Football: `I'm a bastard... but a lovable bastard'

FIRST NIGHT: JOHN TOSHACK; Andrew Longmore in Madrid witnesses the return of a giant to a superclub in real conflict
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The Independent Online
The grande dame hardly donned her finery for the return of an old suitor. The Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, a fraying wonder of the footballing world, was half empty. John Toshack had asked Madrid to forgive its team for 90 minutes, but the prevailing malaise of Europe's greatest club easily outweighed the exhortations of one of its more charismatic sons.

The first time Toshack sat in the dug-out at the Bernabeu, the visitors were Liverpool in a pre-season friendly and the stadium was packed. Madrid won 2-0. Ten years on, Madrid is upset with its playboy team and it will take more than the larger-than-life figure of John Benjamin Toshack - they like the "Benjamin" - very much more than a tentative 1-1 draw with Dynamo Kiev in the first leg of the European Cup quarter-final, for normal service to be resumed. Indifference is the powerful flip side of fanaticism.

By Friday, a crazy day even by the standards of a tortured history, the charm offensive had begun. Toshack prompted Lorenzo Sanz, the burly and volatile club president, to lift the vow of silence imposed by the players. So, as Steve McManaman was unveiled at a press conference at the Bernabeu stadium, a mile up the road Clarence Seedorf was explaining his part in a dressing-room altercation with Fernando Hierro, Real's commanding centre- half, after Wednesday's game. The Madrid newspapers had carried a word- by-word and blow-by-blow account of the spat that morning. Pitched unwittingly into the mayhem, McManaman must feel as if he has left the Spice Boys for Oasis.

Illustration of the size of Toshack's task at Real has come in an Instamatic snapshot of a club in chains. As three of his predecessors have discovered this past year, if the upstairs don't get you, the downstairs will. Jupp Heynckes, the shrewd German who led Real Madrid to their first European Cup in 30 years, upset the hierarchy; Camacho, his replacement, resigned after a month angered by critical comments of his staff by Sanz; and Guus Hiddink, the quietly spoken Dutchman who made such a vivid impression at the World Cup, was far too gentlemanly to sort out a dressing-room playing to the rules of the jungle. Enter Toshack. "I'm a bastard," as he said. "But a lovable bastard." His lovable side might have to be shelved for the moment.

Toshack is an old enough Spanish hand to know the game of charades. Honeymoon periods for continental coaches work to the Liz Taylor timescale, but Toshack, like his old team-mate Kevin Keegan with England, has negotiated a shrewd deal. An unlikely victory over Kiev in 10 days and images of Tosh the hero can be dusted down once again; defeat would be a handy excuse for a clear-out.

But Toshack's trump card is his hold on the people of the city, who not only appreciate the way the Welshman has adopted their customs and learnt their language but recall the crackling style of his last team. Toshack's Real won the league, scoring a record 107 goals, and turned the Bernabeu into the towering concrete fortress it resembles from street level. Of his 31 games in charge at home, Real won 28.

"Having been here before and having been successful, that gives me an advantage over these players - the Seedorfs, the Rauls, the Mijatovics, the Sukers, the Hierros, whoever they are. They know someone's come back, who was here 10 years ago when they were just 10 or 15 years of age. That does command a certain amount of respect. It's down to you then. You've got to put over your own ideas and your own personality."

The latter has never been in short supply with Toshack, whose own credits include taking Swansea on an impossible journey from the Fourth to the First Division and masterminding the renaissance of the Basque side, Real Sociedad.

Recent ventures at Deportivo La Coruna and Besiktas have been less joyful, but the Toshack who returns to the Bernabeu is a very much wiser and more mature character than the last incarnation. A remark, made almost under his breath at the post-match press conference on Wednesday, suggested a cynicism not usually associated with such a whole-hearted footballer and coach: "Nothing concerns me too much any more."

"I was very young when I first came here, I was only 39," he said. "I'd had my education at Swansea, buying, selling, playing, coaching, but the only similarity with Real Madrid is that they both play in all-white. At that time, maybe, the slightest thing I saw that I didn't like and I was at war with everyone - especially your profession. I've moved cameramen out, moved pressmen out and not been as co-operative as I should have been. I've gone into my shell.

"Over the years, I've learnt, especially at a big club like this, that I do have certain obligations to the media and I've learnt how to manipulate that sort of thing, which is also important." Those who remember him stripping off his white Swansea shirt to reveal a red Liverpool No. 10 to mark the minute's silence in memory of Bill Shankly might think his flesh-pressing skills were already pretty well developed. Big Tosh has never been shy of the spotlight.

Knocking some collective sense into a team of moody but talented individuals will tax his political and tactical skills to the edge. In present form, Madrid are the epitome of the post-Bosman superclub, staffed by mercenaries, dogged by division and divorced from their own constituency. "After winning the European Cup and the World Club Cup this club should be enjoying the credit it gained," Toshack says. "But there seem to be so many different problems, which we will finish with pretty quickly."

If a 3-2 defeat by Real Betis in nominally his first game in charge did not trigger the flashing red lights, the disunity of the European champions against a strangely subdued Dynamo side certainly did on Wednesday night.

Toshack stood in his old spot in front of the dug-out, not the splintered wooden bench of old, but the smart new Uefa-style Eurobubble, occasionally strolling to pitchside to deliver his instructions. It was not long before his authority was questioned. The feud between Seedorf and Hierro had its origins in a first- half free-kick. Toshack wants to expand Madrid's options and the Dutchman was about to execute a diversion manoeuvre practised on the training ground. Hierro wanted to take the kick himself. Seedorf, whose unhappy evening had ended in a flurry of boos and a flutter of white handkerchiefs early in the second half, confronted Hierro afterwards. Seedorf was fined pounds 20,000 by Sanz and Hierro pounds 10,000.

Toshack diplomatically suggested that the incident had been blown out of all proportion by a Madrid press starved of players' quotes. But Seedorf's dislike of playing on the right side of midfield is one of a jumble of problems piled up in his in-tray along with Hierro's sense of omnipotence.

Toshack's hurried departure from Besiktas has left his life strewn across the continent. His toothbrush is in Madrid, the rest of his belongings back in Turkey; it will be a month or two before the team comes into his possession as well. At training, his style was noticeably backseat, his most sapping drills reserved for Savio, Ivan Campo and Davor Suker, regulars of his star-studded bench.

At roughly the same time, McManaman was extolling the glories of Madrid's illustrious past, but he might find the mood and the cast has changed somewhat by summertime. "In the future, Madrid will be looking for a different kind of player from McManaman," Toshack said. "There are other areas of the field where possibly Real need reinforcing.

"We have a few like McManaman here already. But we'll get him playing wide on the right, let him do his stuff and see what happens. He'll be in there, fighting for a place."

Never go back, they say. Toshack has and, not for the first time, he might prove the exception to the rule.

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