with in a pub, Kilpin and his friends actually did follow through on their plan and the Milan Cricket and Football Club was born. “We will wear red and black,” said Kilpin, “Red to recall the devil; black to invoke fear.”

On 11 March 1898, the club played its first ever football match, with six Brits in the line-up: Kilpin, Hoberlin Hoode, Kurt Lies, Samuel Richard Davies, Penvhyn Liewellyn Neville and David Allison, alongside Peter Cignaghi, Lorenzo Torretta, Guido Valerio, Antonio Dubini and Attilio Formenti. The match was played on a field to the north-east of the city where the Grand Central Station now stands.

The fledgling team won the match against local rivals Mediolanum, by either 2-0 or 3-0 (reports differ).

11 March 1951 – India Win Gold Medal at Asian Games

On 11 March 1951, hosts India won the gold medal in football at the first Asian Games in New Delhi, beating Iran 1-0 in the final. It was the national team’s first piece of major silverware and part of an overall strong performance at the Games by India, who finished with 51 medals, including 15 golds.

Although eleven countries participated in the Games, only six took part in the football tournament; including Japan, who had been barred from the 1948 Summer Olympics.

India cruised through their first two matches with ease, beating Indonesia followed by Afghanistan by the same score: 3-0. Iran started with a victory over Burma in the quarter-finals, but fought two closely-contested matches against Japan in the semi-finals. Japan beat Afghanistan in the third-place game, while India took the gold with their victory over Iran.

16 March 1938 – Bomb Strikes FC Barcelona Offices

On 16 March 1938, a bomb struck the offices of FC Barcelona during a raid by Italy’s Legionary Air Force. Catalonia had kept the Nationalist forces out for quite some time but a few months later they fell. Franco and his allies were bent on ravaging the symbols of Catalonian independence. Barça were forced to remove the Catalonian flag from their crest. Barça soon transformed into ‘More than a Club’ and a symbol of anti-Nationalist sentiment. And which club did Franco support? No points for guessing.

17 March 1991 – El Diego fails Drug Test

On 17 March 1991, El Diego tested positive for cocaine after Napoli’s match against Bari. Maradona was then slapped with a 15-month ban, which brought to an end his seven-year spell in Naples.

Maradona had led Napoli to two Serie A titles, one Italian Cup, one UEFA Cup and an Italian Super Cup. But he also enjoyed the high life and made friends with members of the Giuliano family that ran the Camorra, Naples’ branch of the mafia.

Ever since his Barcelona days, Diego had used cocaine and Napoli bosses would later admit that if Maradona had not managed to stay clean in the days before a game, they would switch samples before testing was carried out.

Maradona spouted various conspiracy theories as he claimed that he had become a national anti-hero after knocking out Italy in 1990 World Cup at home.

26 March 2008 – Beckham’s Elusive Century

When Fabio Capello announced his first England squad in February 2008, there was no room for David Beckham. In the Football Association website, Capello was crisp: “I know there has been a lot of discussion about David Beckham. The reason that David is not in the squad is because he has not had any real match practice since playing in November.”

It immediately stirred up the media and pundits, the end of his career was being discussed everywhere. But not long after, Capello decided he had had enough of stringing Beckham and the nation along, and picked him for a friendly with France. Becks duly picked up his long-awaited 100th cap on this day at the Stade de France as England lost 1-0 to a Frank Ribery penalty.

27 March 2002 – Pelé’s Shirt Deal

The jersey worn by Pelé in the 1970 World Cup final was sold at an auction for a record £157,750 on 27 March 2002. The bid was supposedly placed by an anonymous telephone bidder. It went on to smash the expected sale price that had been estimated by Christie’s auction house.

The shirt still had grass stains from the match, in which Pelé had scored the opening goal in Brazil’s 4-1 win over Italy. His uniform was auctioned by Italian defender Roberto Rosato, who acquired it by exchanging shirts with Pelé at the end of the match.
The sale beat the previous auction record of £91,750, paid for the shirt worn by England’s Geoff Hurst in the 1966 World Cup Final.

30 March 1946 – The Marathon Match

Doncaster Rovers and Stockport County met in a Division Three North Cup replay at Stockport’s Edgeley Park on 30 March 1946.

The teams had played to a draw at Doncaster which led to the replay. The hosts struck first with a penalty kick but Rovers fought back to take a 2-1 lead into the break. In the second half, the equalizer came in the 72nd minute. After 90 minutes, the teams were tied at 2-2 and neither side was able to score in another half hour of extra time.

