'Real Madrid hungry for more success' – Karanka hails squad unity after United States tour

Real Madrid assistant coach Aitor Karanka is satisfied with his side’s preparations for the new season, following the Spanish champion’s successful tour of the United States.

Speaking in Jose Mourinho’s stead after defeating reigning Scottish champions Celtic 2-0 in Philadelphia, the former Blancos defender outlined his hopes for the season ahead.

“With the player’s we have in our team, it is so much easier to work and achieve something together,” Karanka told the assembled media at the post-match press conference.

“There is plenty of unity in a group that is getting to know each other. The players are ambitious, and want to continue having success on the field.

“We’re very competitive, and always feel the need to express the best in ourselves. Once the championship returns, we’re going to start showing people just how competitive the team is.”

Midfielder Xabi Alonso echoed Karanka’s sentiments, labelling it as motivation to continue on the path of improvement.

“We are just one week away from the start of the new season,” the Euro 2012 winner stated. “We feel quite well, as we always do when we come to the States, but if you ask me whether things can still improve? Certainly.”

Los Merengues kick-off their La Liga campaign away to Valencia on August 19th.

a little taste of America

Baseball?  Check.  American football?  Check.  Real Madrid got a taste of two of America’s favorite pastimes during this pre-season tour in the United States.  During their time in California, they got to try their hand at baseball, and in Philadelphia, they got to try their feet at American football.

At halftime of the Philadelphia Eagles-Pittsburgh Steelers pre-season game at the Lincoln Financial Field (where Madrid plays on Saturday), Xabi Alonso, Sergio Ramos, Álvaro Arbeloa, Esteban Granero and Gonzalo Higuaín (or as Couzin Ed, the Eagles’ on-field announcer said, Sabi Alonso, Ser-gee-o Raymos, Al-vero Arbeloa, Esteban Gran-nera and Gonzalo Higueyin) came down from the box where they were watching the game with the rest of their teammates to attempt some field goals.  By the way, watch out for Xabi posing to the side in many of the subsequent gifs and photos.

Xabi made his field goal, but Sergio’s veered too far to the left.  Álvaro Arbeloa, wearing the jersey of Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson, barely made his (it arched too soon) and Esteban celebrated making his by doing his Pirate celebration!

Too bad he couldn’t go to see the Pittsburgh Pirates play…

It was apparently too easy for the boys from that part of the field, so for Gonzalo Higuaín’s attempt, he was moved back to the 50-yard line.  He didn’t end up making his field goal, and his teammates made fun of him for that afterward.

Watch the video of the halftime show here!

Then Sami Khedira was interviewed at the Phlite Deck.  He said (in English, as you can see in the video) that it was really hot the last time they played there (the other day, Cris said of last year that he remembers the heat and how the team played like “snails” because it was so hot), and called the fans, the stadium and the city “amazing.”  When asked for his opinion of American football, Sami said they’re all having a great time and are happy to be there (in other words, they probably got a bit confused, since it’s not an easy game for a novice to understand, no?).

On hand to cheer the boys on were Eagles’ players Chas Henry and Jon Dorenbos, who had been their coaches earlier in the day (see below).

They couldn’t leave the stadium without a group photo.

They look great with the(American) football, no?

I wonder why Iker didn’t try his hand at this activity?  He would be the most obvious choice, since he does spend a lot of time kicking the ball down the field.

One last photo from the Lincoln Financial Field.

In (west) Philadelphia (born and raised).*

Madrid had traveled to Philadelphia following the conclusion of their game in New York.  On Thursday, they trained in the afternoon at the NovaCare Complex, the practice facility of the Philadelphia Eagles.  Prior to the session, they got to experience what it’s like to be holders and kickers, as some of the boys were to show off their skills at halftime of the pre-season game between the Eagles and their cross-state rivals the Pittsburgh Steelers later that night.  They were coached by Eagles players Chas Henry, Alex Henery and Jon Dorenbos, the Eagles’ holder/punter, kicker and long snapper, respectively.

