Monday, October 29, 2007
Steak, eggs and Juande Ramos
I was out with my mates last Friday night in the local greasy Joe's (well - the owner's called José Mari actually), and after downing a fine round of 'filete con las obras' (steak with the works) - the works consisting of chips, red peppers and two fried eggs, we were just about to tuck into a plate of cheese and quince when the mobile rang.
It was about eleven at night, and it was my partner, to tell me that the BBC were after me. Could I do a late interview, from the mobile? My partner had suggested to them that since it was a Friday night, we'd be moving to another bar soon for a game of pool where the phone coverage was poor, so they should do it pretty soon.
'Who is it?' asked one of my mates, to which I replied: 'The BBC'. Serially unimpressed, since this is not the first time I've been called out during supper, one of them asked what the Beeb might be after at such a time on a Friday night. 'Juande Ramos' came the first suggestion. 'They've sacked Jol at Tottenham, so Ramos must have gone. They'll be ringing about that.' Indeed they were, although I only learned that the following day. I'm afraid that the pool match took precedence, and the late-night listeners over in England had to wait another day for their Spanish fix.
Only the night before, I'd watched the UEFA Cup game between Tottenham and Getafe, unaware of the significant role the game was going to play in the make-up of La Liga and the English Premier this season. I was gunning for Getafe, of course, partly because it's always useful for me - journalistically speaking - if Spanish sides continue to progress in European competitions, but also because it was nice to see them playing there, at such a resonant ground, against such a famous and very English team.
Getafe have now been managed by two of Europe's most celebrated midfielders in Schuster and Laudrup, but apart from that they are hardly a household name. Despite reaching the final of the Copa del Rey last season for the first time in their history, they were still better known last campaign for being the side against whom Messi scored his Maradona-like wonder goal. Now they're struggling in La Liga too, despite the morale-boosting win at Tottenham (1-2), after which they were brought back down to Earth this weekend with a 2-0 defeat in Santander.
But on Thursday their intelligent and well-worked win against a Tottenham side low on confidence cast a significant die. Jol was always going to leave White Hart Lane at some point this season, so Getafe merely precipitated his departure. Braulios' goal set in motion a chain of events which are interesting at various levels, particularly from the sightline of the supporters of both Sevilla and Tottenham. It says a lot for presidential power and its perennial misuse, since in this case neither set of supporters wished to see their manager leave.
Tottenham fans remained loyal to Jol even after the final whistle, and Sevilla fans certainly didn't want to see Ramos leave, after he won them five trophies in the space of 28 months in charge - the most successful period in the famous club's history. But neither Daniel Levy of Spurs nor Jose Maria del Nido - for differing reasons - were able to hold on to their men, in the former case because Levy disliked Jol - despite the Dutchman having done well there, and in the latter because Ramos disliked Del Nido, with some justification it has to be said. It's an extraordinary story, and a chastening one for those who pull the strings at their clubs.
Del Nido, despite the two fantastic years, never quite trusted Ramos, even before Manchester City had made overtures to him at the end of last season. Ramos, for all his success at Sevilla, had come to the Sánchez Pizjuan with a fairly modest CV and a record that suggested that he rarely stayed around for long.
A journeyman player, spending most of his career at clubs in the lower divisions, he went on to manage nine sides before joining Sevilla in 2005, on the recommendation of Ramon Rodriguez 'Monchi', the club's sporting director and trusted right-hand man of Del Nido. But Ramos had been at nine different teams in eleven years - hardly the kind of record you want to see on the CV, and one which would cause an eyebrow or two be raised in any profession, especially given the fact that the longest Ramos stayed at any of the nine clubs was a three-season spell with Rayo Vallecano, in which he took them in the top flight and got them into the UEFA.
On top of this peripatetic nature, Ramos had also sat where Sevillistas rarely do, namely on the bench at hated rivals Betis for the season 2001/02, before moving on to Espanyol. Indeed, after his first six months in office, Del Nido decided to sack Ramos, then pulled back from the decision when the results suddenly improved. By the end of that campaign they were UEFA champions, having slaughtered a Steve McClaren led Middlesborough in the final.
Ramos was earning less than any other top-flight manager at the time, and yet when he came to re-negotiate his contract with Del Nido, he described the offer as 'insulting'. His agent managed to extract a few more euros out of the president but Ramos never forgot. He'd also not forgotten the fact that when he signed his first contract with Sevilla he was counting on his surname-sake Sergio Ramos to lead his revolution, but Del Nido cashed in and sold him to Real Madrid, claiming that in doing so he was saving the club from bankruptcy.
Then came Ramos' clashes with Monchi, a man more interested in staying matey with Del Nido than in listening to the proposals of his manager. Monchi brought in a succession of players in whom Ramos had no interest - with echoes of the Chelsea saga over in London. Del Nido seemed to approve of Monchi's dealings, as though they were somehow proof of the fact that Ramos could never be in total control, that he shouldn't get too big for his boots, that he should remember who was boss - despite the good times.
Now, of course, Del Nido is maintaining a respectful sort of silence over his opinion regarding Ramos' departure, although it's clear he's seething. He has promoted the trusted Manolo Jimenez to the hot seat (Jimenez was in charge of the youth team) and made noises to the effect that the king is dead, long live the king. The problem with that is that everyone knows he intends to sign Racing Santander's Marcelino at the end of the season. Perhaps he should sign Martin Jol instead to really lend a thumping ending to the soap opera.
Sevilla seemed fairly unaffected by all the fuss, beating Valencia 3-0 in convincing fashion for their first game in the post-Ramos era, whilst their former boss sat in the stands in London and watched his side succumb 1-2 to Blackburn. Then again, any thoughts that he might have made a mistake must be smoothed over somewhat by the thought that he stands to earn a cool 6 million euros per annum, making him the second-best paid manager in the world.
It's a long way from the quiet guy who took over in 2005, on a salary of 350,000 euros - a cool take-home for most of us of course, but fairly piddly for a manager of a top club. When Ramos told the press that money had nothing to do with his move (stating 'ambition' as his primary motive), heads nodded dutifully. Then again who would turn down such an offer, especially given the fact that despite the glory years, all was not well at Sevilla, and Del Nido knew it?
Ramos had shaken his president's hand in the summer and pledged to see out his contract which expired in June 2008, but the original approach from Tottenham had already done irreparable damage. Add to that the turmoil over the summer with the Dani Alves saga, and it was clear that if an escape hatch presented itself, the manager might jump. Alves, of course, has battened down the hatches and is playing as well as ever, but it's clear that he too hates Del Nido for not allowing him to leave for Chelsea in the summer. Speculation is already rife in Spain that he might follow Ramos to Spurs - great news for the London club, but a strange destination for a player who could take his pick of Europe's top clubs were he contractually a free man.
Then again, if the BBC had got to me last Friday night before I was chalking my cue, I'm not sure that I would have given out the reassuring message that the Spurs fans would have been wanting to hear. Ramos' record before Sevilla was distinctly fair to middling, and even at the Pizjuan his reputation was founded on his exhilarating commitment to attacking football, not on the defensive strategies that the English team so sorely need at this present moment.
Spurs' president, in his obsessive quest for Ramos and his desire to humiliate Jol, has overlooked the fact that in his squad there is no Daniel Alves, upon whom much of the Ramos' tactical approach was based. And if I were Paul Robinson, I would be looking nervously over my shoulder at the fact that in Andreas Palop, Sevilla have a trusted goalkeeper who might fancy a pay-rise over in London too. And if Spurs continue to fail to score goals, Ramos could always bring Freddie Kanouté back. Now that would be a turn-up for the books.
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