The match continued into a ‘golden goal’ period – the first team to score would win the match. But neither team could find the back of the net. Several spectators even went home for tea, only to return and find the match still going. Stockport’s Les Crocker put the ball in the goal in the 173rd minute. Unfortunately, it was a foul and the referee disallowed the goal. Reportedly, some of the Doncaster players were upset at the call too as it meant they had to play on.

Finally, the match was called off close to 7:00 pm as it was growing dark (no floodlights at that time). The players were so tired by the end of the match that many of them dropped to the pitch at the whistle. The match lasted a total of 3 hours and 23 minutes (203 minutes), setting a world record in the process, which remains to this day.

The Special One’s Special Mission

Samuel Dieudonné explores the cult surrounding Jose Mourinho and his trials and tribulations as a Real Madrid manager. You may reach Sam on Twitter @dieudonnesam

He may not be an out-of-the-world manager, but Jose Mourinho is a proven winner across leagues, sitting pretty at the very top of the European football world – the Champions League.

Mission Impossible ?

To the men he interacts with at Real Madrid – players and coaching staff alike – the Portuguese boss is probably the epitome of managerial brilliance, controversial and unorthodox who through his cussed winning mentality has driven them along. Over the past year, since taking over from Manuel Pellegrini, Mourinho has emerged as a fatherly figure at the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu; protecting his players from the vicious attacks of the Spanish media through general pettiness rarely expected from an experienced boss his age. At times his attitude has been hard to fathom. However, we would be naive to believe that the task of overtaking a well drilled Barcelona side – arguably one of the best there ever has been – wouldn’t come without its fair share of complications.

Having mused on that, I daringly pose the question:

Is too much expected of Jose Mourinho at Real Madrid?

To say that Mourinho morphed Madrid into the feared side they are now from scratch would be flawed. Yes, they have improved under him but the core of his team – Cristiano Ronaldo, Xabi Alonso, Kaka and Karim Benzema, for instance, were already at the club during his predecessors’ time. These newly arrived stars, along with long-time club servants of the club like Raul and Guti, were expected to lead Real to unprecedented levels of success. Added to likes of Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos, Gonzalo Higuain and, Marcelo Vieira, this squad was built to be feared for many years. However, instead of reposing faith in Pellegrini, who, to be fair, hadn’t done a terrible job in his one year reign Florentino Perez eyed the man who’d just won an unprecedented treble as Inter manager in Italy, after knocking Barcelona out in the Champions League over two hotly contested semi-final legs. There was no stopping Real Madrid now with this man at the helm.

In the midst of such massive hoopla, Madrid and its supporters somehow left Barcelona out of the equation – a side led by Josep Guardiola, playing what may be branded as scintillating football, without a hint of embellishment, prejudice, or bias. Questions about the fair play standards and of referee favours have been raised; nevertheless, they have set the benchmark for a Mourinho-led Real Madrid to attain.

Upon arriving in the Spanish capital, Mourinho got to work right away. Club icons like Raul and Guti were considered past their prime and shown out. Others like Argentine defender Ezequiel Garay and Dutch playmaker Raphael van der Vaart were deemed not to be fitting in his plans and subsequently sold. In came the German wizard Mesut Ozil and Argentine sensation Angel Di Maria to offer added craft in midfield. Sami Khedira came in to provide steel in the centre of the park and help Xabi Alonso in spreading play wide from the deep. Mourinho came with a dream and demanded the players to believe in his dream. He was given unconditional decision-making powers – Jorge Valdano was shown the door and Zinedine Zidane appointed as the first team director. Though not related to on-field activities, this incident preceded an immediate improvement in the league performance. It seemed that the club could contend for and  lift many trophies for the first time since Fabio Capello won the La Ligain 2007.