As we can see, the boys were quite proficient, which caused Álvaro Arbeloa to tweet that the Eagles had signed Gonzalo Higuaín.  Here’s the sequence where Álvaro acted as the holder to Pipita’s punter.

After that, they trained as normal, recovering from the previous day’s game.

In the morning, the coaching staff and several of the players had also taken a walk around their hotel, the Ritz Carlton.

No Real Madrid outfits for Chori and Calleti?

And Sergio shared this photo of him and his “bro” Mesut (Marcelo recently called Mesut “my boy” when he posted this photo of “Marsut”).

Notice the Yankees cap, because that’s our next topic of discussion…

* to hear the Spanish version of the intro, go here.

Playing at Yankee Stadium.

From the highlights, it looks like Madrid played a fairly good game at Yankee Stadium, with authentic golazos and great assists as well, as they beat Milan 5-1.

Xabi went native prior to the game, donning his Yankees cap, and showing the others the highlights of the stadium, as he had been there before to watch some games.  And I wonder what was on his mobile phone that was so amusing?

Winking (in a good way) Cris!

They’re just regular tourists at heart!

Other things.

Madrid has been busy issuing official announcements lately.  On Wednesday, Joselu’s transfer to Hoffenheim was the subject of the announcement.  I hope the buyback option gets exercised in the future!  Then on Thursday, they announced that Sergio Canales has been transferred to Valencia, with Madrid retaining a buyback option (Sergio subsequently told the press that “our first objective is to win in the Bernabéu”), and that Ángel di María’s contract has been renewed through the 2017-18 season.

Brigitte Yagüe, who won a silver medal for Spain in the taekwondo 49 kg category at the Summer Olympics, is a madridista.  In past interviews she has said “soy muy fan del Real Madrid” and confessed that she would love to take the honorary kickoff at the Bernabéu.  Apparently, that’s going to happen soon!

Castilla things.

According to Marca, MFC Álvaro Borja Morata Martín will remain inscribed with Castilla, which will allow him to play for both the first team and Castilla.  All sides agreed to this move, believing it would be the best thing for ABMM.  Despite not having a first team ficha, ABMM will be a first team player in all effects, training with them and joining in team activities.  The team is also looking for a forward to cover the hole left by Joselu…

Speaking of Joselu, he gave an interview to Marca where he spoke of his new start.  He said moving to the Bundesliga is a good change for him, and he’s very excited and happy with his decision.  The canterano revealed he left Madrid because he got this opportunity and he believed it was the opportune time to take a step forward in his career, although of course he’d like to return to Madrid.  Joselu also says he’s already spoken with Dani Carvajal and he’s sure they’ll see each other a lot, because they’re not too far apart (about 300 kilometers), and that he already has a German tutor so that he can learn the “very difficult” language.

Castilla tied Alcorcón 1-1 on Wednesday, meaning they still have not lost in the pre-season.  Pedro Mosquera scored for the second team with a very young looking Zinedine Zidane (it’s the backwards cap) and his sons Luca and Enzo (perhaps the other two are there as well) watching in the stands.  I wonder if Zizou had that much hair when he was their age?

all set for Milan!

It seems like I’ve been constantly playing catch up during this pre-season, no?  Before I even have a chance to write a game post, it’s time for the next “all set for…” post.  Anyway, Madrid takes on Milan (2oh Wednesday local time, 02h Thursday morning Madrid time) during their first ever visit to the new Yankee Stadium, after having played the NASL’s New York Generals on Aug. 21, 1968 at the original Yankee Stadium (Madrid won that game 4-1).  Since then, they’ve played six more games in New York.

In other news, Marcelo will, with Enzo cheering him on, play in the gold medal match of the 2012 Summer Olympics this Saturday (15h local time, 16h Spain time) when Brazil takes on Mexico. Our big sunshine (since Enzo is the mini one) has started all of Brazil’s matches in the tournament.

Going back to Madrid, and looking back, the team traveled to Las Vegas on Sunday to take on Santos Laguna.

