Nacho a pawn in Mourinhos battle with the Spanish media

3rd December 2012, Comments 0 comments

Real Madrid reserve defender has been singled out for praise by journalists and studiously ignored by the Portuguese coach.

Nacho’s qualities have been overstated at times by the pro-Madrid media. Photo: EFE

Until a few months ago not many Spanish football fans, even of his own club Real Madrid, were too familiar with the merits of young blancos defender Jos Ignacio Fernndez Iglesias. In recent weeks however, Nacho, as he is known, has become one of the most talked about footballers in the country, an unwitting pawn in yet another battle between Madrid boss Jos Mourinho and the citys sporting press.

Nacho joined Real Madrid’s La Fbrica youth academy in 2001, progressing through juvenil sides and the C team before establishing himself as a first choice in Real Madrid Castilla the B team in Spains third tier by 2010. The Cdiz born defender made his debut for Mourinhos senior side in a 6-3 La Liga win at Valencia in April 2011. He played a key role as Castilla gained promotion to the Segunda Divisin last season.

However Nacho, now 22, does not really look a superstar in the making. At under-age level for Spain he won the European U-17 Champion in 2007 and was a runner-up in that years U-17 World Cup. But he was not picked for the U-20 World Cup in 2009, nor when Spain won the U-21 European Championships in 2011 or disappointed at last summer’s Olympics. Generally speaking, he has been behind the likes of Marc Bartra of Barcelona, Jorge Pulido of Atltico Madrid and Rayo Vallecanos Jordi Amat in the international reckoning. It seems Fernndez is a promising defender, set for a decent professional career, but maybe not at a very top team like Real Madrid.

Mourinho appears to share this view. Nacho did not play a competitive game for the senior team at all in 2011-12, and further convincing evidence came in October, when all three of his senior full-backs Marcelo, Fbio Coentro and lvaro Arbeloa were injured in the same week. Mourinho suddenly had a big problem position to fill, and it seemed everyone in the Spanish media knew the solution: Nacho. The papers, and especially Madrid-supporting AS, mounted a widespread campaign for his inclusion, with editorials, leader pieces and cover stories over a number of days.

Mourinho was unswayed, and instead shifted on-loan Chelsea midfielder Michael Essien to left-back for subsequent La Liga games against Celta Vigo and Deportivo la Corua, and the Champions League group match at Borussia Dortmund. Essien played well against the Galician teams, in games his side dominated, but struggled in Germany, where Dortmunds excellent right-sided pairing of Marco Reus and ukasz Pisczek were instrumental in their sides 2-1 win. Cue more criticism of the Madrid manager from journalists at AS and elsewhere.

Mourinho gave as good as he got, defending his own decisions and loudly dismissing the journalists’ opinions. The Portuguese coach then went a step further, launching into an apparent attack on Castilla coach Alberto Toril and the clubs youth policies and structures, which he said had not been working properly for over a decade. This was, as Mourinho knew it would be, hard to take for the Madrid media, especially given the success of Barcelonas La Masia academy Messi, Iniesta, Xavi etc over the same period. There was outrage from pundits who claimed Mourinho was deliberately ignoring promising talents coming from La Fbrica, including, of course, Nacho.

Mourinho strikes again

Mourinho stoked the fires further by suggesting that the highly-rated Toril, 39, was more interested in furthering his own coaching career by winning games with Castilla than doing his primary job - preparing players for the first team. This move seemed part of a plan by Madrid’s manager to gain more power within the club’s internal structures, but again Nacho was singled out - with Mourinho wondering aloudwhy he was playing as a central defender for Castilla, when he would be more use to the senior side as a right-back.

Although Coentro and Arbeloa have returned to fitness, Nacho has played a few senior games recently, getting nine minutes late in a routine La Liga win over Real Zaragoza, and playing both Copa del Rey ties against semi-professional minnows Alcoyano. As he is a regular for Castilla, who play a division above Alcoyano, these two games should not have been too difficult a challenge, and he acquitted himself relatively well, without really standing out. His displays were however praised highly in AS, where pundit Antonio Romero on Wednesdaywrote that he had proven he could be an important player for Madrid for the next decade.

Romero even used as evidence in Nachos favour the impressive way the kid had dealt with the pressure he has been under in recent weeks. There seemed to be whether conscious or not more than a hint of self-justification to that argument. Nacho, through no fault of his own, has become a symbol of Madrids Fbrica, with the media eager to hype his potential to make their own anti-Mourinho argument, and the coach equally keen to use him for his own political ends. Both sides are being equally unfair on the youngster.

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