With his #1 weapon

Not everything should be measured in terms of Real Madrid vs Barcelona though. Apart from consistent and downright infuriating failures against them, Real have, slowly but surely, made tremendous progress under Mourinho. Defeating the rest of the Liga sides and other power houses in Europe appeared to be second nature. Cristiano Ronaldo started scoring hat-tricks at will; Ozil and Di Maria provided assists just as proactively as Alonso anchored the midfield. Karim Benzema had been transformed from a tame mouse into a devouring lion. Make no mistake, Mourinho had definitely made his mark and built a fearsome team. Progress soon thereafter was to become constant and notable.Little did Mourinho know though, that his worst nightmares were yet to come. Soon enough in the Clasico at Camp Nou he would be embarrassed like never before with a 5-0 thrashing. Barcelona had proven their vast superiority knocking Mourinho out of his comfort zone. For the first time in his managerial career, he had to contend with being the second best. The self-proclaimed Special One could not take it too well. How could such an experienced and illustrious manager allow this to happen? What hadn’t gone right? It really seems that he has been trying to sort that out in every single game against Barcelona since. That defeat instilled fear in the Madrid camp as their attempts to be adventurous had left them cruelly exposed to a merciless score. This marked the beginning of Mourinho’s over-reliance on an ultra-defensive system in every Clasico since then.

In Mourinho’s first season, Real Madrid disappeared early from the domestic title race. They failed to reach the finals of the Champions League, again thwarted by Barcelona, but won the Copa del Rey to save Mourinho’s job, beating the same foes. Though sharply contrasting in outcomes, neither performance was anything to rave about. But by winning a trophy – and more importantly beating Barcelona – Mourinho atleast kept the skeptics pleased whilst reminding them that if any manager could do it against this Barcelona, it was him. But once again hewould display signs of frustration – lashing out against UEFA for decisions which went against his side, over the two Champions League ties. In truth, however, Madrid were outdone by the individual brilliance of Lionel Messi. Playing as defensively as they had over those two games hardly helped them either.

The eye poke

There were positives to garner from that particular display though. For the first time Madrid had actually shown some courage to fight Barcelona blow for blow with an attacking approach. The Special One hadn’t gone with 11 players behind the ball as showcased previously. Real were not embarrassed. In fact, mixed with the disappointment there was a sense of excitement for the season ahead and what it would bring. This time round, Mourinho felt that there was an increasing need for new squad players to improve the team. So, in came Fabio Coentrao, Hamit Altintop, Raphael Varane and Nuri Sahin to bolster the squad.Then in the Super Cup matches early this season, Barcelona came out on top despite a spirited effort from Real. To fans and neutral observers alike, it was clear that Mourinho’s men were dominant over the two legs. However, once again the play of a certain Argentine maestro proved decisive when it mattered. Left fuming in frustration, Mourinho poked Barcelona assistant manager Tito Vilanova in the eye. It was an act sent viral, jokes are repeatedly made about it, videos compiled on YouTube and even some computer game, was made on it. For a Real Madrid supporter, however, such actions were simply depressing.

Madrid started brightly once again – in fact, exceptionally. Playing better than Barcelona was no more a fantasy. It appeared the gap has finally been closed. The team coasted through the Champions League group stages with a 100% winning record conceding the least number of goals; only one team had scored more goals than Real Madrid (no prizes for guessing who). Real started the next Clasico, in the domestic league, with a six point lead over their arch rivals. There was a chance to get a nine point cushion to dispel all the doubts. But Mourinho opted to go defensively once more and was taken apart by a rampant Barcelona side resulting in a 3-1 defeat at home. Suddenly talks of crisis began to arise. Hardly necessary as the team moved on from the loss and continued to perform.

As fate would have it, Madrid drew their arch enemies once again in the quarterfinals of the Copa del Rey. A tie to be played over two legs. Many think Barcelona can only be beaten in a one-off knockout type clash. So, it was another chance to showcase the progress this team has made and just how far it has come. But, seemingly having learned precious little from previous outings, Mourinho chose to go with an overly defensive setup once again in the first leg at Bernabéu. Pepe was used as a destroyer in the midfield, along with Xabi Alonso and Lassana Diarra in a three-man midfield. Real managed an early lead through Ronaldo. But Barcelona dominated the game with the lion’s share of possession – over 70%. In the end, oddly enough, two defenders Eric Abidal and Carles Puyol,  found the goals to take a deserved victory back to Camp Nou with them. The media and supporters did not take kindly to the proceedings of Madrid dominating on their own turf; they opted to play defensively and took nothing away. Boos drowned Mourinho chants during the subsequent league match against Athletic Bilbao. The Special One‘s stock had suddenly gone down.

Coincidentally enough, days before the return leg away to Nou Camp, prominent Madrid daily, Marca ran a story about internal rifts in the squad. Supposedly Mourinho and Sergio Ramos had gotten into a heated exchange; where the player called into question his managers’ abilities and knowledge of the game. For the first time perhaps, a player had openly challenged Mourinho, who is noted to be a great man-manager. When questioned, everyone remained adamant that the squad was united and would fight to advance into the next round. Underneath the cover up, one suspected players were fed up with playing defensively and wanted to take a more offensive approach. The sentiment had been voiced before. It was up to Mourinho to respond accordingly.

