batter up!

The two training sessions that took place on Monday were the least interesting events of the day (although they did allow us to get glimpses of our beautiful, and for the most part very tan, footballers.  The team once again trained during both the morning and afternoon.

Ángel di María and Rafa Varane spent the morning session working apart from their teammates, with Carlos Lalín.  Ángel was able to join his teammates for the afternoon session, while Rafa continued working with Carlos.

The team also received several visits.  For the third straight year, Jorge Campos – the Mexican former goalkeeper – watched Madrid train at UCLA, and he told Real Madrid’s press people that “Casillas is the best goalkeeper in the world.  His reflexes and the reaction he has make him unique.  He’s a leader both on and off the field and he always appears in the most important moment of the game… he’s a humble and excellent person, in spite of everything he has won.  Young goalkeepers can learn a lot from him.”  I’d love to see Iker in some of the outfits that Jorge has sported over the years!

After the conclusion of the first training session, two Arizona Diamondbacks players visited the team, and helped the boys set up an impromptu baseball game, with the likes of Kaká, Pipita, Callejón, Xabi Alonso trying out their luck as pitchers and batters.  Gerard Parra said he was happy to have the opportunity to watch the best team in the world train, while Miguel Montero said he loves Spanish football and Real Madrid.  The two of them were playing in Los Angeles (the Diamondbacks beat the Dodgers 7-2 later that day) and so they decided to check out the training session.

Love their batting faces!

Parra and Montero left the game impressed with Xabi Alonso’s baseball skills: “we were speaking with him and he told us that he has watched baseball games and liked them.  He also said he’s practiced the sport with pitching machines and that’s why he’s so good with a bat.”

There was also time on Monday for the coaching seminar “Tactical Thinking with José Mourinho,” organized by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America as part of a three-day tactical course for future coaches.  Mou and his coaching staff – Rui, Aitor, Silvino, José Morais, Luis Campos, Santi Lozano and Carlos Lalín – all spoke during the seminar, which lasted for two hours.

Other activities during the course included watching Madrid train twice, and all the participants – Jorge Campos was one of them – received a copy of the pro version of the Mourinho Tactical Board software.

And here’s an update on six-year-old Zión Torres, who invited Iker Casillas to his birthday party last year while the team was in Los Angeles.  Iker had to decline, but posed for a photo with the kid.  This year, Zión wanted to get “el mejor goalie del mundo” to sign a blown up copy of the photo.  Did he succeed?  I love Zión’s glasses and his dad’s Manu Ginóbili jersey!

Today’s Pipita quote, courtesy of Álvaro Arbeloa: “tenes menos onda que pelo de japonés!” [sic].  It’s a bit hard to explain, since there is a pun involved.  “Tener onda” means to be cool, and “onda” also means wave.  Translated literally, it means “you have less wave than the hair of a Japanese person.”  In the context of the expression, however, it means something akin to “you’re so uncool.”  Does the explanation make sense?  I’m reading it over and I’m not sure it does… and it was all so clear in my head.  Álvaro also posted this photo of him and Jesé!

And the club also announced that Zinedine Zidane will start working with the cantera as he seeks to become more immersed in coaching.  In addition, this year he will complete the technical director course he is taking, so soon he’ll become a jack of all trades for Real Madrid!  I wonder if he’ll end up coaching any of his sons?

a full first day in Los Angeles

It wouldn’t be the pre-season without some cheesy yet somehow adorable self portraits!

In Los Angeles.

The plane carrying our team touched down in Los Angeles at around 15:30h local time on Saturday afternoon, after a 12-hour flight from Madrid.  The team was then ferried by bus to their hotel during their stay in LA, the Beverly Hills Hotel.

On Sunday, they had a double training session, with a press conference given by Iker Casillas sandwiched in between.  The morning session was notable for the fact that it was the first time that the 10 players who had reached the semifinals of the Eurocopa and had been on vacation until July 28 (with the exception of Coentrão) trained with their teammates.

Oh to be able to do this to Iker and not get arrested!!!!

FP watched over the training session, alongside members of his Real Madrid board, José Ángel Sánchez, Emilio Butragueño and Miguel Pardeza.  He was also very much in demand with autograph seekers.  It’s great to see FP smiling again!

