Sunday, May 29, 2011

F.C Barcelona: a team above the rest


They have been called the greatest team of all-time; a team composed mainly of the Spanish line-up that won the World Cup last year in South Africa; a team which includes a little Argentinian wizard capable of things that most Football players dream about doing; a team which is true to Johan Cruyff’s philosophy on the field and guided by a pupil of his, a man who has the Barcelona colors in his blood – last night’s Champion League success confirms, once more, that this F.C Barcelona side truly are one of the greatest Footballing sides the world has ever seen. "Mes que un club" may be a statement that the Nou Camp faithful are familiar with, but now the men from Catalunia are making it recognizable all around the world.

When Pep Guardiola took over the Barcelona reigns at the start of the 2008-2009 season, he was taking over from an already successful Barcelona team that was triumphant under the tutelage of Frank Riijkaard. Prior to that season, Guardiola successfully led Barcelona’s B team to ‘Tercera Division’ title and was subsequently given the chance by then-president Joan Laporta to take over the first team and shine on the big stage. Since then Guardiola has led the team to unparalleled success both on the domestic and European stage. At the end of only his third season, he can look back proudly at 3 consecutive La Liga titles, 1 Copa Del Rey, 2 Supercopa De Espana, 1 UEFA Super Cup, 1 FIFA Club World Cup, and most importantly 2 Champions league titles. A record to be proud of alongside a team to be proud of, Barcelona have not simply provided the results on the field – they’ve done it with style.

Led by their inspirational captain Carlos Puyol, the team is made up of players whose style has revolutionized the way Football can be played. Keeping the ball on the ground, movements on the ball, movements off the ball, speed and finesse, Barcelona’s players are shaped up in a 4-3-3 formation that defies its customary definition. The defensive line of Alves, Puyol, Pique and Abidal have all got a great control of the ball, but more than that, they are always organized  and pushed forward by their ball-playing goalkeeper Victor Valdes; he is always at the start of  Barcelona’s plays and is one of their unsung heroes. The midfield 3 of Busquets, Iniesta and Xavi switch play and positions so often during a single passage of play it is difficult to understand where they are actually situated. Xavi and Iniesta dictate the pace of the game almost blindly and they almost telepathically know where each player is heading. The same could be said about the forward 3 of Villa, Messi and Pedro. Barcelona’s players are always interchanging positions and that causes complete chaos to their opponents. At times it looks like we are watching a 4-0-6 formation when Barca are attacking, and a 4-6-0 formation when they are defending. The entire team works for one another going forward and defending. When they lose the ball, they do their utmost to win it back and once in possession of the ball, it is extremely hard for the opposition to get it back. Very rarely can we find a game where Barcelona had less possession of the ball than their opponents (I think it has never happened since Guardiola has taken over - ?)

Just as we’ve seen several times this season, F.C Barcelona made another European giant look small. Teams which under normal circumstances are considered great, are made to look ordinary by Guardiola’s men. This team is being praised as the greatest ever, but it is very difficult to compare different teams in different eras when Football was a different game altogether. This Barcelona side is definitely the greatest team of our generation and will definitely be considered as one the greatest sides ever to play the game. They deserve the credit and the plaudits they get. One thing is for sure, anyone who appreciates beautiful Football and loves the game has to applaud Barcelona’s feats. They play Football the way it should be played. “The ball is round to go round” is a motto that was dominant during the 60s and that’s what Barcelona do with a devastating effect. Congratulations to F.C Barcelona once again!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Champions League final preview : FC Barcelona vs Manchester United



On Saturday, May 28th, two European giants will face one another in the final of Europe’s most prestigious Football competition. The Champions League final, where heroes are made and legends are written, is a game that very few football fans miss around the world. This season, just like in the final of 2009, The Champions of Spain, FC Barcelona, will go head-to-head with the Champions of England, Manchester United. A game that is huge for so many reasons, but when going into the fine details of both sides, one can find that there are some similarities between these two clubs.