And respond accordingly he did. Madrid played the best I have seen them in the last five Clasicos. In came Kaka and Ozil supporting Ronaldo and Higuain up front. The midfield was more fluent which translated into more efficient play. Pepe dropped back into defense to partner Ramos and Barcelona hardly got a sniff at goal as a result of their spirited performance. I saw ten players out there running for each other, concerned with defending a precious crest and more importantly fighting to win as supporters had been promised before the game. That display filled Madridistas worldwide with pride. They had actually gone for it with no fear, attacking fluently but remaining compact at the back too. I have no idea what convinced Mourinho to throw caution to the wind for once, but I am so glad that he chose to. Hopefully he he will have realised that having an attacking flair to the game is far more effective than playing 11 in behind the ball. It was a 2-2 draw that felt like a convincing victory owing to the manner in which the team played. You may argue that Barcelona was not at their best, which I shall begrudgingly concede but I prefer to feel that they had never faced Madrid at their finest either under Mourinho. After a long time, Barcelona finally experienced what it could be like to play a Madrid at the peak of its potential. It may never be a walk in the park again.

To answer the question I posed, I don’t feel too much is demanded of Mourinho but the time frame in which he has being asked to achieve that what is necessary is too short. Fans and management alike must show more patience. Madrid continue to make giant strides; the titles will inevitably come. Bearing in mind that Barcelona are undoubtedly the strongest team in the world currently, toppling them is a momentous task that even a manager of Mourinho’s calibre cannot guarantee within a set time frame.

A wise man once claimed: “The power of a bull is not measured at home, but in a foreign field.” Madrid are working towards being a stronger bull at home, and away to Barcelona and to all other sides which ill-fatedly cross paths with them. The progress made under Jose Mourinho is obvious. Real are on a special mission with the Special One – to dethrone the greatest team of their generation. One would be a fool to bet against that Portuguese making good.

UEFA Champions League Knockout Stage Preview

The business end of Champions League is about to begin. Get the lowdown on each team and each tie with Debojyoti Chakraborty

2011-12 has been a landmark year for the Champions League as it has probably taken a step to show it is no longer an elitist domain. With no fewer than nine countries being present at this stage, the UEFA President can boast of his Spread the Game campaign. One time undisputed superpower, Italy has the envious record of having at least three teams – and this time the only country to be so – for the seventh time in a row. Other giants in European football – England and Spain – are going through one of the worst seasons for years as they have only two representatives. That is the same number Russia have achieved this year, for the first time in their history, along with the usual attendees like Germany and France. Russia should not feel lonely as Eastern Europe has another representative in the form of knockout stage debutants APOEL Nicosia from Cyprus. Together with FC Basel of Switzerland, the other knockout stage debutants they have shocked quite a few with their strong showing in the group stages and it would be dangerous to demean their chances in the business end. Joining the league of debutants is the rejuvenated club from Italy, FC Napoli who are basking in Champions League glory for the first time ever. They could do well to emulate Real Madrid who is making a record 15th consecutive appearance at this stage of the competition, followed closely by Arsenal with 12th straight show down. Not surprisingly, Real also holds the record of winning the title for a record nine times. Milan is at second place with seven winners’ medals to their name. Current champion and hot favourite Barcelona have won this competition four times, same number as that of Bayern Munich, another giant in European football. Following the pack are Inter (three titles), Benfica (two titles) and Marseille (one title). When the round of 16 draw was made in Nyon, Switzerland about two months back, everybody knew that the teams from same group or same country could not be drawn together, but very few would have anticipated such delectable ties.