With Cristiano seemingly intent on showing every inch of his legs possible, I hope this year MFC Álvaro Borja Morata Martín will be able to concentrate on the ball, and not Cris’ legs.  By the way, I loved that ABMM stood up to shake FP’s hand when he came to greet him on the plane (Rafa Varane, to his left, remained seated; video here).  This shows that ABMM’s parents raised him right.

Pepe was in a great mood… it’s Superpepe!

The second session was held on Sunday afternoon, with all 25 players participating.

With the boys doing great on their high kicks, can “Real Madrid: The Musical” be far behind?

It was great to see that fans were able to line the passageway leading to the training field, and that many of the boys stopped to sign autographs and pose for pictures, especially since they never do this type of thing in Madrid.  In general, training sessions are closed to the public, and the team also does not hold autograph sessions like they do when they visit other cities in Spain for games.  So, most of the time, the only chance people in Madrid have of meeting players are if you run into them in a shop or a restaurant, which is always awkward because you don’t want to interrupt whatever they’re doing.  It’s ironic, no?  The fans in the city which gives the team its name don’t have the same opportunities.  Although I can’t complain that much, because some of us get to watch many more games than everyone else.

The press conference.

At the press conference, Iker had the following to say.

on the team under José Mourinho: he’s a committed person, he’s not at all what he appears to be on television when you get to know him.  He has turned the team around completely and he’s brought out the best in us.  He helped the players to banish those fears we had when we weren’t winning anything.  It was a great decision [to bring him in as coach], he has a project for many years and he’s very happy here.  We hope it’s a turning point.

on the Ballon d’Or: it’s important for your name to be there.  As Víctor [Valdés] and Pepe [Reina] said, the goalkeeper is part of the game, and I don’t like it when it’s said that football is played with the feet.  The defender who gives the pass is as important as the one who scores the goal.

on objectives for this year: they’re similar to those of last year.  We aspire to take one more step forward like we did in the last two seasons with Mourinho.  We want to consolidate the team, and we want to win all the titles: the Supercopa, the Copa, we want to defend the Liga, and we hope for the Champions after years without winning it.  My team and my players [spoken like a true captain!] are the best for me.

on Castilla and RMC: I’m happy because Castilla has been promoted to the Liga Adelante and also for RMC, which will play in the Segunda B division.  It will be important for them and it will help them to mature.  For the first team, this is a priority because it helps them grow as players.  For us, the cantera is important.

Other things.

And over on twitter, we found out that Sergio Ramos and Fábio Coentrão decided to race each other in a 25-meter freestyle competition.  It looks like the decision was a spur of the moment thing, because… are both the boys in their underwear?  So they just stripped off their clothes and decided to go for it?  Lovely!

Sergio was the big winner – even though Fábio made it into the pool first – and made sure everyone knew it.  He tweeted, “I have to say, he didn’t measure up to El Churu…” and also made sure there was visual evidence.  He’s quite the competitor, isn’t he?  I also love how Pepe and Antonio, as well as Silvino, Rui and José, were there to be the judges and yell encouragement and other things, I’m sure.

Meanwhile, both Raúl Albiol and Álvaro Arbeloa tweeted amusing things that Pipa said.  El Chori’s contribution was “Que desayunaste con Piñon Fijo?? [sic].” Piñon Fijo is an Argentine clown, and the phrase translates to “did you eat a clown for breakfast?” meaning that someone is in a good mood and laughing.  As for Álvaro, he said, “we have to create a section with Gonzalo’s phrases.  Here is an example: ‘a crocodile that sleeps becomes a wallet.’”

And I hope José Callejón’s future tweets will be as great as the photos he’s been sharing!

Castilla news.

In Castilla news, our second team beat Getafe B 2-0 in a pre-season friendly behind two goals from Pedro Mosquera.  Speaking of Pedro, he’s now on twitter, and among the players to say “welcome” was one of his best friends, PF Juan Mata.  Juanín called Pedro the “best left foot” in Spain, and Pedro responded, “thanks brother!  I love you!!”  Denis also welcomed his teammate to twitter, and Pedro told him, “now you have to teach me about twitter!”  Meanwhile, Joselu also welcomed Pedro, but the latter didn’t respond like he had with Denis, so Joselu tweeted, “Pedro is not writing me, thanks Pedro Mosquera for being such a nice guy, jajaja.”  That caught Pedro’s attention, and he responded, “cabrón, my phone is going crazy, it blocked me!  I was looking for you, I would never forget you.  Thanks Selu, grande.”  I love the banter!

to Los Angeles we go!