The showpiece this season is being held at Wembley (first time ever at the newly built version of the mythical stadium), and this is where the similarities begin. Both Manchester United and FC Barcelona won their first European cup titles at Wembley Stadium. United’s first win (first time a team won it at Wembley) was in 1968 with their 4-1 triumph over Benfica, whereas Barca’s first win was in 1992 with Ronald Koeman’s legendary free-kick allowing them to be 1-0 victors vs Sampdoria (last time a team won it at Wembley). With such history and tradition between both clubs, it is sometimes surprising how little these two giants have won the most coveted trophy in European Football. Both teams have won the Champions League only 3 times each and are both looking to make it a fourth title. In addition to that similarity, the official record of competitive games between both teams is also surprisingly even; this will be the 11th official meeting between the two sides, and the record stands at Barcelona 3 wins, Manchester United 3 wins, and 4 draws – even history has put these two sides at exact evens. But all that will count for nothing on Saturday.

Barcelona are the more flamboyant side of the two sides. Always looking to attack and penetrate teams at will, their passing game has become a joy to watch for most of the footballing world and this Barcelona side in particular are on the verge (and already considered by some) of becoming the greatest club side to ever play the game. They’ve beaten pretty much everything that has stood in their way by playing football in its most simplistic form. Their passing and movement on the ball, as well as off it, has caused teams to “turn around like a carousel” as Sir Alex Ferguson put it following the 2009 final. Barcelona are the best scorers of this year’s competition with 27 goals and have only been defeated once in the competition (vs Arsenal in the quarter-finals).  Manchester United are the more conservative of both sides. Unbeaten in the competition this season, as well as holding the best defensive record (4 goals conceded), defense is the best form of attack for United. Their overall play has been criticized in some corners of the media and the football world this season for being unable to produce the entertainment that people have previously associated with United, but I doubt very much that Sir Alex Ferguson and his troops would worry about that. Counter-attack, determination and organization has gotten them this far and they will use that same mentality against Barcelona on Saturday.

A Champions League final is never a game that produces large chunks of entertainment. Usually teams are unadventurous and unwilling to take the risk of attacking in full flow because of the importance of the game and what is at stake. Barcelona don’t fit in that aspect, it’s not in their philosophy. They will be going for it from the first minute, whereas United will most probably sit back and wait for the opportunity to counter-attack. I will speak on behalf of United fans (obviously) by saying that if Barcelona win, there should be no shame in losing to such a great team. They are probably the only team any supporter could accept losing against and can simply say “it’s ok, it is Barcelona”; whereas Barcelona fans, I’d imagine, should probably begin realizing that this particular side of theirs, living off Cruyff’s philosophy, is going to be marked down as the greatest ever Barcelona side in its illustrious history if they win on Saturday under the guidance of the majestic Pep Guardiola. If United win, it will be a fitting tribute to the soon-to-be retired goalkeeper Edwin Van Der Sar, as well as the potentially-retired Paul Scholes (unknown about his retirement plans as yet but could be his last game). It will also be surpassing all of United fans expectations at the beginning of the season, because not a single United fan that I know of was convinced that this side would go this far. Whatever happens, I’m looking forward to it and I’m hoping for one thing in particular: Rain. Superstition will get the better of me on that one because of what it’s done to United in finals on previous occasions.

(Come on United!)

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Footballers and smoking - a successful match?



It is common knowledge that, generally, professional athletes don’t smoke and if they did, they wouldn’t be professional athletes in the first place. Well, at least that’s what we’ve been taught and told. In this day and age, with the media being present everywhere, if a professional athlete, especially a Footballer, felt like puffing down a stick, you can be sure that it would make the headlines everywhere. Blowing the image out of proportion as some sort of inhumane crime would probably be how it gets publicized. Football clubs nowadays have got the most up-to-date medical equipment at their disposal that even the slightest amount of tobacco, or any other substance, that a footballer enjoys off the field would be noticed and he could possibly be punished for it. The players representatives (club, manager…etc) would probably take some sort of minimal action against the player, but it wouldn’t necessarily go public. But do Footballers really restrain themselves from having the odd puff? And if they did smoke, how badly would it harm their performances and reputations?