 

APOEL FC vs. Olympique Lyonnais

 

14th February, 2012

Stade de Gerland, Lyon (FRA)

GSP Stadium, Nicosia (CYP)

7th March, 2012

Road to Knockouts

Road to Knockouts

FC Zenit St Petersburg (H) 2-1

FC Shakhtar Donetsk (A) 1-1

AFC Ajax (A) 1-1

Real Madrid CF (H) 0-2

FC Porto (A) 1-1

FC Porto (H) 2-1

GNK Dinamo Zagreb (H) 2-0

AFC Ajax (H) 0-0

FC Zenit St Petersburg (A) 0-0

FC Shakhtar Donetsk (H) 0-2

Real Madrid CF (A) 0-4

GNK Dinamo Zagreb (A) 7-1

Talking Point

Talking Point

Surprise package of the season. With a paltry annual team budget of €10 million – close to the amount Emmanuel Adebayor earns from Manchester City, and he is not even considered good enough for a substitute role – this small club created history by coming this far. They are the first team from Cyprus to reach the knockout stages of the Champions League. They are not favourites to win this tie but they were not tipped to top the group stages either. Rode their luck to a great extent as two perfect results on the final matchday of the group stages saw them through to the knock out stages. But their second half display against Dinamo Zagreb on that day, when they unleashed six goals en route a 7-1 win, showed they meant business. A few were suspicious of this unlikely result, specifically with the second half showing, but that should not distract Lyon much. Hugo Lloris has been sensational for them under the bars with the most number (30) of saves in the competition so far. Except for the games against Real Madrid, he has conceded only once in four matches. Lyon faces an uncomfortable second leg away from home and hence should try to seal the tie in the first leg itself.

Bayer 04 Leverkusen vs. FC Barcelona

 

14th February, 2012

Bay-Arena, Leverkusen (GER)

Camp Nou, Barcelona (ESP)

14th February, 2012

Road to Knockouts

Road to Knockouts

Chelsea FC (A) 0-2

Valencia FC (A) 1-3

AC Milan (H) 2-2

Chelsea FC (A) 0-2

KRC Genk (H) 2-0

Chelsea FC (H) 2-1

FC Bate Borisov (A) 5-0

KRC Genk (H) 2-0

Valencia FC (H) 2-1

KRC Genk (A) 1-1

FC Viktoria Plzen (H) 2-0

Valencia FC (H) 2-1

Talking Point

Talking Point

Beating the best team in the world, or arguably the greatest club team ever to embrace the game of football, is not a cakewalk. But they have scalped one Spanish side in the group stages already and that should give them some hope.  Still it would need much more than the famous German steel, the undying spirit of a certain Michael Ballack and a great bit of luck – and a Bengali in the form of Robin Dutt at the helm of things – to come out of Nou Camp with their heads held high. Barcelona have not been beaten this season in the Champions League and it seems this record won’t be broken any time soon. Leo Messi and company could have got a trickier tie but they would settle for this with the second leg at home. Their La Liga form is not spectacular, but it would take some doing for any team to beat them over a two-legged tie. Their midfield has not come to the party as yet in this competition but this should be the ideal stage to stamp their authority on Europe.
 

FC Zenit St Petersburg  vs. SL Benfica

 

15th February, 2012

Stadion Petrovskiy, St Petersburg (RUS)

Estádio do Sport Lisboa e Benfica, Lisbon (POR)

6th March, 2012

Road to Knockouts

Road to Knockouts

APOEL FC (A) 1-2

FC Shakhtar Donetsk (H) 1-0

Manchester United (H) 1-1

FC Basel 1893 (H) 1-1

FC Porto (H) 3-1

APOEL FC (H) 0-0

FC Oţelul Galaţi (A) 1-0

Manchester United (A) 2-2

FC Shakhtar Donetsk (A) 2-2

FC Porto (A) 0-0

FC Basel 1893 (A) 2-0

FC Oţelul Galaţi (H) 1-0

Talking Point

Talking Point

This would be the home coming for the Portuguese duo Bruno Alves and Danny. Zenit would like to take the full advantage of the first leg at home under freezing Russian weather, but that’s not their only talking point. They have two of the top defenders in the Champions League this season in Nicolas Lombaerts and Tomas Hubocan with most number of balls recovered so far. Besides the return of influential star striker Alexander Kerzhakov from injury would be a major boost for them. However, Zenit would severely lack match sharpness as their domestic season will start only days before the second leg match. Topped the group which had Manchester United and thus were able to avoid other group toppers. They have also been fortunate not to be drawn against some strong runner up teams from the group stage like Milan or Lyon. A trip to Russia will not be a stroll in the park though a second leg at home might just suit them. Nicolas Gaitan has eclipsed his more illustrious contemporaries to become the most influential playmaker in the tournament with the most number of assists so far and Benfica would look upon him as an inspiration.
 