They ended up beating the Mexican champions 2-1, triumphing despite the intense heat (38 to 40 degrees). Xabi Alonso scored in the first half (appropriately, in the 14th minute), and Sami Khedira scored the winning goal inadvertently in the second half, when the ball bounced off his face into the goal after Karim Benzema had a shot at it.  I winced for Sami, but I also laughed.  I didn’t end up watching this game either, only highlights, so how did they do?

Bonus of the bossest thigh you’ll ever see.

As for the rest of the things that have happened since the last time I checked in with all of you, we had many endearing things, including Cristiano making one kid’s dream come true.  Salvador Arena has cancer, and his dream was to meet our Cristiano, so the Make A Wish Foundation made that happen.  During the team’s visit to Las Vegas, Cristiano and Salvador met up, with Cris giving Salvador a shirt with his name on the back, and also autographing the Real Madrid shirt Salvador was wearing.  Cris said of Salvador, “what an amazing kid,” while Salvador said of Cris, “he’s my idol and I wanted to meet him… being with him was a dream come true, a total honor and the best experience of my life.”  During the team’s trip to Las Vegas, they also made time to sign autographs for fans and pose for pictures with them.  I love how awkward Nacho and ABMM look back there.

Speaking of Cristiano and his big heart, AS reported that Cristiano went out on Saturday morning (during the team’s free morning) and bought 11 iPads.  He then gave them as gifts to the four equipment managers, five fisios and two doctors who have accompanied the team during this pre-season tour.

Madrid also announced that Raúl Albiol’s contract has been extended until the end of the 2016-17 season, noting that “his commitment and professionalism during the three seasons he has worn the white shirt have been fundamental for the renewal.”  Yay, (at least) four more years of the twins!  El Chori told Madrid’s web site that he was very happy with the renewal, since that means that the club and coaches have confidence in him, and that he’s very happy at Real Madrid.

As for training, the team held its last two training sessions at UCLA on Monday and Tuesday.  Before the Monday session, the team held an autograph session for fans invited by team sponsors (CAA, Adidas and Bwin).

At the training session, Ángel di María rejoined the team after missing out on the last several sessions and the game, and Esteban Granero was the only absence, leaving right after the warm-up was completed to go work out in the gym.  The last session was held on Tuesday morning.  The top of Cristiano’s thighs are so pale, but it doesn’t appear that Sergio has the same problem… if only I could take a closer look (and in person) to confirm that.

After that, the team traveled to New York.  On the way there, everyone did my least favorite pose, hurting my eyes tremendously.  

Luckily, the canteranos were there to help cleanse the palate (hopefully there’s no original picture where the Fernández brothers’ thumbs up have been cropped out).

They arrived in Newark around 22h local time (five hours of flying time, plus a three-hour time difference).  They then boarded a bus which took them to their hotel, the Four Seasons.  Several of the boys were carrying “UCLA Track” bags.  No doubt these bags were full of things purchased in Beverly Hills and Las Vegas, especially by these two, I bet (how many Gucci belts can fit in that bag?  At least 30.  But I hope they left room in their bags for shopping in New York City, which is great!).

The only negative note was the injury to Álex Fernández.  He has a strained ligament in his right knee, and reports say he’ll be out two to three weeks, although he won’t return to Madrid early and will remain with his teammates until the end of the American portion of the pre-season.  Álex tweeted on Tuesday, “thanks to everyone for their encouragement, in the end it wasn’t as serious as it appeared to be, I will try and return as soon as possible, a hug for everyone.”

As for Castilla, they beat Gimnástica de Torrelavega in their latest pre-season friendly 5-0 behind goals from Denis, Quini, Cristián and Óscar Plano, who scored twice.  Today, they play the first team’s old nemesis Alcorcón in their second to last friendly before the Second Division season begins for them, on Aug. 17 at 21h against Villarreal at El Madrigal.  There are also reports that Joselu has signed a four-year contract with Hoffenheim, with the German club paying €6 million to Madrid.  There is a buyback clause in the contract for the first two years, for €9 million and €12 million, respectively.  By the way, Hoffenheim plays Bayer Leverkusen on Nov. 24!

