The Run of Play is a blog about
the wonder and terror of soccer.
We left the window open during a match in October 2007 and a strange wind blew into the room.
Now we walk the forgotten byways of football with a lonely tread, searching for the beautiful, the bewildering, the haunting, and the absurd.
For the inside-Greyskull stuff, see Tim Stannard on the cockroach-hard survival toolset of Peđa Mijatović, Real Madrid’s sporting director and (apparently) the principal author of the decision to drop Schuster and turn the club over to a genuine Carling Cup-winner for the first time in its history:
If all was fair and just in the world, it would be Mijatovic’s neck on the chopping block this week, as he is almost entirely to blame for Madrid’s latest crisis that sees them out of the Copa del Rey and in 5th place in la Liga having lost the last three from four….
Whilst it was not Mijatovic’s decision to sack the title-winning Fabio Capello during the summer of 2007 – Calderón can lay claim to that brainwave – it was Madrid’s former forward who picked some of the most injury prone players on the planet to play for the side.
Whilst Gabriel Heinze, Pepe and Arjen Robben are all footballers of undoubted quality, they are all players with serious instances of sicknotitis.
Along with his partner in crime, Calderón, it was Mijatovic’s decision to spend a reckless summer in the failed pursuit of Cristiano Ronaldo against the wishes of Bernd Schuster who complained to the press during the pre-season training camp in Austria, that he was always the last to know any news on transfers.
It’s hard to feel too sorry for Schuster, who didn’t claw his way to a 65.22% win record at Shakhtar Donetsk by being lovable. But ferreting out Mijatović’s role in Madrid’s gray slump at least helps to demonstrate something about the culture of designated food-tasters and knives in the opera box that prevails around the Bernabeu: not quite the same style as the corporate intrigue at Tottenham, but similar enough to make one wonder how hospitable it will be to the more earnest talents of Juande Ramos.
Speaking of whom. The fact that Madrid offered him the job at all probably suggests that they don’t intend to keep him. It’s a relatively risk-free trial for them, since this season is already broken and Ramos will command precisely no loyalty from anyone affiliated with the club. If he somehow calls down a miracle, they’ll keep him around for another year; otherwise, they’ll cut him loose at the end of his six-month contract and try to bring in one of the big managers they didn’t court this time around, who’ll be easier to seduce in May than in December, even if it’s also true that the club’s record of going through managers like a paper shredder goes through tax returns will make some otherwise viable candidates think twice.
The counter-argument to that, obviously, and what probably gifted Ramos with this strychnine Gatorade of opportunity, is that his reputation in Spain still rests more on his success with Sevilla than on his failure at Tottenham. It could be held that the former proves his command of Spanish football, while the latter suggests that it was the different tempo of the game and his difficulties communicating with his players rather than any inherent defect as a manager that did him in in England.
I don’t really buy it. I’d certainly agree that Ramos should be looking to Spain for his next club, but I can’t see Real Madrid as the stage for his redemption. It’s not just that it’s one of the highest-pressure jobs in all of sports (Ramos will be their 11th manager in 10 years, a figure that could give pause to Steinbrenners). It’s that it reprises all the elements that led to a toppling-dominoes-of-disaster effect at Tottenham—the unstable board; the rash of suddenly unavailable players; the incompetent, conniving sporting director—only louder, with brass, and in a higher key.
Ramos appears to be an inward, emotional, and somewhat chaste man, and while I can easily picture him thriving at a club where the expectations are lower and the smiles more frank, I’m not sure he has the carnivorous instincts to work the treacherous political angles of his new job while also firing a squad of aging, fragile players into a team capable of challenging Barcelona. I can’t see into his soul, obviously, and maybe it’s darker when he’s speaking Spanish. His website is not, in any language:
At the moment I am experiencing a different way of living my passion, and I want to share it with you via this means of communication: the internet. At the end of the day, your doubts are also my doubts; your insights are just as valid, critical and constructive as mine. We can share our football dream and experience the greatness of this sport that unites us all.
And I won’t be surprised if he’s out of work before Peđa Mijatović is.
by Brian Phillips · December 9, 2008