AC Milan vs. Arsenal FC

 

15th February, 2012

Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, Milan (ITA)

The Emirates Stadium, London (ENG)

6th March, 2012

Road to Knockouts

Road to Knockouts

FC Barcelona (A) 2-2

FC Bate Borisov (A) 1-1

Borussia Dortmund (A) 1-1

Olympique de Marseille (H) 0-0

FC Viktoria Plzen (H) 2-0

FC Barcelona (H) 2-3

Olympiacos FC (H) 2-1

Borussia Dortmund (H) 2-1

FC Bate Borisov (H) 2-0

FC Viktoria Plzen (A) 2-2

Olympique de Marseille (A) 0-1

Olympiacos FC (A) 1-3

Talking Point

Talking Point

A battle of experience vs. youthful exuberance, a tussle between composure and agility – this is a mouth-watering clash. Milan started the campaign brightly with a 2-2 draw at Nou Camp. But they faded off afterwards and managed only two points in the last three matches. That did not prevent them from qualifying for the next stage but they finished a good seven points behind the group winner, Barcelona. They have been presented a second leg away from home which may very well suit their counter-attack based football. Zlatan Ibrahimovic has scored in all the CL matches he has played so far and Milan will hope that this trend continues. Arsenal have been historically drawn against tough oppositions quite early in the recent years of Champions League draw. This time too they feature in The match of the round like last year. Arsenal could enjoy a free flowing passage of play against Milan but they have to be careful of their defensive lapses which could well be exposed by the counter-attacking threat of Milan. It raises a few eyebrows if Robin van Persie does not feature in the score sheets. It will be good show down with Ibra, but can his young and inexperienced teammates see Arsenal through? The second leg at the Emirates could well be the decider.
 

PFC CSKA Moskva vs. Real Madrid

 

21st February, 2012

Stadion Luzhniki, Moscow (RUS)

Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, Madrid (ESP)

14th March, 2012

Road to Knockouts

Road to Knockouts

LOSC Lille Métropole (A) 2-2

Trabzonspor AŞ (A) 0-0

GNK Dinamo Zagreb (A) 1-0

Olympique Lyonnais (A) 2-0

FC Internazionale Milano (H) 2-3

LOSC Lille Métropole (H) 0-2

AFC Ajax (H) 3-0

GNZK Dinamo Zagreb (H) 6-2

Trabzonspor AŞ (H) 3-0

FC Internazionale Milano (A)   2-1

Olympique Lyonnais (H) 4-0

AFC Ajax (A) 3-0

Talking Point

Talking Point

Beating Inter at their own backyard was not the only requirement; CSKA also needed a draw between Lille and Trabzonspor on the final matchday to secure a knockout stage berth. Fortunately CSKA got the result they wanted but their luck may run out against a rampant Real Madrid. They are a decent side who like to play open attacking football. Seydou Doumbia is one of the leading goal scorers in the tournament with five goals in five appearances and he would love to portray his skills in front of a wider audience. But even a star shot stopper in Igor Akinfeev could prove to be not much against Cristiano Ronaldo and company. Also they are handicapped by the same problem as that of Zenit – lack of match sharpness. Real has been in superb form and their statistics prove that. They have scored nineteen goals in the group stages – only archrivals Barcelona have been able to better that by one goal – and have conceded two goals, the least by any team. Sergio Ramos Garcia has been a star performer as Real are yet to concede any goal in 400+ minutes with him on the pitch. Real have proved that they are much more than Cristiano Ronaldo alone as they have marched past the last two matches without their star striker. But Jose Mourinho should not take this Russian side lightly. They are favourites to progress and they should, unless complacency gets the better of them.
 

SSC Napoli vs. Chelsea

 

21st February, 2012

Stadio San Paolo, Naples (ITA)

Stamford Bridge, London (ENG)

14th March, 2012

Road to Knockouts

Road to Knockouts

Manchester City FC (A) 1-1

FC Bayern Munchen (A) 2-3

Bayern 04 Leverkusen (H) 2-0

KRC Genk (A) 1-1

Villarreal CF (H) 2-0

Manchester City FC (H) 2-1

Valencia CF (A) 1-1

Bayern 04 Leverkusen (A) 1-2

FC Bayern Munchen (H) 1-1

Villarreal CF (A) 2-0

KRC Genk (H) 5-0

Valencia CF (H) 3-0

Talking Point

Talking Point

Napoli had attracted quite a few eyeballs at the start of the season. They have done their reputation no harm by entering into the knock-out stages in their debut campaign at the expense of cash-rich Manchester City. They were in the Group of Death but their inexperience might just catch up with them here. Star forward Edinson Cavani could be in his last season at Napoli before the cash-rich clubs snatch him away and he could leave his mark before bowing out. Chelsea are having a rocky season in the Premier League, but they have a very strong record at the knockout stages of the Champions League in this decade. Their new manager Andre Vilas Boas may be a newcomer to England, but he is no greenhorn in Europe having already won the UEFA Europa League with Porto last year. Chelsea are going through a transition phase, but getting a debutant team at this stage may just see them through.
 

