Thursday 22 June 2006

Temporary Manager Does Well

By Rossa McDermott

For a lengthy period during the seventies and eighties Real Madrid were unable to get beyond the semi-finals stage of the European Cup and their history weighed heavily upon the club for those decades.

Those who followed the era of Alfredo Di Stefano, Ferenc Puskas and Paco Gento failed to match the achievements of that glorious age of Real Madrid in the nineteen sixties.

During that era of six victories Real Madrid even won the European Cup in front of their home crowd in 1957. The club dominated the tournament until the mid sixties and then slipped from the limelight as that great group of players broke up.

The closest Madrid came to the tournament after that was when the final was hosted in the Santiago Bernabeu in 1969 between Inter Milan and Ajax.

Although the Italians won 4-1 on that night it was the Dutch team that would become the power force in European football in the ensuing five years, winning three finals in a row between 1970 and 1973. The names on everyone's lips that night were players like Cruijff, Neeskens, Hulshoff and they were to form what came to be known as the 'Clockwork Orange' during the World Cup Finals of 1974 and 1978 with Holland losing out on both finals to the tournament hosts.

During that decade Real Madrid also met Manchester United on the first occasion the Red Devils won the European Cup Final. In that tie the game was played in Manchester first with the home side winning by one goal to nil. In the second leg, the roar at the Santiago Bernabeu was cataclysmic when the home side went in to a 3-1 lead. Needless to say history records a powerful comeback and Manchester United drew the game level going on to meet Benfica in the final, which was played at the now demolished Wembley Stadium.

That night in Madrid George Best slipped out from his hotel to celebrate in the only English pub in Madrid at the time, The Red Lion. The achievement of that victory was immense particularly against the European football aristocrats, Real Madrid. The year we must remember was 1968.

The next time the European Cup Final was hosted in Madrid it was the 1979-80 season and again it was another team that was dominant in Europe for a while, Nottingham Forest. Indeed, the final itself had a strong English flavour given that Kevin Keegan was playing with Hamburg SV, the other finalists on that occasion. For Real Madrid the dream of winning the trophy in their home ground evaporated when they were beaten 5-3 on aggregate by the German champions. In an extremely unmemorable final the half filled Bernabeu stadium saw Nottingham Forest win the game by one goal to nil.

For Real Madrid the 1980's brought more hope and the current Real Madrid Manager Vicente Del Bosque was at the peak of his career when the club finally reached a European Cup Final. In some ways it was part of the renaissance of Spanish football and the final in Paris was against English opponents Liverpool, who themselves were to become an established presence in Europe until the Heysel tragedy in 1985. During the run in 1979/80 the team benefited from del Bosque's skill and deft touch had seen him play in all eight games. In the following season, his influence was waning with age and he played in only five of the nine games, watching the final from the bench in Paris. It was not a memorable game for him.

On the way to that particular final Real Madrid played the Irish National League Champions Limerick losing only 2-1 in the Santiago Bernabeu under the leadership of Eoin Hand. The return leg was switched to Lansdowne Road and Limerick suffered a defeat allowing Madrid to go through to meet Honved, whom they beat earning a place in the semi finals against Inter Milan. In beating the Italians Real Madrid reached a final for the first time since the mid sixties and it was a goal from Alan Kennedy that settled the game in Liverpool's favour leaving Real Madrid trophyless yet again. For the likes of Del Bosque and others who had joined the club the previous decade such a defeat had much significance and was a heavy burden to bear.

Although Del Bosque played eighteen times for his country he was an enigmatic figure on the field of play. Skilful and talented he was often criticised for this lack of effort and physical commitment. However, his vision and pinpoint passing made him stand out and his pensive well thought out interviews earned him the nickname 'The Professor'. In that era Madrid were merely spectators on the European Cup scene and Del Bosque's learned much it seems from those defeats. In the 1982-83 he was still part of the squad that travelled to Gothenburg to play Aberdeen in the Cup Winners Cup Final. The Scottish team that night was managed by Alex Ferguson and he had a blend of names that had yet to become major stars. The team included Willie Miller, Mark McGhee and Gordon Strachan.

In stark contrast Real Madrid travelled to Sweden boasting a host of Spanish internationals and foreign players such as German International, Uli Stielike and Dutch defender and Nottingham Forest player, Johnny Metgod. On a wet and rainy night in Gothenburg the Scottish Cup Winners played a defensive game working on quick counter attacks to open up the Spanish side. After seven minutes Eric Black put them ahead and despite a penalty from Juanito to equalise the game went into extra time. In the 112 minute Aberdeen won a ball in midfield and it led to the winning goal from John Hewitt, which gave the Scottish side a historic victory. In meeting United at Old Trafford on Wednesday Del Bosque was concerned that history would repeat itself.

Although that season was to be Del Bosque's last and he went into management with Real Madrid. He again saw the club's fortunes come and go in Europe as he managed the youth side. A victory in the UEFA Cup two seasons in a row in 1985 and 1986 was the major achievement by Real Madrid in the 1980's. Despite many big name managers coming to the club they all failed and the nineties suggested that Real Madrid would no longer dominate this tournament even in the newly regenerated format, the Champions League.

In 1998 that all changed when Real Madrid reached the final in Amsterdam against Juventus and won it by one goal to nil. Two years later they were back in Paris to play Valencia and Del Bosque's side broke down Gaiko Mendieta's side to win by 3 goals to nil. The following year the attempt was foiled at the semi-final stage by Bayern Munich and the Madrid club focussed on their centenary season 2001/2002 as the time to claim their ninth European Cup Title. In Hampden Park last May they duly did so through the brilliance of Raul and Zinedine Zidane to beat Bayer Leverkusen.

For Del Bosque most of this story in the Champions League has been done in his capacity as 'temporary' manager having replaced John Toshack a few seasons ago. On a previous occasion he replaced Jorge Valdano as Manager and now with two Champions League titles under his belt in three years he travels to Old Trafford knowing his own ability having beaten United before at home a few years ago. This time though the visit was completed without Raul Gonzalez absent with appendicitis.

History recalls that Real Madrid won their second title at home in 1957, and Del Bosque knows how much Sir Alex Ferguson would love to so the same this season. In the game against Manchester United 'The Professor' will leave no stone unturned in seeking a chance for Real Madrid's to win their 10th title in a visit in late May to Old Trafford.

Having just been offered an extensive contract Del Bosque is not frightened by insecurity. What drives him more is to make up for these defeats he experienced in the 80's when he was to come so close to European silverware and never get his hands on it. As a manager of Real Madrid he has become very used to lifting silverware.