Real Madrid cruised to a 3-1 win over Real Zaragoza. Barcelona drew 0-0 with Villarreal falling seven points behind. The Castilian lead is now commanding and, at the rate those clubs drop points, almost unassailable. This weekend was a sea change in what, on paper, is the most important competition, yet the overall picture has made it an afterthought.
The news came during the same week Barcelona eliminated Real Madrid in the Copa Del Rey, the latest in the seemingly endless series of clasicos. The tournament does not matter, but the loss does, and rumors, almost certainly emanating from Mourinho’s camp, suggest the disillusioned manager will leave this summer for England. It seems the Portuguese is finally grasping the paradox of the Real Madrid job: you can’t win there.
Real Madrid is soccer’s most glamorous job. You enter the transfer market like Liz Taylor entered a jewelry store. Want Cristiano Ronaldo? You can pay enough to make even Alex Ferguson kiss the ring. The trouble is the expectation: absolute perfection. You have to beat Barcelona and not just win multiple trophies but do so with the proper amount of style. You must use the right players, ones that make the current politician on top of the pile (and not his predecessor) look brilliant. That’s not to mention managing the sport’s most delicate egos.
The task is impossible, and it is no wonder Real Madrid has had 22 managerial changes since 1991. Fabio Capello was fired twice, ten years apart, after winning the league. The only manager who has survived longer than two full seasons in that stretch is Vicente Del Bosque, who won the Champions League twice. Most of those managers did not have to face Barcelona led by Lionel Messi.
Spanish soccer has two clubs right now. The competition exists between them. Even if Mourinho wins the title, it’s a sour solace if they don’t beat Barcelona in the next meeting. Even if his players accomplish that, Mourinho could still soil it all by losing to Barcelona in the Champions League. Even if he wins the whole lot, he’ll get criticized by some about his tactics. The “Special” experiment may end this summer and, quite conceivably, not at Mourinho’s behest.
The Proposal: Liverpool purportedly offered Manchester City a straight-up swap of Andy Carroll for Carlos Tevez. Umm…can’t fault them for trying? Liverpool’s reported $40 million valuation of Carroll (12 months after buying him for $55 million) roughly equates Manchester City’s asking price for Tevez. The trouble is everyone else’s evaluation of Carroll is much, much lower. Newcastle declined the chance to take Carroll back for $31 million. We’d be surprised if he got $15 million on the open market. You don’t buy houses for three times the value at the height of the market. Same rules apply for strikers.
Speaking of Tevez, the Argentine will be bracing for another few months of lucrative exile, as a loan deal to AC Milan has fallen through. May we all receive $311,000 per week, on condition that we not show up, under any circumstances, to work.
Real Americans. Clint Dempsey has earned the recent plaudits, but on Friday it was Landon Donovan who took the torch for U.S. Soccer. The MLS star assisted both goals in Everton’s 2-1 win over Dempsey’s Fulham in the FA Cup. Dynamic in his brief loan spurts, it would be interesting to see how Donovan would fare over an entire season.
WPS we hardly knew ye, seriously. Women’s Professional Soccer is closing shop for 2012, amidst a legal dispute with magicJack owner Dan Borislow, and hoping to reopen in 2013. The league had already been reeling beforehand, struggling with operating costs and reliant on U.S. Soccer for a dispensation to operate with just five teams. The loss of the season could douse what few remaining flames their were, sending it the way of WUSA. We would point to this and the USWNT’s 38-0 romp through CONCACAF qualifying to suggest FIFA consider a restructuring of women’s soccer.
Few countries, unfortunately, devote adequate resources. There’s an intractable gulf between the elite level and the next step down. Consolidated tournaments, such as the World Cup, work, but whenever that talent is dispersed, the competition becomes significantly less compelling. However noble the intentions, the model is failing. If women’s soccer is to be something more than a political statement and achieve self-sufficiency, FIFA should progress beyond the mere aping of men’s soccer to a format that sells the sport in a better light. There may not be enough women’s talent yet to support disparate, domestic club leagues, but, surely, there are ways to get the world’s top national sides playing more often. More frequent World Cups might be a good place to start.
Goal of the Week: Scorpion Kicks > Bicycle Kicks
[Photo via Getty]