And here are some interesting statistics.  According to Marca, Barça B and Castilla have spent more on signings this summer than 13 first division clubs.  By doling out €1.5 million for Borja García, Castilla has now outspent Real Madrid, Málaga, Atleti, Levante, Osasuna, Mallorca, Betis, Espanyol, Rayo, Zaragoza, Depor, Celta and Valladolid (Barça B spent €1.25 million for Joan Ángel Román).

all set for Santos Laguna!

Madrid takes on Santos Laguna today (o5h Monday Spain time, 20h local time) in the second friendly of their U.S. tour and the fourth friendly of this pre-season.  This will also be the first time ever that Madrid plays in Las Vegas, after having played in various other American cities as ambassadors of Madrid and Spain.  Speaking of that, here are a few scenes from the act organized by Turismo España the other day: a woman asking Cristiano for an autograph, and then saying “what’s your name?” (seriously?); Gonzalo cracking up (Iker must be quite a comedian) and making everyone around him crack up; MFC ABMM looking bored during the speeches part of the event; and Mou also getting bitten by the boredom bug, which compelled him to study Fábio Coentrão’s hair instead of listening.

In addition, over the past several days, there were …


REUNIONS!  Galaxy players David Beckham and Robbie Keane showed up at Madrid’s hotel on Aug. 1, to take part in a meet and greet with the little Israeli and Palestinian football players sponsored by Children United.  This gave many former teammates a chance to catch up, including everyone’s favorite pairing of David Beckham and Iker Casillas.  During the act, José Mourinho received a trophy and a ball from the organization as a thank you gift for his contributions towards the project.  He said he will continue helping and supporting the cause whenever he can.

Iker, I can’t believe it, are you real?  I didn’t recognize you, you’re so tan! / That’s the tattoo I got for you, Iker.  Victoria thinks it’s for her, but it’s really for you.  Don’t you get any ideas, Sergio. 

A WIN!  Madrid beat the Galaxy 5-1 at the Home Depot Center on Aug. 2, with Gonzalo Higuaín, Ángel di María, José Callejón, MFC Álvaro Borja Morata Martín and Jesé scoring the goals for Madrid.  All 25 of the players doing the pre-season in the United States were able to play some minutes.  I didn’t watch this game so I can’t say too much about it.  For those of you who did watch it, how did our boys look?

Of note: Iker wore the candy cane socks (yay!) and Rafa Varane wore the number “2? (P.S.  I hope he’s not taking self portrait tips from Karim Benzema).

TRAINING SESSIONS.  Training resumed the day after the game, as Madrid began preparing for its next match against Santos Laguna on Sunday.  Friday’s session was a recovery one that was open to the public.  The absences were Ángel di María and Álvaro Arbeloa, who worked out inside the gym.  On Saturday afternoon, the boys were back in training, with everyone present and accounted for, although Ángel di María trained apart from the team and with Carlos Lalín.  After the afternoon training session, the boys went shopping at the UCLA store, which closed for them so that they could shop tranquilly.

OBLIGATIONS.  As mentioned earlier, Madrid participated in an event organized by Turismo Spain on Friday.  The mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa, was invited by the Tourism Office in Los Angeles to take part.  During the speeches, in addition to yawning and looking bored, the boys also fidgeted, chatted with each other and spaced out.

