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Mourinho shuns headlines to underline Madrid’s new balance of power

The pro-Real Madrid press has been trumpeting the imminent arrival of either Neymar or Sergio Agüero in recent weeks. The fact that neither is likely to play for Real quite yet reflects not just the banality of the sports press during the summer months, but also that the club’s coach can now say no when he wants to.


Oh no, not again: Marca finds yet another angle on the Neymar story.

The faces of two young footballers have dominated the front covers of Spain’s two biggest-selling sports newspapers this summer. In just two months, AS featured Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior (or Neymar for short) 28 times and Sergio ‘Kun’ Agüero’s 20 times in their leading photograph and/or story. Neymar also battled Agüero for top spot on the front page of Marca, which led with the Brazilian 22 times and the Argentinean on 15 occasions. One or both players was prominent on the front page of AS and Marca 41 and 34 days respectively. AS readers were met with Agüero’s face five mornings in a row from June 9 to 13. Neymar matched that run with Marca from July 6 to 10.

The fun began within days of last season’s La Liga ending on May 21. The following Tuesday both AS and Marca screamed from their front pages that Agüero was leaving Atlético Madrid, probably for city rival Real. Over the following days AS led with stories about counter-offers from Atlético and a judge’s ruling on the buy-out clause in the 23-year-old Argentinean’s contract, and Marca quoted a current team-mate saying Kun had his heart set on Real.

Neymar soon made his appearance. In early June both papers led with large photos of the teenage Brazilian, as an alternative big summer signing for Madrid. “Cheaper than Kun”, headlined Marca on the ninth. On the 13th AS’s front-page story was their own online poll results: 61 percent of Madrid fans wanted Agüero, 39 percent preferred Neymar. By the 22nd of the month Marca was suggesting – with a photo of the two facing off – that Madrid might avoid having to choose and just sign both.

Both players came forward with useful quotes to splash under photos of them wearing expensive shiny jackets with their hair spiked implausibly high. Madrid is “the team of my dreams”, said Neymar. A little more coy, Agüero just said he would be happy if he was in Real boss José Mourinho’s thoughts. Final offensives, decision days and last minute deadlines came and went regularly, but the stories didn’t change.

Stretching the story

Editors and journalists at both papers discovered some highly creative angles to keep the saga going. Marca revealed Neymar’s Madrid-designed weight-gain programme, while AS declared Agüero had switched boot supplier from Nike to Adidas because the latter make Real’s jerseys. The president of Neymar’s current club Santos even argued that the player staying was as important to the country as Brazil gaining the presidency of the UN. Some of the front-page photos looked suspiciously photo-shopped – one showed a disconsolate Agüero looking wistfully at a Real jersey, another had Neymar holding a Spanish phrasebook as evidence he would move to Madrid.

Any actual football was put to good use. Santos’s win in the Copa Libertadores in June was a victory for Madrid, as Neymar was virtually their player already. During July’s Copa America it was Neymar’s Brazil who were unluckily eliminated and Agüero who was doing his best to save a struggling Argentina. Former legends such as (Brazilian) Ronaldo, Pelé and Agüero’s father-in-law Diego Maradona were all asked for their opinions.

Through it all though, Mourinho stayed quiet. With good reason. It’s easy to believe both Agüero and Neymar would fancy a move to the Bernabéu, but harder to see where they’d fit into the team. Real already have a decent forward line with Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, Ángel Di Maria, Mesut Özil and Gonzalo Higuaín. Even if he did want to bring in a new forward, neither of the hyped potential signings seems Mourinho’s preferred type of player.

Forget about Rafa…

Despite this, and even with Spanish superstars like Rafael Nadal, Cesc Fàbregas, Fernando Alonso and Alberto Contador all serving up juicy stories to report on, the two papers kept returning to their chosen narrative for the summer. This week, with Agüero set to join Manchester City and Neymar almost certain to remain in Brazil for the moment, they’re both still doggedly at it: AS with ‘Neymar in January’ and Marca leading with a story about the Brazilian’s valuable image rights.

This summer’s soap opera follows similar campaigns in previous years, including Cristiano Ronaldo in 2009 and Robinho in 2005. Readers seem to like these transfer stories, given that both AS and Marca are thriving sales-wise. They also serve a purpose for Real Madrid, with these concerted campaigns seen by Real President Florentino Pérez as a key way of applying the required pressure to get a deal done.

As noted though, this year neither player looks likely to actually arrive in Madrid this summer, which may mark an important change behind the scenes at the Bernabéu. Earlier this summer Mourinho finally won a lengthy internal battle to gain control of all football matters at Real, including transfer dealings. Neither Pérez nor his friends in the media now have the power they once had. The fact that Mourinho feels strong enough to ignore the media clamour for a new marketable star name and fill out his squad with the less heralded Portuguese left-back Fábio Coentrão, Turkish midfielders Hamit Altintop and Nuri Sahin and French teenage defender Raphaël Varane underlines just how strong his position now is.

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Published: Jul 28 2011
Category: Sports
Republication: Creative Commons, non-commercial
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