In the early days of the game, in the 1800s, it was almost normal or mandatory for footballers to be smokers. Goalkeepers were often seen smoking cigarettes while playing, and players would often take some puffs before, during, or after a game. Sometimes the club would even provide the cigarettes for the players. To think of that in our time is unimaginable. Decades past, and cigarette-smoking footballers reduced in large numbers. With Football clubs having so much at stake now, especially financially, the players have always got to be at their best behavior on and off the pitch. Any tiny mistake could hinder a club’s reputation and a player’s future. Media scrutiny is at its highest now, and with that comes an added amount of pressure of the players. Their private lives are being monitored in a way that George Orwell would be proud of. When they have sex, when they go out, what they eat, what they drink, what they say…all these aspects, and more, are all being monitored by their rightful Football clubs. Their liberties are reduced in return for the bags of cash they get. So you can’t blame the players for stepping out of line once in a while.

Some of the world greatest footballers have publicly stated that during their careers, they were smokers. Johan Cruyff, Socrates, David Ginola, Jack Charlton, Bobby Charlon, Stanley Matthews, Zinedine Zidane and Paul Gascoigne, are just a few legendary Football names from the past that have been associated with smoking. Despite that, it has always been and will always be frowned upon in the Football world. But some of the names in today’s game that have been caught smoking are surprising (click here). Any one of us who plays football knows the damage that smoking does to our endurance, and it makes you wonder about how some professional players are able to perform and smoke. Dimitar Berbatov (pictured above) supposedly smokes regularly, and when one sees how lazy and languid he looks on the pitch sometimes, you can understand the effect it has. Very rarely have we seen him sprinting or doing a lot of running (even though, despite smoking, he could probably run 100 times more than any normal person); but if we imagine he didn't smoke and had the burst of pace to run at defenders, he would be an even better player than he is - sometimes the smoking does affect the performances. Whereas on the other hand, someone like Zinedine Zidane, also famed for his smoking habits, barely had to break into sweat during his entire career and yet is still rightly recognized as one of the greatest footballers of all-time. One could say he was so gifted that he never needed to. I would go as far as saying he could probably have had a cigarette in his mouth while playing and he would still outshine those around him. These are two contradicting examples that emphasize the question surrounding this topic: does smoking affect their performances?

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t support Footballers smoking, because I believe any individual earning the ridiculous sums of money that they are earning could abstain himself from life’s “evil pleasures” for 10-15 years while they’re professionals. But I also understand the fact that these players are human beings and are just like any regular guys out there except with the extra load of pressure on their shoulders;
we sometimes forget that these rich, lucky, unintelligent, talented footballers are just like any regular Joe – and for that, they could be forgiven for smoking, or stepping out of line, every once in a while as long as it doesn’t affect their performances on the field – which is the most important aspect as its their job. They obviously don't restrain themselves from doing things that any normal individual would do, and they certainly don't seem to mind what it does to their reputations as long as they're doing their job on the pitch; and rightly so. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The painful past and uncertain future of Diego Buonanotte


(www.FiveinMidfield.com
is a football blog written by Joe Sharratt, a writer/blogger trying to play his way into the packed midfield that is sports journalism. He covers topics from around the world related to the beautiful game, with a particular focus on offering thought provoking and well researched features exploring some of football's forgotten heroes and stories. This article was written by Joe for FiveinMidfield and reappears here with his permission. Please do visit www.FiveinMidfield.com where your feedback is welcomed, and you can also follow Joe on Twitter @FiveinMidfield)