The boys are already on their way to the United States!  It was a busy morning at Valdebebas.  The first order of business was the medical tests for the returning players – Iker, Sergio, the A-team, Cris and Pepe.  As for Sami and Mesut, they’ll be joining the team in Los Angeles.  And once that happens, the team will be (almost) complete – we’ll just be missing our little sunshine, Marcelo.

Álvaro Arbeloa also informed us that José Callejón will be joining twitter soon!  If that doesn’t get you excited about the upcoming season, I don’t know what will!

As stated above, the medical tests were the first item on the agenda.  It’s a good thing that Iker changed into his team outfit first, because I don’t even want to think about what he wore to Valdebebas (I imagine it’s something as summery as the outfit of Karim Benzema, whom you can glimpse behind Mr. Elegance).

Xabi was very manly when it came to the blood test, while Sergio tried to grin and bear it, I guess.

After that was completed, the team boarded the bus that would take them to the airport.  As we can see, there were reunions right outside the bus.  And El Pirata was looking his usual cool self.

Ricardo Carvalho has been excused from the trip (he’s certainly being treated much, much better than other players that didn’t figure into Mou’s plans, isn’t he?), while canteranos Nacho, Álex, Jesé, MFC ABMM and Jesús were called up to do the pre-season with the first team.  Here we have the oldest canterano and the newest one!

FP joined the delegation for the flight to Los Angeles.  He walked around greeting the players, including the apple of his eye, Karim.  Speaking of eyes, look at MFC ABMM’s huge doe eyes in the photo with Pérez and Pipita!

Iker shared this photo of him with Mou and Sergio, saying, “I was really looking forward to seeing these two guys.”  And dios mio, is that Iker looking a bit tan?

Some more photos from the plane ride… Pepe was all set to watch Entourage!

As a reminder, the first training session will take place on Sunday at UCLA, at 19h Spain time (10h local time).   Madrid will be playing four friendlies in the United States: against the Galaxy on Aug. 2 in LA, against Santos Laguna on Aug. 5 in Las Vegas, against Milan on Aug. 8 in NYC and the tour will conclude with the game against Celtic on Aug. 11 in Philly.

The game.

Well, the only good things I can say about the game are that Denis was a superstar and tweeted some photos before the game (I see that no one has told Karim that his poses are often ridiculous, and the positioning of his headphones doesn’t help matters…)…

… that I adored the all white jerseys, that I loved seeing José Callejón point to the escudo (the all white shirts made it all the more lovely), and that Victoria the eagle is quite impressive (here’s the story of the first Victoria).

Prior to the game, José Mourinho, Ángel di María and Fábio Coentrão received a tribute from Benfica.  Eusébio gave them each a commemorative trophy, and in return, he got a silver replica of the Bernabéu from Emilio Butragueño and Eduardo Fernández de Blas.

As for Mou, he had a lot to say in his press conference after the game.

on the loss: if it was a disaster for all of you Spaniards to lose 5-2, and for the Portuguese it was a party, then it’s your problem.  Out of the 19 titles I’ve won, none were during the pre-season.  I’m not worried about what happened.  We came here because we had a contract to hold up and we would be penalized if we didn’t play.  It had something to do with the signing of Coentrão or Di María, I don’t remember.

on the cantera: this game was also important to show all of those “iluminados” who think that the canteranos are prepared to play on the first team that there is a long road and you have to go bit by bit, you have to be patient.

Prior to the game, he had spoken about Fábio Coentrão: “I don’t think I would bring Portuguese players to Real, because it’s a very, very difficult life for them.  They have to be a Cristiano, a Pepe, a man, with a special mentality to overcome a situation that is not easy… they have to show in each game, each minute that they’re not only the best, but much better than the rest… Coentrão will play, at least so that he can regain some self-esteem and be applauded, because in Real Madrid he’s not very much.”

