Real's stars starting to shine

KEITH BRADFORD -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 7:18 AM ET

Something terrible is happening at the world's ugliest club. They're winning.

Without the holding midfielder they desperately need and anything resembling a defence, Spain's Real Madrid have somehow managed to win four on the spin.

Heck, they even did it in style with a 6-1 win over Albacete on the weekend.

The brilliance of Zinedine Zidane and Ronaldo once again shone through - with the latter scoring a pair.

But don't be fooled into thinking that this expensive collection of over-inflated egos has become a team. Even good results shouldn't convince anyone of that.

Madrid aren't a team, they're a marketing experiment that has come to embody everything that's bad about the game.

It didn't start with David Beckham's multi-million dollar transfer from Manchester United in June 2003, but he's as good a scapegoat as any.

Because the signing, masterminded by club president Florentino Perez, was more about achieving commercial success than winning trophies.

As Beckham followed the likes of Luis Figo, Zidane and Ronaldo through the door, Perez set about unloading the lesser-known, harder-working pillars of the team.

The results have been much as expected.

"The signing of David Beckham in June 2003 coincided with the sporting decline of the team, while at the same time it saw a quantitative leap in the finances of the club," reported the Spanish newspaper El Pais.

Madrid's income has increased from $237.7 million Cdn in 2002 to an expected $369.2 million Cdn in 2004-05. Of that, 45.6 per cent is due to come directly from marketing.

After winning the league in 2000-01 and 2002-03, and the Champions League in 2001-2, Real fans have been starved of a major trophy. And with a dressing room full of egos, the team - or lack thereof - appears to have become uncoachable.

After seven trophies in three years, Vincente Del Bosque left simply because the president seemed to want a change. His replacement, Carlos Quieroz, lasted a year.

The arrival of Jose Antonio Camacho, a noted disciplinarian, was seen as a last-ditch attempt to take the power away from the "galacticos" (stars) and turn them into a team.

But a dressing room revolt, sparked by Camacho's decision to drop star striker Raul, was the catalyst for his departure after just three months.

His little-known successor, Mariano Garcia Remon, probably has a good chance of keeping his job since he's apparently conceded that his best-known players do in fact run the team. And the results seem to be turning.

The weekend win - allied to Barcelona's first loss of the season - left Real just four points behind their fierce rivals in the Spanish first division.

And for anyone disturbed by the prospect of the marketing ploy working on and off the soccer field, that means only one thing.

It's time to start cheering for Barca.

Clash of the titans: Real and Barca meet this weekend in one of the most important games of the Spanish season.

But with Barca enjoying home-field advantage, Perez and his marketing masterminds are sure to come up with some creative excuses to explain the possibility of defeat.

Injuries to key players in today's Spain-England friendly, perhaps? A biased referee or a doctored pitch anyone?

No? Oh well, if the worst comes to the worst, the galacticos could always do an Arsenal and have a soup and pizza throwing contest.

Or just chow down on some sour grapes.


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