Just a few short years ago Diego Buonanotte was a young man with the world at his feet. Already a regular in the River Plate side by the age of just eighteen, the talented midfielder was even being mentioned in the same breath as the great Diego Maradona, a comparison not without merit. Dubbed El Enano – the Dwarf – Buonanotte stands at just five feet and three inches tall, but despite his tiny frame he was making a huge impression in his native Argentina. Buonanotte’s debut for River Plate came in April 2006 when he was just seventeen years of age, and he was held in such high regard by River coach Daniel Passarella that, despite his tender years, Buonanotte was thrown into the cauldron of the Supercl√°sico just six months later. His early appearances for his club caught the eye of Sergio Batista, who selected Buonanotte as part of the Argentine squad that took home Gold from the 2008 Olympic Games, with the youngster scoring a sublime freekick against Serbia in the group stages. Buonanotte was playing with the joie de vivre that comes naturally to a young man on the verge of a successful career, and was attracting suitors amongst a range of top European clubs. Everything seemed in place for a long and successful career.

But on Boxing Day 2009 Buonanotte’s life changed forever. As he drove his three friends Alexis Fulcheri, Emanuel Melo and Gerardo Sune home from a night out near his home town of Teodelina, Buonanotte lost control of his father’s Peugeot 307 in dreadful conditions on an isolated country freeway. The car careered off the road and collided with huge force with a tree. The impact left the vehicle as nothing more than a twisted mass of metal. Friends of the four travelling in another vehicle behind them were the first on the scene. Buonanotte was pulled alive from the wreckage by fire-fighters, but tragically Fulcheri, Melo and Sune died as a result of their injuries. After being stabilised in hospital Buonanotte was transferred to a private clinic in Buenos Aires. He had suffered a broken collarbone, a broken right arm, damage to his lungs and severe bruising to his chest. Initial reports estimated that it would be at least seven months before he could play football again. Media attention also focused on the revelation that, of the car’s four occupants, Buonanotte was the only one to have been wearing a seatbelt.

Despite his catalogue of injuries Buonanotte made a remarkable recovery, and was even fit enough to return to action in April 2010, just four months after the crash. His first appearance back in a River Plate shirt came just days shy of his twenty-second birthday, with a half-hour substitute appearance in a 2-1 victory over Godoy Cruz, where he performed with distinction, and was treated to a hero’s reception by the River Plate faithful. Not everybody was celebrating his miraculous recovery however. In an interview with the national sports publication Ole following his return to football, Buonanotte revealed how he has had to become used to the sickening taunts of ‘murderer’ levelled at him by opposition supporters wherever he goes. “It is really tough, but I can’t do anything but face up to it and have faith that everything will get better”, Buonanotte declared. He also spoke candidly about his fears over returning to the game in the wake of the tragedy, saying “I was scared about what would happen because when you enter the stadium you forget about everything. I was wrong though, players are very respectful. The ones who don’t have respect are the fans”. The further threat to Buonanotte is the prospect of legal proceedings being taken against him. In September last year an Argentinean court ruled that he could be charged with triple manslaughter over his role in the accident. Though no traces of alcohol or narcotics were detected in Buonanotte’s bloodstream, and it was confirmed that he had not been speeding, prosecutors argued his failure to take into account the treacherous conditions that night were a contributing factor to the accident. Though no further action has been taken as of yet, it is no doubt a significant weight on the shoulders of El Enano.

Nevertheless Buonanotte remained a fixture in a River Plate side battling against an unprecedented relegation last year. His performances continued to attract praise, and a lucrative transfer again seemed a possibility. Then, on January 14th 2011, Buonanotte finally sealed the move to Europe that was so frequently mooted before the accident. Though he would initially be loaned back to River Plate to complete the 2011 domestic season, Malaga had paid a fee of £3.8 million to secure the midfielder’s services. The move will hopefully offer Buonanotte the opportunity to escape his past. Though with Malaga rooted to the bottom of the La Liga table, there is a real possibility that it is in the Spanish Segunda Divisi√≥n that he may yet find refuge. Were this to be the case, it would represent a spectacular outcome for a man once regarded as one of the finest young talents in the world, who averaged close to a goal every four games in over a hundred appearances for one of the biggest clubs in world football.Whatever the future holds for Buonanotte it is clear that the scars of his past will haunt him for the rest of his life. Whilst the circumstances surrounding the death of his three friends may be debated in court rooms for some time to come, the hope is that football may yet provide solace for a talented young man whose life has taken a cruel turn. Perhaps it is one the pitch too that Buonanotte can best pay tribute to his departed friends.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Manchester United: Champions 2010/2011



