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Nacho a pawn in Mourinho’s battle with the Spanish media

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


Nacho takes to the field as Mourinho looks on.

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 José Ignacio Fernández 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 José Mourinho and the city’s sporting press.

Nacho joined Real Madrid’s La Fábrica 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 Spain’s third tier by 2010. The Cádiz born defender made his debut for Mourinho’s 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 División 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 year’s 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 Atlético Madrid and Rayo Vallecano’s Jordi Amat in the international reckoning. It seems Fernández 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, Fábio Coentrão and Álvaro 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 Coruña, 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 Dortmund’s excellent right-sided pairing of Marco Reus and Łukasz Pisczek were instrumental in their side’s 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 club’s 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 Barcelona’s 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 Fábrica, 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 aloud why he was playing as a central defender for Castilla, when he would be more use to the senior side as a right-back.

Although Coentrão 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 Wednesday wrote that he had proven he could be an important player for Madrid for the next decade.

Romero even used as evidence in Nacho’s 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 Madrid’s Fábrica, 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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Published: Dec 3 2012
Category: Sports, Featured, Spain News
Republication: Creative Commons, non-commercial
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2 Comments for “Nacho a pawn in Mourinho’s battle with the Spanish media”

  1. well written piece. i agree that Nacho is being used as a pawn. but he is not as Popular in Madrid as Morata . it’s just that Nacho comes offf as pretty likeable guy, has gone for three straight pre-seasons with the first team. n well, he has forbed off interest from all other clubs and reiterated that his goal is to play with Madrid. he is 23 today, years are running and fans feel some kind of pity for him. but he is good and would be better if he had opportunity.his not being called up for spain under 21 is not bse if ability but rather experience. Most spain under 21s are plying their trade in first division. La Masia, to an extent has a “reputation” now. so it is very likely that their players will be considered ahead of Madrid not because they r better(they sometimes are) but because they are perceived to be better. and remember castilla has just been promoted to segunda.

    it is a very hard blow for you to injured both left backs, and still not give him a chance. i mean his debut at mestalla was as a left back. and i rightly join the media in accusing Mou, i mean he said, he wants Nacho as a right back, n i think that is the dumbest excuse i have heard. why would he want to turn a centre back into a right back, whnn he shipped off a natural one to leverkussen? what happens when Nacho doesnt thrive at right back? given his training as a centre back, he is not a plombing right back, a la arbeloa( also started as a centre back). i would rather see him thrive in his natural position at a another club than see him languish at a madrid bench, in a position that is not even comfortable for him.

    when toril is developing his players, he is looking at their life beyond Madrid( coz that is a more realistic way of looking at it, unless club policy changes). n he thinks Nacho is best at Centre Back.

    the team he thinks is fighting for 7th position is just above relegation with a -ve goal difference. as for Jese, i wont even go there!

    and well, i DONT like Mourinhos public criticims of the cantera. claiming that Toril played over aged players. that must have shattered their confidence. i mean how does a coach with respect do that? he himself believvs that the youngsters should be eased into the first team, doesnt that philosopy apply to every team as well?

    the power struggle has even spread to castilla, which is also experiencing a poor run and yet it had started off well.

  2. i had forgotten, Nachos, playing right back with castilla means benching Fabinho, a player who he has also “touted”. Jese’s playing as a false nine for castilla, gave space denis cheryshev’s bloom, who originally was a bench warmer. so if Jese goes to the left wing, he still wont get chance with Madrid, coz Ronaldo is irreplacable. then Cheryshev, goes back to the bench, which is not fair. besides castilla have no established striker now since the departure of Morata and Joselu

    Morata played on the right wing last season, but he still promoted him as a striker.

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