Ogres Galore

January 17, 2005
By Phil Ball
(Archive)

The phrase 'Not a good week for the Spanish Football Federation' is beginning to take on the quality of a mantra, although not a particularly sacred one. When they have a good week I'll tell you, but in the meantime it's business as usual.

Last weekend, in case you didn't know, the Spanish press took a collective editorial decision to play down the incidents during the second half of the Madrid derby, when a section of the Atlético fans decided to continue the recent tradition of monkey chanting at anyone slightly less pallid than themselves.

So bad was the chanting at Roberto Carlos that the referee was moved to suggest to the match delegate that an announcement be made over the tannoy to the effect that the noises should stop. When this was done, the noises only increased.

Since the referee made a note of the incidents in his report, the Federation was obliged to act, which they did the following Wednesday - but before we come onto that, on the Monday following the game I received a call from the BBC asking me to comment on the Spanish press reaction to the whole sorry episode. 'What episode?' I replied.

I knew nothing about it, despite having watched the game on TV and despite having read the morning papers. Fortunately the call wasn't 'live', and I had an hour or so to dredge up some information before subsequently doing the interview.

The only conclusion to be reached was that Marca and other newspapers had decided not to fan the flames, and that they had taken the decision the evening before in their editorial meetings. You could say that this was an irresponsible conspiracy of silence or that it was a sensible idea, depending on where you stand on the issue. The television editors had obviously arrived at the same conclusion - that it was better to play matters down.

But on Wednesday, the Spanish Federation stepped boldly into the breach and fined Atlético Madrid €600. Yes - there were just two noughts. At first I thought I was seeing things. I thought it was a misprint. But no - for a series of incidents that were obviously pretty serious, the club is fined the equivalent of the price for a half-decent video camera.

This represents an utterly ludicrous amount, when the only way to begin to solve the problem is to make an example of the clubs who continue to permit this sort of stuff. Unless they are fined appropriately (even 6000 would have been laughable) or their grounds closed automatically for a game, nothing will happen. The miserable individuals who decided on a fine of €600 should themselves be fined, or relieved of their positions.

You could call it a racist action in itself. Such a pathetic institutional response smacks of a lack of care and attention. It's a reluctant gesture, only made because the referee's report necessitated an executive decision. Behind it you can see the lack of any real policy or voluntary will to get to the roots of the problem and to face up to what is a worsening situation. Lamentable stuff.

Then to cap it all, this Sunday's game between Osasuna and Valencia was played out to the tune of a 0-0 draw, a noble pact on the part of the players who had previously agreed not to play the game. Literally an hour before the game, the Valencia defender Marco Antonio Caneira, changing for the game, was told that his eight-month old daughter had been rushed to hospital with serious respiratory problems. Rushing to a private flight from Pamplona's small airport, he was told as he boarded that she had died.

His Valencia team-mates, on hearing the news, began to change back into civvies, saying that they had no wish to play the game. The Valencia president, Juan Bautista Soler, on asking his Pamplona counterpart, Patxi Izco, to ask his players what they wanted to do, learned that they also favoured the abandonment of the game. The referee, González Vazquez, had no objection to this, but nevertheless pointed out that he did not have the authority to call off the game for this reason. The only person who could ratify the game's suspension was Angel Villar, recently re-elected president of the Spanish Federation.

They called his office. They called his home. They called his mobile - but he was incommunicado. Cometh the hour, disappeareth the man. Without Villar's endorsement, and without any institutional back-up from a deputy, the players were forced to play a game that the public would have happily seen abandoned. Osasuna supporters, interviewed on Spanish radio as they left the stadium, all said this.

So where was Villar? Surely, Sunday is a working day for the president? He was certainly on the other end of the line when the bomb scare ended the game at the Bernabéu before Christmas. And if he happens to be on the golf course on the occasional Sabbath, how about leaving the mobile on? Then again, how about delegating responsibilities so that this kind of crisis can always be dealt with? Well - that probably requires a collective IQ of something above 50, which is clearly a bit high for these fellows.

Empics / TonyMarshallRoberto Carlos: Dual citizen

On a lighter note, this week has seen various comings and goings, chief of which was the arrival at Real Madrid of a new film star, as opposed to a galáctico. Tommy Gravesen's arrival from Everton this week has been dominating the headlines, with the club and its media acolytes determined to make the signing look like a good one.

Marca christened him 'El Ogro' (The Ogre) in an attempt to ensure that we all understood that Real were taking on a hard man, and at the player's official presentation to his new team-mates, Ronaldo apparently greeted him with the words 'Hello Shrek'.

He actually managed to play for half an hour in this weekend's rather flimsy 3-1 win over Zaragoza, but he didn't seem to scare anybody too much on his first outing. In truth, the signing is a good one, and should have been made some time ago. It remains to be seen whether Guti or Beckham will be sacrificed to make way for him, but I wouldn't personally take bets on it.

Guti's fairly pretty, but our David's in a different league. Not only that, but he managed to speak in Spanish last week, which just goes to prove that he reads this column. We told you it was high time David. Well, here's a bit more advice. Let Shrek do the running for you, tell Figo to go and play over on the left, and get back to doing what you know best - whipping it in from the right wing. You know it makes sense. Oh yes - and my missus reckons you look better with your hair long.

That other student of Spanish, Michael Owen, did his favourite trick again this week and scored after coming on as substitute. Meanwhile, over in Owen's previous city, Fernando Morientes was making his debut for Liverpool against Manchester United. It seems strange how they have ended up like this, when neither of them really wanted to move in the first place.

Owen says he did, to escape from the 'comfort zone', but I'm not convinced. Morientes tried to get back to playing with his mates after a very successful year at Monaco, but things didn't work out. Then again, he was never as popular at Real Madrid as some have been implying this last week. There was a section of the Bernabéu who never rated him, despite his goal-scoring record.

He should do well in the Premiership, however. Given that central defenders there have forgotten how to jump, he will prosper. He plays like an old-style English centre-forward, except that he can also control the ball and pass. If Liverpool can supply him, they'll not regret their little spending spree.

Finally, congratulations to Numancia on picking up their first away point of the season in a 1-1 draw at Deportivo. Poor Depor. How the mighty have fallen. They have now failed to win for two months at the Riazor and look increasingly condemned to a wretched season.

Even mightier congratulations to Second Division Córdoba, also at the foot of the table, on their 0-1 win at high-flying Valladolid. This was only Cordoba's second win of the season, and it gives them the giddy total of nine points from twenty games. Still - always look on the bright side of life. The whole of the second half of the season lies ahead and Mathematics decree that they can still win the championship.

Logic also decrees that the executive of the Spanish Federation should resign en masse, but that, unfortunately, is a far more unlikely outcome.


  • Phil's latest book, An Englishman Abroad, Beckham's Spanish Adventure, is out now.

  • Also still available are White Storm, Phil's book on Real Madrid and his splendid story of Spanish football, Morbo.

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