At the start of the 2010-2011 season, Sir Alex Ferguson’s men were being written off by pundits as potential Champions with the big-spending Manchester City being dubbed as favorites to challenge Chelsea for the title. Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham were being spoken of in the same breath as Manchester United as the teams that would finish 3rd or 4th. You couldn’t blame the bookies or journalists for predicting it would go that way. The off-season signings of Bebe, Chris Smalling and Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez are hardly names that would inspire confidence to any football follower, let alone Manchester United fans. On paper it looked like a squad that was ageing and that lacked the strength to challenge on all fronts and carry them all the way until the end of the season. This is a club which has set for itself the highest standards in terms of quality of football and their fans could be forgiven for assuming that this United squad wasn’t one strong enough to challenge for the entire campaign. But Fergie has proved every single one of his doubters wrong…again.

A squad that is rightly balanced between experienced players and youth has proven once more to be a great blend and recipe for success. This United team is definitely one of Ferguson’s least flamboyant and entertaining squads, but he’s turned them into Champions by instilling in them a never-say-die attitude that is reminiscent of past United squads. If Manchester United supporters are asked who the key player was this season, there would be numerous answers as opposed to previous seasons; this time there was no outstanding performer. This season’s title is thanks to Sir Alex Ferguson making the best out of a relatively average squad (in comparison to previous United squads), his man-management, his rotation policy, the other contenders lack of consistency and Fergie's team’s overall effort. On top of the fact that they’ve just won the league, they find themselves in the Champions league final facing the mighty F.C Barcelona next week and also reached the semi-finals of the F.A.Cup only to be dumped out by the eventual winners, their neighbors Manchester City. Not bad for a team that was being written off at the beginning of the season.

Liverpool legend Graeme Souness once said following one of Liverpool’s title victories in the 1980s: “by our standards, we weren’t good enough; by everybody else’s, we were”. The same could be said about United this season. The quality of play may not have been great, but the hunger and desire to succeed was. Games against Blackpool, Wolves, West Ham, Aston Villa and Everton are just a few games when last minute winners and dramatic comebacks gave United 3 vital points. This team may not flatter spectators at times, but you can be guaranteed that they will fight until the very last minute. 11 draws and 4 defeats does not sound like the stuff of Champions, but an unbeaten record at home of 18 wins out of a possible 19 does. Their desire to succeed, added to their home form in particular, were a driving force for this side. The players seemed to pass on the responsability to one another to lead the way. At various stages during the season, Nani, Berbatov, Vidic, Van Der Sar, Chicharito, Rooney, Ferdinand and, of course, the ageless Ryan Giggs were taking games by the scruff of the neck and pushing the team. That is the hallmark of Champions.

Football fans of rival teams will always have an envious hatred for teams that are successful; it comes with the territory. If a club is successful it has to accept the criticism that comes with it, and I’m pretty sure Manchester United fans all around the world don’t mind that. Liverpool were despised and respected by most of Europe during the 70s and 80s, Barcelona are currently admired and loathed by many around the world, and Manchester United have been as well during the 90s and most of the 2000s. But whether a club is loved or hated by opposing fans will never be the determining factor of success; what matters most is whether or not over the course of a season a club can stay consistent enough at the top. When we look back at this Premier League season, all the teams that were challenging for the title went through a blip, except for Manchester United. Their consistency and ability to bounce back from failure has proven to be the key. Nothing should be taken away from this triumph despite its relative lack of flair. They have now broken the record and become the team that has won the most league titles in English Football history with this 19th title. United fans all over the world should be proud of the achievement and enjoy the moment while it lasts because this is the club’s golden era. Football works in cycles and Manchester United are currently enjoying its most successful period during this cycle. You may hate them, you may love them – but you must respect them for their accomplishment: Manchester United, Champions 2010-2011.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Football in Chechnya - Razman Kadyrov's "friendly" games



