At the risk of sounding
vindicated, Valencia's capture of the Spanish title last
weekend summed up all that is logical in European football.
This column has been harping on about the inadequacy that is
Real Madrid all season, and while remaining steadfastly awed
by the Galactico attack, has always sought to expose the
myth that attack is somehow the be-all and end-all of
The Alice in Wonderland policies of Florentino Perez has
brought Madrid to this impasse. His ludicrous "Zidanes and
Pavons" policy, where megastar players are bought each year
and augmented by kids from the youth team, has been as
effective as Pierluigi Collina's shampoo. The coach, Carlos
Queiroz seemed more interested in furthering his career than
taking a proper stand on the issue, and lost respect for his
mishandling of teenage defender Ruben in the debacle in
Seville last Autumn. From then on we were all aware we were
dealing with the former assistant manager of Manchester
United, rather than a man of gravitas and empathy.
A smooth run of form in the Spring, helped by the impotence
of Bayern Munich's attack and the fallible fingers of Oliver
Kahn, never masked the see-saw balance of this side, and
when Zaragoza and Fernando Morientes seized the moment in
decisive games, Madrid were exposed as the lop-sided outfit
they are. If they were an item of female clothing, they
would be a one-cup bra. An exquisite bra, for sure, one that
always attracts, but never fails to expose. Perhaps that is
the attraction of this side. Fallible brilliance. So hail
Valencia. Pragmatic, determined, and most of all balanced.
Worthy Spanish champions for the second year in three.
Real visit Murcia on Sunday evening with nothing to play for
but second place. With Barcelona threatening to overhaul
them on the back of Ronaldinho's magic and Davids's grit,
the former champions may yet raise the stomach for one last
fight. Murcia, already relegated, installed former Real
coach John Toshack when they were already doomed, and
results have picked up since his arrival. That, if anything,
is all that spices things up in this clash.
Three straight defeats tell their own story for Madrid.
Three wins in the last 11 explain it further. Murcia have
won only one of the past six, and are 15 points adrift at
the foot of the table with good reason.
John Toshack faces his old club with perhaps the weakest
playing staff he has ever has the misfortune to handle.
Still, the old fox will have fun with the possibility of
playing against all the odds. Nothing like making like
embarrassing for your former employers.
Zinedine Zidane returns from suspension for the visitors.
Having complained of being physically spent, expect the
France star to save himself for Euro 2004. When your season
has collapsed like a house of cards in two months,
motivation is always going to be a problem.
Murcia: Sánchez Broto; Juanma, Ibán Cuadrado, Hurtado,
Carreras; Acciari, Jensen, Luis García, Míchel; Richi, David
Real Madrid: Casillas; Michel Salgado, Roberto Carlos, Pavón,
Helguera; Guti, Beckham; Figo, Zidane, Solari; Raúl.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Ivan Hurtado (Murcia)
The Ecuadorian international brings a rare touch of class to
a decidedly shoddy set-up.
Francisco Pavon (Real Madrid)
Unlucky enough to have the ill-fated, discredited club
transfer policy named after him, Pavon is a promising talent
that deserves more protection and nurturing that his
president seems willing to admit.