How to Real-ly irritate Bernd
Madrid coach visibly bristles when asked about play of "best Madrid in three years"
17 January 2008
MADRID - In Real Madrid coach Bernd Schuster's world, the only person who can opine about soccer is Bernd Schuster. The rest - those who dare to ask questions or clarify certain issues - are looking for ways "to fill their afternoons."
The German coach, having led the league's best team for half a season now, cannot deal with being asked to defend how his team is playing. He changes the subject so quickly, that at times it seems he might have a memory problem. And when he finally gives in, he puffs his chest out to remind everyone that Madrid hasn't played this well in the last three years (when the team was, of course, in someone else's hands).
Last Sunday, at Levante, Schuster appeared at a press conference seemingly less-than-euphoric about his side's 2-0 win over the last-placed side. "I'm happy with the win, with how it was won. We have suffered, and this is unique to the best teams, those with devotion and character. I would have liked us to play better, but I'll have to deal with it."
On Tuesday, two days later, he appeared at the Valdebebas training grounds backtracking and defensive: "I would like someone to see things as they really are for once," the coach said, angrily. "I didn't see any bad play against Levante, or even poor play. I saw a hard fought-out game in which we were better and won by two goals to none. You have to be objective with us as well, not just with our rivals. Envy is a bad thing," he shot out, without revealing who had committed one of the seven cardinal sins.
Schuster is becoming a results-oriented coach - and he doesn't like it. That much is clear. With half the league season played, Real is in first place, seven points ahead of closest rival Barcelona, but the team's level of play has been below expectations. Above all, it has been below those of demanding club president Ramón Calderón. In June, Calderón said: "We want to achieve excellence." It is a word that brings the German coach out in hives.
On Tuesday, Schuster announced the principles that, for him, will drive the team for the second half of the Liga season: "Being effective, arriving first, keeping our rivals at a distance, appearing to have things under control... "
"Playing better doesn't figure in those plans?" the journalists asked him. You could see the smoke start to pour out from his ears. "Play well? But what are you talking about?" he spluttered at the assembled media. "I understand that you have to fill your afternoons with some kind of debate, but only looking at our line-up you can see that we are an offensive team."
The only thing missing was for the coach to get up, go to the blackboard and start drawing diagrams. "We have scored the most goals in the league and are the second-least scored on. I don't want to give more numbers in case it gives someone here a cold. I'm extremely satisfied with the work we've done. It would be outrageous if I weren't. Also, we still have a lot of room to get better," he said, almost softening, before adding: "I really don't understand what you're talking about. In the last three years, there haven't been games like this season's."
Schuster finds refuge - and rightfully so - in his numbers. Madrid is the best first-half leader in the last 40 years. It's solid, compact, and knows how to close any game. And it's the best at finishing off its rivals in the Liga.
So there he stood, poor victorious Schuster, trying to talk about the second leg of Real's King's Cup round-of-16 match against Mallorca (played last night after press time) and no one wanted to ask him about how he planned on winning the game.
A game, in fact, where what really matters is not how Real plays, but that it gets the win. Surprisingly, Real has not won this trophy since 1993, and before that, has only once gone more than 14 years without having it on display (from 1917 to 1934). And that is not at all a statistic that the results-oriented coach wants to have to defend.
[Copyright EL PAÍS / KELLY RAMUNDO / ELONORA GIOVIO 2008]
Subject: Spanish news