(I’m taking this opportunity to apologize for the lack of activity on the blog this week. I was on holidays, but I’m back on track now, so you’ll get some more articles coming your way).

Chechnya and its president Ramzan Kadyrov rarely get the major media exposure that other nations do; a small region with a population of around 1.3 million inhabitants that has no gain or fame for Western nations doesn’t sound too intriguing one might say. Engulfed with controversy and violence, Chechnya could easily be publicized by the media as one of the world’s “dangerous and evil” places, but it isn’t. Kadyrov the president, however, is considered to be one of the world’s most powerful political figures and has often been accused of torture, murder, kidnapping, rape and other inhumane acts (almost in the same breath as Idi Amin, the former president of Uganda). This is a man who has publicly approved and supported honor killings and has been at the center of controversy ever since he became the president of the tiny region of Chechnya.  However, this week he pulled off a major coup for the 2nd time in the past 2 months that also should have gotten more publicity.

On Wednesday night in Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, an event took place: the inauguration of Terek Grozny, the new 30,000 all-seated stadium. A moment to celebrate for Chechen people, especially as this stadium could host a couple of games during the World Cup in 2018 that will be hosted by Russia. But the inauguration of the stadium wasn’t the real spectacle, the game which it hosted was. A World XI faced Kadyrov’s XI (Team Caucasus), and the game featured a load of international stars that have all retired but are considered to be legends of International Football: Diego Maradona (captaining the World XI), Fabien Barthez, Dida, Franco Baresi, Alain Boghossian, Ivan Zamorano, Robbie Fowler, Steve McManaman, Luis Figo, Alessandro Costacurta, Jean-Pierre Papin and Christian Vieri, are just a number of the names that were on show to the delight of Chechens at the stadium.

However, this game opened up a debate: should these ex-players (who are all rich by the way) go all the way to Chechnya to participate in such a game, and more importantly, for such a controversial character? Whenever any of the players were posed questions for the game about the political implications behind such a game, they mostly answered “we’re just here to play Football”. But at what point does playing Football inflict with the reasons behind a game. This match was not organized for charity or any noble cause, but rather it is being viewed as a PR stunt to boost the popularity of man who is viewed by most political followers as a “criminal” (this is left for another debate which has nothing to do with Football). Of course, the opening a new stadium is something to celebrate, but the reason the match’s objective is debatable is because it is not the first time Kadyrov organizes such a game.

In March earlier this year, Chechnya was host to another game similar to this one but on that occasion it was Kadyrov’s friends vs Brazilian World Cup winning legends; Cafu, Romario, Rai, Bebeto and Dunga travelled half way across the world for a meaningless match. It was once again a PR stunt, however in this case, it wasn’t for any inauguration or celebration. Nobody knows where the money that such a match generated went to. Romario, who participated in that match, publicly claimed that he did it for the money because he was offered a large sum to go all the way there and participate in that match. Rai, the former PSG Braizilian midfielder, went on to publicly state that he regrets having played in such a game because of the political implications that were whispered behind the scenes of the game.

Whatever the reason behind these matches, debates are going to occur regarding what were the actual incentives for the players who made the journey all the way there and also regarding why were such games organized, in particular the one featuring the Brazilian stars. Of course for the Chechen people it must have been a once (now twice) in a lifetime event to see such stars in front of them, but the integrity of these former footballers must be questioned knowing that they are going to play alongside, and facing, the controversial President of Chechnya himself who has been linked with numerous immoral acts. To end on a positive note, during the game, one could notice that a footballer, regardless of his age, weight or current social status, will never change on the field; Diego Maradona is still the two-faced legend that Football fans around the world still love (click here). Genius.

