Sunday, January 6, 2013
Jose happy to wear the boos
Dermot Corrigan, Bernabeu
Real Madrid's 4-3 win over Real Sociedad on Sunday afternoon was among the most dramatic seen at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu in recent seasons, but the main talking points before, during and afterwards had little to do with the actual action.
• Real blog: Casillas back
Even with a Cristiano Ronaldo double sending him joint sixth on Madrid's all-time goalscorers list (171 in 171 games in all competitions), and cutting the gap to Barcelona by three points for two hours, this game was really just a tale of two keepers.
Much of Christmas in Madrid had been spent discussing Jose Mourinho's decision to drop club captain and talisman Iker Casillas for their last game of 2012 - when little-used reserve Antonio Adan conceded three times in the 2-3 loss at Malaga, a defeat which saw the defending champions slip 16 points behind Barcelona in the Primera Division standings. As they were always going to, the local media filled the winter break with daily updates on the 'feud', with Mourinho cast as the Portuguese villain and Casillas the upholder of Madrid's traditional club values.
At Saturday's pre-game press conference Mourinho played along by saying neither keeper knew who would play, while adding that "being comfortable is not good for anyone". On Sunday morning AS reckoned Casillas would be recalled, while Marca's graphic had Adan between the Madrid posts. A Twitter gag that third choice Jesus Fernandez would be promoted "to send a message to Adan" went viral. Discussions continued among fans on the way to the ground, and then in the press box at the Bernabeu, as the starting XI was awaited.
An hour before kick off the word was out - Marca were right and Adan was starting. Amateur experts tried (and failed) to draw conclusions from the body language as the home side's three keepers came out early as usual for their warm-up. There were huge cheers for Casillas' name as the substitutes were read out to fans before kick-off. Adan's was mostly ignored. Mourinho's was greeted by some cheers, but more boos and whistles from the three-quarter full stands. The game had not yet kicked off, but we already had a clear winner.
Mourinho, who surprisingly chose to take the post-game press conference, told reporters that he had expected the whistles and accepted them as the team were not doing well this season.
"It was perfect," he said. "That they whistle my name and then support the team is perfect. I think they booed me because I did not play Casillas. They have the right to do that. We are not achieving our objectives in the competition. They can be unhappy with my performance so far, that seems very normal to me. I am comfortable with that, I accept that."
Karim Benzema seemed to have dampened down the drama when he calmly put Madrid ahead inside 180 seconds. He hadn't. Three minutes later Adan badly miscued a clearance to Carlos Vela, then tripped the Mexican attacker inside the area. A clear penalty. Referee Ignacio Iglesias Villanueva took his time before producing the red card. The stands erupted in a predictable torrent of boos, but the decision was correct.
Mourinho did not think so, claiming afterwards that the decision was more evidence of referees not giving his team a fair shake this season.
"My memory is that it had to be a penalty, but there were one or two defenders back," he said. "This season we are always being penalised with decisions and for me [the red card] was a mistake. Another team in another ground it would be a penalty and a yellow card."
It was red though and Adan trooped glumly off. There was an even longer wait as Casillas tied up his boots and then the strapping around his gloves on the sideline. As he walked slowly to take up his position between the posts chants of 'Iker, Iker, Iker' rang out around the stadium. The whole spectacle took at least three minutes. La Real's Xabi Prieto was not put off though, and calmly sent the fans' favourite the wrong way to equalise.
The World Cup and double Euros-lifting keeper himself then seemed uncharacteristically unsettled, His first clearance kick was almost as bad as Adan's - giving Prieto a sight of goal, but the playmaker hit the side-netting. Next he came for, and completely missed, a corner. Luckily for him the game then settled into a lull, as if everyone, especially the 21 remaining players, needed a breather. A few simple gathers helped him get his composure back.
For the rest of the game the defending did not improve, but Casillas had no real chance with either of Prieto's two other goals - both expertly finished low into the corner. It was the visitors' keeper Claudio Bravo who was holding his head in the second half, when he helped Ronaldo's swerving but central free-kick into the net via the bar.
Making more general judgements on either team's performance was difficult after such a crazy game. La Real had come into the game in flying form, but were poor and unable to make their man advantage for most of the game pay. Madrid's defending was bad throughout, but their back four was the very makeshift-looking (and performing) Michael Essien, Ricardo Carvalho, Raphael Varane and Alvaro Arbeloa.
Mourinho afterwards praised all his players' performances, in the circumstances, before typically enough turning the blame for Adan's error onto the media.
"Adan has been put under pressure," he said. "If there is a problem, it is with me. My personal opinion is that there has been a lack of respect for Adan, a lot. He has been here 15 years, he is a madridista, a kid from here. The papers have turned a problem with Jose Mourinho into a lack of respect for a kid who does not deserve it."
The counter-argument is that Mourinho himself has heaped the pressure on Adan by putting a nice guy, but average keeper, in such an awkward, high-profile situation. Given all the tension and debate, it is perhaps not surprising that neither of Madrid's senior goalkeepers are playing well at the moment. Casillas now looks certain to start Wednesday's Copa del Rey last-16 second leg match against Celta Vigo at the Bernabeu, although third choice Jesus remains an option...