Olympique de Marseille vs. FC Internazionale Milano

 

22nd February, 2012

Stade Vélodrome, Marseille (FRA)

Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, Milan (ITA)

13th March, 2012

Road to Knockouts

Road to Knockouts

Olympiacos FC (A) 1-0

Arsenal FC (A) 0-0

Trabzonspor AŞ (H) 0-1

LOSC Lille Métropole (H) 2-1

Borussia Dortmund (H) 3-0

Olympiacos FC (H) 0-1

PFC CSKA Moskva (A) 3-2

Trabzonspor AŞ (H) 1-1

Arsenal FC (H) 0-1

Borussia Dortmund (A) 3-2

LOSC Lille Métropole (A) 1-0

PFC CSKA Moskva (H) 1-2

Talking Point

Talking Point

Little known players from Marseille have caught the eyes of Europe. Surged by a strong defence, they have propelled through to the knockout stages of Champions League, but they will be underdogs going into this tie. Surely they preferred an easier opponent; at least a second leg advantage at home would have given them some hope. Inter are peaking at the right time. After starting their campaign with a shock defeat to Trabzonspor at home, they bounced back to top the group. They are not likely to be overconfident against Marseille as they bowed out to Schalke FC last year under similar circumstances. And it might be time for Wesley Sneijder to settle in and start imposing his authority again.
 

FC Basel 1893 vs. FC Bayern Munchen

 

22nd February, 2012

St. Jakob-Park, Basel (SUI)

Fußball Arena München, Munich (GER)

13th March, 2012

Road to Knockouts

Road to Knockouts

FC Oţelul Galaţi (H) 2-1

SL Benfica (A) 1-1

Trabzonspor AŞ (H) 0-1

LOSC Lille Métropole (H) 2-1

Manchester United (A) 3-3

FC Oţelul Galaţi (A) 3-2

PFC CSKA Moskva (A) 3-2

Trabzonspor AŞ (H) 1-1

SL Benfica (H) 0-2

Manchester United (H) 2-1

LOSC Lille Métropole (A) 1-0

PFC CSKA Moskva (H) 1-2

Talking Point

Talking Point

FC Basel’s shot to fame was knocking out Manchester United from the group stages on the last matchday. This may end up being their high point in this year’s campaign as they look to lock horns against Bayern Munich in their inaugural knockout stage appearance. Alexandar Frei & Marco Streller have both played in Bundesliga before but their influence may not be enough. Bayern Munich, a heavyweight in Europe will be favourites against FC Basel. Sheer professionalism of the German team would be a bit too much for Basel. Bayern would have taken a major boost from the timely return of midfield lynchpin Bastian Schweinsteiger, but his return to field was short- lived as he suffered a torn ligament in the German Cup quarterfinals. His partnership with Mario Gomez, top scorer so far in this year’s CL having scored 6 goals in less than 400 minutes in the pitch, should prove deadly going forward.

Triviela – Beyond Trivia

The Trivela is a Portuguese term to denote the art of kicking the football with the outside of one’s foot. It is used to hide one’s weaker foot and also to suddenly fool the opposition with a wickedly swerving ball from a difficult angle. In Triviela, we will attempt to find some football feats/facts which would make you sit up and take note, like it happens when you see Ricardo Quaresma try these.

                                                                                                                                                              

Momentous Win

When a Christiano Ronaldo goal gave Real Madrid a victory over an all conquering Barcelona team at the Estadio Mestalla, Valencia on 20 April 2011, it was more than a cup win for the club, the manager and couple of its players. Even though Real Madrid is one of the giants of Spanish and European football, they had endured a complete barren phase for 2 years and it was only due to the fact that their perennial rivals, Barcelona was sporting perhaps the best club team of all time. The Copa Del Rey was the only Madrid victory in the 5 El Classicos of the season and since the time they last won the La Liga in the 2007-08 season.

