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Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Drama not affecting Real Madrid

Roll back the clock to the end of last season and everything seemed rosy at the Bernabeu for champions Real Madrid.
The Spanish giants had just lifted their second Primera Liga crown on the trot - the first time they had achieved that in 18 years - and with bitter rivals Barcelona finishing third, their fans were crowing about being top dog in Spain.
A record-breaking season had seen them score more goals in the Primera Liga than ever before, while conceding the fewest, and rack up more points than in any previous campaign.
Moreover, everyone seemed certain that Manchester United star Cristiano Ronaldo was on the verge of moving to the Bernabeu - not least the player himself - and it seemed a question of when, not if, he would commit himself to Los Merengues.
Spirits were high in the white half of Madrid, with many feeling that with the arrival of Ronaldo, who led United to Champions League glory, Real would once again triumph in Europe's premier club competition.
Fast forward a few months and it's a very different story.
In contrast to the Nou Camp, which has been a hub of activity in the summer, the Bernabeu has been decidedly quiet.
Despite the plethora of players linked to the Primera Liga giants the squad looks more or less the same as last season, with one noticeable absentee - Robinho.
The summer started to go downhill for the legion of Madrid fans when Ronaldo announced he was staying at United. That was swiftly followed by another high-profile target, David Villa, signing a new deal at Valencia.
And things went from bad to worse on transfer deadline day when disgruntled winger Robinho headed out of the Bernabeu exit door and to Manchester City.
Sandwiched between that was the kick-off to the new Primera Liga season with Madrid desperate to get off to a winning start and prove their doubters wrong.
However, a 2-1 defeat at Deportivo La Coruna has seen some start screaming about a crisis at one of Spain's biggest clubs.
Some sections of the press are even talking about Bernd Schuster's possible successor - with Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez, who coached Madrid's youth and reserve sides for six years, favourite to take over the reins.
But Madrid fans might want to wait a while before starting a full-scale panic.
They might have lost the season opener, but they are no strangers to defeat at Depor, having failed to win at the Riazor since 1991/92 - since when they have lifted a whopping 18 trophies.
Moreover, they might have made only one signing this summer - but what a signing.
Under-pressure president Ramon Calderon might have failed in his attempts to land number one target Ronaldo, but the arrival of Hamburg playmaker Rafael van der Vaart will be of some consolation to the fans and he could make the difference in Europe.
The Madrid faithful also should not forget that one of their star players, Wesley Sneijder, is recovering from injury but should be back in action by mid-October.
Javier Saviola and Michel Salgado were also sidelined for the season opener, while Van der Vaart missed out due to his red card in the Supercopa victory.
Madrid have much of the same side who crashed out of the Champions League last season, going out to Roma before even the quarter-final stage, and the players are desperate to prove they can succeed on club football's biggest stage.
Once they have a fully-fit squad again they could be set for another record-breaking season and sweep all before them once more.

Wednesday 3rd September 2008

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