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Join us for tonight’s Champions League final between Bayern Munich and Inter Milan in Madrid. Will it be Louis van Gaal or Jose Mourinho who wins the competition for the second time? Either way, we’re expecting a belting final at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium.
Saturday’s game between Real Madrid and Barcelona had been dubbed “the match of the millennium” by sports daily Marca and for anyone living in Spain it was impossible to ignore “El Clasico” in the days leading up to the clash at Real’s Bernabeu stadium.
There was certainly plenty at stake for the protagonists, not least the chance to take a big step toward winning La Liga, but the country seemed in the grip of a fever at least as intense as anything I have seen during a major international tournament.
Real Madrid president Florentino Perez will have two conflicting voices whispering in his ear as he contemplates Wednesday’s devastating Champions League exit against Olympique Lyon.
His better angel will be telling him to stay calm, remember that the Primera Liga title is still very much in play, that the team has actually looked pretty good lately and that a bit of stability is long overdue.
Having spent 250 million euros on reinforcements and with the final due to be staged at their own Bernabeu stadium, winning the Champions League is seen almost as an obligation for Real Madrid this season, at least by much of the Spanish media.
Kicking off their campaign, perhaps appropriately, in one of Europe’s most expensive cities, Real showed flashes of what may be to come, both in terms of attacking inspiration and defensive vulnerability, as they beat Swiss champions FC Zurich 5-2.
Finally, Real Madrid can say that Cristiano Ronaldo is their player after the club reached agreement with the Portuguese over personal terms (which are presumably pretty generous).
The announcement is there on the Real website, with the news that Ronaldo will be presented at the Bernabeu on July 6. Expect an announcement with the razzmatazz to rival the Beckham presentation…
Florentino Perez is on course for an unopposed return to the Real Madrid presidency on Monday, and is promising to set in motion a major spending spree to build a “spectacular sporting project.”Speculation on who might be arriving has reached fever pitch in the Madrid-based media, and the architect of the ‘Galacticos’ policy has done everything he can to stoke their enthusiasm, short of naming names.“We are going to have great players to continue increasing the club’s income in as short a time as possible,” he told sports daily Marca.“We will go a bit further into debt because I think we have to make up for lost time by doing in one year what should have been done in two or three.”He told radio station Cadena Ser he expected to make five or six signings.With a war chest of up to 300 million euros being spoken about in the Spanish media, they have moved quickly to fill in the gaps.With Arsene Wenger, Carlo Ancelotti and Jose Mourinho slipping off the radar, Villarreal’s Manuel Pellegrini has now emerged as a surprise front runner for the coaching role.As for players, all the usual names are present. Manchester United’s Cristiano Ronaldo, AC Milan’s Kaka and Bayern Munich’s Franck Ribery top the shopping list, along with Liverpool’s Xabi Alonso, and Valencia trio David Villa, David Silva and Juan Mata.But where do Real really need strengthening if they are win back the initiative from treble-winners Barcelona, and bring the spectacle back to the Bernabeu?Iker Casillas will continue between the posts, but Fabio Cannavaro’s departure for Juventus leaves them short of a partner for Pepe in the centre of defence. The injury-prone Christoph Metzelder cannot be relied upon.Left back has also been a problem position with first-choice Gabriel Heinze struggling.The area where they have suffered most this year is in midfield, where they have lacked the quality and pace to open up defences in the big games.Arjen Robben spends too much time on the treatment table, the ageing Guti flickers only intermittently, while Wesley Sneijder, Rafael van der Vaart, Marcelo and Royston Drenthe have failed to step up when needed.In attack, Ruud van Nistelrooy missed most of the campaign with a knee injury and will be 33 by the start of next season. Raul will be 32. Gonzalo Higuain and Klaas Jan Huntelaar are not yet finished articles.Where would you splash the cash?PHOTO: Perez speaks during the presentation of his presidential candidature for Real Madrid, May 28, REUTERS/Susana Vera
Manchester United palpably failed to become the first team to retain the European Cup in the Champions League era but few would bet against Barcelona managing the feat next season.
And where would be the perfect place for Pep Guardiola’s stylish side to achieve it? The Nou Camp? No, next year’s final is in Madrid and the Barca fans I spoke to in Rome after the game could not think of a better venue to show their rivals and world football that they are undisputed kings.