The past few weeks have seen a monumental series of events rock Spanish Football. First, the Spanish National Football Team lost its first international tournament, the Confederations Cup, to Brazil, last month; then the two iconic Spanish teams, Real Madrid and Barcelona FC, experienced major personnel changes; and third, Real and Barca’s former coaches are now heading up Chelsea and Bayern Munich, sure adversaries in the Champions League competition to come.
Real Madrid’s new coach, Italian Carlo Ancelotti, has replaced the divisive Jose Mourinho, and has already begun the process of testing potential line ups. What he found out was that a number of his players were already in form and clearly vying for time. During a 6-0 dismantling of English second division team AFC Bournemouth, Cristiano Ronaldo scored twice, Kaka had two great assists, and Angel Di Maria’s run and gun at the 68th minute netted him an impressive introduction to his new boss.
Upcoming matches, in what will be a month away from home, are against Olympique Lyonnais and Ancelotti’s former club, PSG. The results will allow him to further assess his charges, alongside assistant coach Zinadine Zidane, ahead of a four-game USA tour. That trip will see Madrid play the LA Galaxy, Inter Milan, and potentially Everton and Juventus, before returning home for a few more warm ups leading up to the season opener.
The starting team that emerges from this lab will have been culled from a squad that feels they have been given new life and an opportunity to compete for previously closed positions. Iker Casillas, listed as the team’s captain, will have a chance to prove he and not Diego Lopez is the starting goalkeeper. New signing Isco is now vying for a position with the likes of Kaka, Luka Modric, Xavi Alonso, Sami Khedira, and Mesut Ozil to mention just a few midfielders at the coach’s disposal. And Ancelotti will be keen to impress his new boss, so putting together the right combination of stars will also be to his advantage.
The resulting team from that road trip will augur in a new era at Real, one that will determine once and for all if the collection of stars club president Florentino Perez has amassed, given a fair chance to play, and a game day strategy geared to their strengths, were the investment he and his fans envisioned.
Across the country, Barcelona FC is taking what looks like a big gamble. Hiring what seems a hastily selected interim coach in the relative unknown Argentine, Gerardo Martino, the Catalans are gambling that a new coach whose major resume bullet is that he already knows team star Lionel Messi, will maintain the team’s style and success rate. Given the team’s core collection of stars, and new signing Neymar, Martino’s job should not be unduly taxing. Then again, if it becomes trying, the club has retained Assistant Coach Jordi Roura, who filled in for departing head coach Tito Vilanova in the past.
Martino’s major roles will be, first, to find a way to ensure Neymar and Messi jell as starters without upsetting the offensive chemistry that Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez, Pedro, and Cesc Fabregas have built over the past successive and successful seasons. Second, he will have to capitalize on what is a very potent offensive team, while rebuilding a shaky defense, to ensure the 0-7 Champions League debacle at the hands of Bayern Munich (http://bit.ly/ZkCU8h) remains a one-of experience.
This year will mark the beginning of a new era at Barca too, but one gets the feeling that their key additions will fit in and that their core players are so attuned to one another that whomever coaches the squad could simply be on the job for the ride of their careers.
The additional challenge both Spanish Giant team coaches will face is the fact that two of their biggest opponents on the European Club stage, Bayern and Chelsea, will be coached by managers who have been in Real’s and Barca’s locker rooms for several years. Their intimate knowledge of the players and tactics the Spanish teams might field gives the English and German teams a leg up in any head to head competition.
But both Real and Barca will be looking for revenge this season, and with their harnesses lifted, Real will be ready to explode against anyone. Similarly, with Neymar and Messi spearheading Barca’s attack while the likes of Dani Alves, Javier Macherano, Adriano, and Carles Puyol compete for their national teams’ World Cup roster spots, Barca will be rearing to play too. I would not bet against either team should they meet their former managers’ new charges.
Perhaps the toughest change to manage in Spanish Football in 2013-14 will be the bruised egos, and now distrustful souls, of that previously undefeated team (comprised of the same players from these two teams), known as the Spanish National Football Team. What does Coach Vicente del Bosque tell his team that will convince them they will not be robbed again in the World Cup next summer, in the same host country, as they were so clearly at the Confederations Cup Final this summer?
He will doubtless begin by assuring the players that the odds are slight that given they reach the finals, they will have had to play twice as long a semifinal as their opponents, have less days of rest before the final, and have to fly thousands of miles to the finals venue before that match. The odds are also slight, he might say, that this summer’s refereeing scandal will be repeated on that coming stage (http://bit.ly/1b0BGUf ).
So, del Bosque can tell his players that unless FIFA has lost all credibility, the playing field will be a bit more even for the World Cup. Then, he might then say, that the team that Spain put on the field this summer could win that rematch more easily than Brazil can repeat their recent “feat.” At that point, it would be a good bet that those egos will do the rest. Nothing would taste sweeter to him and his charges than a rematch come next July.
I think a new era in Spanish Football does loom ahead. But I believe the death knell of the current era so many seem to want to hear will not come in 2013 or 2014, but will instead be heard once the key, current national team starters retire. I see Barcelona and Real, with their many international stars, dominating the Champions League next season, and I see Spain, barring something truly special occurring, winning a second World Cup next year, consolidating what is already an assured place in football history.