I have some problems with what Mou said here.  First, the canteranos are never going to be prepared to play on the first team if they’re not given chances, and under Mou, they don’t have opportunities.  It’s a vicious cycle.  Dani Carvajal was probably the player who was the most prepared to be promoted, yet he ended up leaving because he wasn’t given opportunities.  In addition, some of the players that Mou got the club to sign were also woefully unprepared to play on the first team of Real Madrid.  At least with the canteranos, there’s no adaptation period, there’s no language problem, they know and respect the history of the club…

With regards to his remarks on Coentrão (and the way that Carvalho has been treated), it appears that Mou gives preferential treatment to the Portuguese players (especially those represented by Jorge Mendes).  He makes it sound like madridistas do not like Portuguese players simply for the fact that they are Portuguese, and that is not true.  If we haven’t warmed to Coentrão yet, that’s because he hasn’t done anything yet to show us that he belongs here and deserves to be here (that smoking incident did not help).  He has to earn his place here, it’s not going to just be handed to him like Mou wants.  And it’s not just like this with the Portuguese players, it’s like that with everyone.  EVERYONE has to prove themselves in each game, not just the Portuguese.

Okay rant over.  To avoid ending on a negative note, here is sweaty El Pirata looking every inch the captain.

all set for Benfica!

Real Madrid takes on Benfica tonight in Lisbon (20h) in the fifth edition of the Eusébio Cup, which is also their second game of the pre-season.

The team is already in Lisbon, having flown there from Madrid earlier today.  They’re currently at the Pestana Palace hotel waiting for kickoff time.

José Mourinho called up 24 players for the match, divided between 10 first team players and 14 canteranos (it appears that MFC ABMM and Jesús are still considered Castilla players at the moment).

Goalkeepers: Adán, Jesús, Pacheco.

Defenders: Varane, Coentrão, Fabinho, Nacho, Mateos, Casado, Ríos, Iván.

Midfielders: Kaká, Granero, Lass, Mosquera, Álex, Juanfran, Denis, Lucas, Callejón, Di María.

Forwards: Benzema, Higuaín, Morata.

You’ll notice Fábio Coentrão’s name on the list; that’s because he cut short his vacation so that he could take part in the Eusébio Cup and play against his former team.  He has won the trophy with Benfica, as has Ángel di María.  Together, they won the second edition in 2009 (Fábio came into the game for Ángel), while José Mourinho won the first edition while coaching Inter.  Anyway, this will be the first time that Coentrão and Di María play Benfica since they left.  Benfica’s web site called Coentrão’s return “the most awaited return,” while there have been reports that Ángel will receive a tribute before the game and a plaque from the Portuguese team.  Both of them are still very much loved in the Estádio da Luz, and Ángel can be spotted there once in a while cheering on his old team.  Fábio recently said to A Bola, “being able to return to what was and still is my home is something very special.  I’m happy.  It’s true that I’ll have to give up a day of vacation, but it’s worth it because it’s going to be a very pleasant reunion, both for Real Madrid and for Benfica.”

Benfica is also the current team of many former madridistas, such as Javi García (who said it’s a special game for him as he’s never played against Real Madrid, the club that gave him everything, including the opportunity to enjoy football), Rodrigo (who won’t be playing as he’s currently on duty with the Spanish Olympic team), Eze Garay (can’t wait to see the reunion between him and Pipita) and Javier Saviola.  And then there’s Alípio, who’s currently playing with Benfica B.

Meanwhile, Nuri Sahin’s name is not on the list, and the press is rife with rumors that he’s headed to an English club.  During the press conference following the presentation of an award to José Mourinho by Portuguese journalists, Mou said with regards to Kaká that neither he, Kaká nor the club knows if the player will stay or not.  Later on, he said that as long as Kaká’s a first team player, he will train and play with us, and added that Kaká will be going to the United States with them.  As for Nuri Sahin, Mou said (ranted), “I don’t like that the market remains open until Aug. 31.  It allows for many doubts, not amongst us, but among journalists and people.  I want 20 players plus the goalkeepers and to leave the door open to the niños, so someone has to leave.  I try to be honest.  Nuri is in the gray zone, neither black nor white.  If there is an interesting possibility for him to play somewhere else, it will be better for him to leave, since we saw last year that he didn’t get moments here.”  Mou also confirmed that Jesé will be along for the North American tour, and that Coentrão will play tonight since “his heart is red” (that’s nice, but I want it to be at least partially white, no?).