For manager Jose Mourinho, it was a continuation of a tradition where he has won a trophy in the first year in each of his last 4 clubs in the last decade. Starting his managerial career at the beginning of the millennium with Benfica in 2000, Mourinho had a brief one year spell with União de Leiria whom he took to their highest league position of 5th. The next season he was at Porto and thus started his career of remaining unbeaten at home and winning trophies in his first year at a club. He won the Portuguese Primeira Liga, Taça de Portugal and UEFA Cup in 2002-03. He would go on to win the English Premier League and League Cup in his debut year of 2004-05 with Chelsea. At Inter, he won the Serie A and Supercoppa Italiana on his debut in 2008-09 season. In that respect, failing to win the La Liga in his debut for Real Madrid may be considered a failure but at least the Copa del Rey proved he had something to show at the end of his 1st year.

The Copa del Rey also completed a set for one of the finest goalkeepers of this generation. Iker Casillas had won 4 La Ligas, 3 Supercopa de España, 2 Champions Leagues, an UEFA Super Cup, an Intercontinental Cup, a World Cup, a European Championship, European U15 and U16 championships and a FIFA World Youth Championship. With the Copa del Rey, he completed the domestic set. With the exception of the Olympics, that is as complete a set as possible for a club and country combined and who knows, he may even win that in future.

Parting Shot: Alvaro Arbeloa, is perhaps a unique footballer in that he has played for many big clubs – Real Madrid (twice; having come through the youth ranks), Liverpool and Deportivo La Coruna but had yet to win any silverware for his clubs. Call him a bad omen at your risk though, for he has a European Cup and World Cup with Spain. Finally this win broke that & he also played for 120 minutes of the final.

Show Me The Goals

Fernando Torres has become from an iconic striker of his generation to a laughing stock since his € 58.5 mn deal to Chelsea. From scoring the tournament winning goal and being the man of the match in the European Cup, 2008, Torres has had a steady decline for Spain accentuated by the sheer lack of goals after his move to Chelsea. In fact since scoring the winner for Liverpool away to Wolverhampton Wanderers on 22 January 2011 (his last appearance for the Reds), Torres has played 1552 minutes for Chelsea in various competitions in 26 matches and scored only 3 goals till 10 October 2011. That is a shocking return of 517 minutes per goal. In the same period he has played 7 times for Spain for a combined 255 minutes and managing a single goal against United States.

There may be many reasons for this slump of Torres .We, here, are not going to ascertain the reason but just point out that how a similar fate had befallen another great European striker in the last decade after his multimillion euro move to Chelsea.

Andrei Shevchenko is a Milan Legend and the favourite son of Ukraine. His feats of goalscoring for Dynamo Kiev include 121 goals in 237 appearances which puts him fourth on the list of the club’s all time scorers. Perhaps he exceeded even that when he scored 175 times in 322 matches for Milan which made him the second highest scorer in Milan’s history. He also has 67 goals in 141 matches in European competitions which puts him just 5 behind all time leader Raul and 3 behind his long time partner Filippo Inzaghi. For his national team, he is an icon with over 100 appearances and over 50 of them as a captain (still continuing). He has scored 46 goals for Ukraine and a measure of how vital they have been can be gauged from the fact that only two other Ukrainian has scored more than 9 and #2 on this list is Serhiy Rebrov with 15. His calibre and stature among the all-time great hitmen of Europe in this century is unquestionable and the Ballon D’or of 2004 confirms that.

When Shevchenko left Milan for Chelsea at the behest of Roman Abramovich (or the desires of his American wife to put their child in an English atmosphere – as Sheva had widely accepted at the time) it was for a record € 46 mn. At that time, he was the player fetching the highest ever transfer fee that Milan, albeit unwillingly, had sold. What followed at Chelsea was a remarkable downturn of fortunes.  At Chelsea, in 2 stints he made 77 appearances scoring 22 goals. In those same years he played 13 matches for Ukraine scoring 6 times.

But Shevchenko was 30 when he moved to Chelsea and it is likely that a striker loses some of his sharpness beyond that age. Torres made his move before his 27th birthday and if his barren spell persists, the next big striker to move to Stamford Bridge for an astronomical sum may well consult an astrologer before confirming the move.

Parting Shot: Chelsea is the 3rd club in the career of Shevchenko and Torres. Sheva’s first two transfers fetched € 69 mn. His next two were for free. Torres’ first two transfers have fetched € 96.5 mn. He better get his act together though before he becomes a free transfer quality.