A PRESS CONFERENCE.  Sergio Ramos spoke to the press after the Saturday session.  When asked if it was possible for Iker to win the Ballon d’Or, he said “of course I would give it to Iker because he’s a guarantee as a goalkeeper and as a captain.  He’s shown over the years that he’s the best in the world.  But I would also say: how could I not give it to Cristiano?  He’s a player who makes the difference and there’s no one else like him.”  As for José Mourinho, Sergio said, “you learn a lot from him because he knows so much about football.  You don’t change the way you are, but his good advice helps you to mature.  It’s a privilege to have him as the captain of this ship.”  Sergio also gave a classy answer to the question about his thoughts on Sandro Rosell saying (without class) that strange things happened during last year’s Liga: “if last season’s Liga is to be defined with one word, I would say ‘spectacular’ or ‘incredible.’  Madrid was a rightful champion.  I don’t think he said that with a double meaning because that would be an improper attitude for the president of Barcelona to have.”

FREE TIME! The boys got Saturday morning off, and while some players such as the twins and Calleti spent it by the pool…

Too bad the white swim trunks are not more transparent, since I would like to confirm the El Chori nickname.

… others were more adventurous.  Sergio Ramos and Esteban Granero headed out to see the sights of Venice Beach, where they watched a street show.  Sergio subsequently shared it with us, and I love how we can hear his exclamations, from “es espectacular” to “oh my god!” to “¡qué bueno!”  I also love that he joined in when the performers wanted a response from the crowd.

PHOTO SHARING!  Calleti shared this photo of him and Becks, Álvaro Arbeloa shared this photo of Gonzalo and “Eric Bana”…

… and Sergio shared this photo of him, Calleti and Iker.  Sergio explained that he was having lemonade, while you can see that Iker of course opted for Cola Cao.  And don’t miss Sergio’s hand on José’s thigh; Iker wasn’t as touchy-feely as the other two.

OTHER THINGS.  Agustín Herrerín got a street named after him in Mazarrón, Murcia, where he summers.  On the current roster of the UCLA football (soccer) team is a former Madrid canterano, Víctor Muñoz.  He spent nine years in our cantera and left because he knew he was never going to have the opportunity to make the first team.  Víctor remains in touch with many of his former teammates, including Nacho and Jesús, so hopefully they had a chance to catch up!  Speaking of Nacho – and Álex – Cuatro did a report on the brothers, interviewing their family: father José María, mother Maite and sister Maite.  The elder Maite says the boys are completely different in personality and style – Nacho is more tranquil, and Álex is more crazy.  She adds that they share everything, that they’re always together and happy for that.  The jerseys that the boys wore when they debuted with the first team are framed and displayed in the Fernández-Iglesias home, and the family’s dream is to see the two of them playing together in the Bernabéu.  Take a look at “Valdebebas Suites” here, the future players’ residence.  And we’ll close with the adorable Enzo in London and at the Olympics!  With Spain out, I’ll be cheering for Marcelo and Brazil!

Where will Nuri Sahin go from Real Madrid?

Jose Mourinho has taken the Turkish international midfielder Nuri Sahin with his Real Madrid team mates to America for part of the pre-season preparations. Mourinho does not want the young player to think that there is no place for him at Madrid, even though he has been told to accept a loan deal this season. Arsenal, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur are the teams most likely to have the services of Sahin this season but no final decision has been made yet.

Sahin played the whole of the second half yesterday as Real took on David Beckham and LA Galaxy. Madrid enjoyed the game and were 3-1 up at half time, through Higuain, Di Maria and Callejon. Mourinho started each half with a completely different eleven, and Madrid added to goals in the second half through Morata and Jese.

Sahin knows that, after just four league appearances last season, he needs to get alot of match play in order to force his way in to the Real Madrid midfield which is overflowing with talent. Mourinho has encouraged him to9 play in England as it has very competitive and quality football.

Tottenham are keen on Sahin but do not want to include him as part of a deal for Luka Modric, plus they are not in the Champion’s league. Manchester United are apparently only interested in a permanent transfer, which neither Madrid or Sahin want, so Arsenal seem to be in pole position.

Reports suggest that an agreement is almost complete with Arsene Wenger’s club, with just minor financial details to be completed. The deal may include a possible release clause with Arsenal getting first refusal if Sahin was to be sold by Madrid. Wenger has a good reputation for bringing on good young players, so this could be a great move by Mourinho and Real Madrid.