In other news, on Wednesday, the team returned to training following their victory against Oviedo.  Ten first team players and 13 canteranos (Fabinho was the absence with regards to the previous session) took part in the session.  A second session was held on Thursday afternoon.

This photo tweeted by Joselu, meanwhile, once again reminds me that I chose the wrong profession.

And Enzo’s parents have been busy taking pictures of him!  As you know, Enzo’s father (Enzo has become such a star that I might start referring to Marcelo in terms of Enzo) is playing in the Olympics, and Clarice shared some photos of that adorable kid getting ready to watch Brazil take on Egypt, along with his grandmother.

We also got to see some photos from the family vacation; I want to hang out with this family!

ICYMI – the pre-season edition

I’m still very much in pre-season mode, and I think the Olympics will be taking up quite a bit of my time in the next few weeks (and not just La Rojita, I absolutely love watching the Olympics!) so this ICYMI post is kind of just a collection of my random observations and thoughts from the game, plus some game things and statistics.

Random thought number one: I was glad to see Gonzalo Higuaín and José Callejón carry on from where they left off last season, together!  Many hearts would have been broken had Pipita gone elsewhere, including Calleti’s, I’m sure. 

Random thought number two/game thing number one:  I absolutely adored the line-up that José Mourinho fielded for the game, though it was probably more out of necessity than any other reason.  All 11 of the players were canteranos.  Two of them – Antonio Adán and Esteban Granero – play for the first team, and the other nine for Castilla, though MFC Álvaro Borja Morata Martín, and Jesús, are expected to get fichas with the first team.  In fact, during the game, both of them wore first team numbers: Jesús had the 25, while ABMM wore the 23.  In addition, they both now have lockers in the first team locker room at Valdebebas.  Anyway, the average age of the starting XI was 22.6 years.

Game thing number two: Lucas, Denis, El Pirata and Ángel di María on two occasions scored for Madrid as they beat Oviedo 5-1.  Denis became the first ever Russian player to wear the shirt of Real Madrid, and of course the first ever Russian to score a goal for Real Madrid (keeping in mind that this was a friendly).  After the game, he tweeted, “at home!  Time to rest!  Today could be one of the happiest days in my career!  Without all of you, it wouldn’t have been possible!  Thank you.”  Congratulations Denis!

Random thought number three: what do you think about the two color numbers?  I like the concept, but I’m not sure it translates too well onto football shirts.  Maybe it will grow on me, just like Sergio Ramos’ short hair.  Plus, did you notice the goalkeepers in the striped socks?  I can’t wait to see Iker in them, yay!

Game thing number three/random thought number four: after the game, Esteban Granero said he was proud to have been the captain of Madrid (and I was proud to see him be the captain; the armband suits him!), although it was just for a pre-season game.  And though it was just a pre-season game, Esteban said that the team was upset they had allowed a goal, but were satisfied with their level.  As for the canterahis thoughts were that “the Castilla boys are helping us a lot and they’re showing that they have many things to bring to the team.  I am trying to help them in whatever they ask of me.”  I really do love our Pirata!  And I really do hope the club has more confidence in its youth system!  Plus, I loved seeing a female linesperson!

Random thought number five: I just like this picture because Ángel di María looks like the cartoon Tasmanian Devil, or at least in the moment before he begins spinning.

Random thought number six: the kids in the Tartiare really love our team!

Game thing number four: Aitor Karanka spoke to the press after the game, seemingly confirming that Kaká will be leaving.  He said, “we’re looking for the best solution for Kaká, and it was the míster’s decision that he not play tonight.  He’s one of our players and we hope that between all of us we can find a solution.”  He also lauded his players and the fans at the Tartiere.

I wonder when Mou will give his first press conference?

Game thing number five: prior to the game, gaiteros played a tribute to Slovakian footballer Peter Dubovsky, who had played for both teams and who had passed away in 2000.  Madrid’s team also wore black armbands to mourn the passing of Gregorio Peces-Barba, a politician, academic and socio of Real Madrid (he would have become a Madrid director had Lorenzo Sanz beaten FP in the 2000 presidential election).  He had passed away earlier that day at the age of 74 in Oviedo, although he was a madrileño in addition to being a madridista.

And now we await the arrival of some of the other international players, as we start preparations for the Eusébio Cup!