(click here for a match report from www.101greatgoals.com)

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Javier Aguirre - cheating on his players to inspire them


Javier Aguirre is the manager of Spanish club Real Zaragoza, he has been in charge of the club since November 2010. When he took over from the departing coach Jose Aurelio Gay, the club were wandering in the relegation zone and it seemed like this was going to be a long painful season for Zaragoza fans. However, fast forward a few months later, and they’ve climbed up the table and are battling their way to safety. One of the main reasons for their revival is Aguirre’s management skills which have sometimes been viewed as controversial and mostly psychologically oriented.

His face may be recognizable to some as he was Mexico’s coach during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and he could also be credited for the arrival of Javier Hernandez onto the international scene. His management and playing career has always been divided between Mexico and Spain, and now he has, once again, found himself a new home at the helm of Real Zaragoza, a club that has limited resources to improve. They are a club that has been heavily criticized by the Spanish press for its inability to provide anything worthy on the pitch and for having a president that is surrounded by scandals and controversy - perhaps the perfect match for Aguirre.

Last weekend, Real Zaragoza did the unthinkable and beat Real Madrid 3-2 at the Santiago Bernabeu, for only the 4th time in their entire history. It is no easy feat winning at the Bernabeu and it is even more difficult considering that they had just beat Jose Mourinho at the home of a club he manages, so to think this was done by lowly Real Zaragoza makes it quite a success. However, it was just one victory and 3 points like any other, so what makes this story interesting – the story behind it.

Aguirre, known for his bizarre tactics and man-management skills has always been a bit of an innovator. Some consider him a mad man (ask anyone in Mexico), others consider him a genius. He’s been credited with making his players love him so much that they are almost blinded by it. Prior to this must-win game for Zaragoza in their battle for safety, he performed an act which is considered almost inconceivable. He was playing with fire and this charismatic character is not one to shy away from such situations. Aguirre was sneaking behind his players’ backs and contacting their wives; leaving them messages, calling them all the time and even having secret rendezvous’ with the wives…all of them, no exceptions. This was all being done discreetly, as any professional cheater would do, however the players were beginning to suspect something strange was going on and the frustration began mounting. Could it be that their wives were cheating on them with their mentor? The man, the leader, their manager that is helping them prove all their doubters wrong toying around with ALL the players’ wives?

He decided to come clean the night before the game vs Madrid. He sat the players down and admitted that he had a confession to make. At this point you could imagine the fury that was engulfing the players when the obvious suspicion began to spread. He put in a video into the machine just let it play. It was blurry at first, but then the camera zoomed out and a player’s wife was on the camera. A look of desperation, unease and guilt was on her face “Jose, I have something to tell you”, “Carlos, listen to me”. One by one, the wives left their messages on the camera and for each player a nightmare was coming true: “I love you, but there’s something important we have to talk about and something you really have to do for me…

At this point one could only imagine that the players were either going to break down in tears or go on a rampage somewhere, until each of the wives went on and said “Go and win this bloody match!”.

This was innovation at its peak. Motivation like we rarely see in football. No one else could possibly motivate their players in such a way. He conned them to the point that their rage allowed them to perform like bulls vs Real Madrid. The following day they beat Real Madrid and got 3 points closer to safety. It may have been a wounded Real Madrid, but it was still Real Madrid and at the Bernabeu. Nothing can take that away from this achievement. Zaragoza might still get relegated as there are approximately 8 teams that are fighting to survive in La Liga, but of those 8 teams, you can be guaranteed that Real Zaragoza have got one big card up their sleeve – and it’s Javier Aguirre’s  ability to blind his players to fight for the cause.