Football: Raddy master of strange antics

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The Independent Online
WHEN Brian Little resigned in Doug Ellis's office he must have wondered whether there was a more impatient chairman in football. Ellis has seen out 11 Aston Villa managers yet he has the patience of Job compared with Jesus Gil, president of Atletico Madrid, the club which by odd coincidence Villa play on Tuesday in the Uefa Cup.

In 10 years Gil has made 26 changes. Among those who came and quickly went was another of Ellis's defeated sparring partners, Ron Atkinson, who lasted three months, and his successor, Colin Adison, who survived for five. Atkinson has a quip for every occasion but discovered that his boss had a tongue of steel wool. Gil's scathing criticism of anyone who crosses him has brought charges of "verbal violence", racism and defamation, but he portrays himself much differently.

When Atletico failed to sign Robert Prosinecki from Real Madrid, Gil felt he had been misled but said he resisted being really rude about Real's president so he simply described him as "the dwarf of the Ramblas". Later he was suspended by the Spanish federation for hitting the general manager of Compostela. Evidence of his bile goes on and on.

When, in the summer of 1995, Gil was looking for yet another new coach, the name Radomir Antic came up. Friends of the popular, Serbian-born "Raddy", who is remembered for his fine midfield contributions to David Pleat's Luton Town team of the early Eighties, said he would be daft to accept. But he did, and Pleat, now director of football at Tottenham, has seen him prosper and finds himself in the awkward situation of not knowing whether to recommend Antic for the Spurs job if Christian Gross's term in office should end soon, or offer to front the club himself.

If Antic did move to White Hart Lane, he would be well prepared to face Alan Sugar. Gil's antics in pursuit of his dream to establish Atletico above Real Madrid and Barcelona surpass anything Sugar may have done to promote Spurs above Arsenal. After a few indifferent results he once stormed into a board meeting, put a baby crocodile on the table and suggested it might give the team "a bit of a bite". Admittedly, Atletico immediately beat Barcelona 4-1 at the Nou Camp but Gil's satisfaction was short-lived. Alfio Basile was sacked and Antic spurned all advice, left the security of Oviedo and signed up.

By then he had coached Real Madrid and Zaragoza; his playing career had ended in 1984. As well as appearing for Luton, he had played for Partizan Belgrade, Fenerbahce, Zaragoza and Yugoslavia. His first experience of coaching was when he returned to Partizan, but he was drawn back to Spain where his career has defied doubts that he had the tactical nous to survive and the mental strength to face Gil's daily buffeting.

An example: on arriving, Anitc was told by Gil that he needed to "get rid of the poofters" - the players who refused to battle on when, in the president's view, they were not seriously injured. Antic had always known that Gil not only insisted on input into team selection but regularly bought and sold players without reference to the coach. The chances were that his stay in Madrid would not be any longer than that of his predecessors. Even so, he quickly drew up a list of players he wanted, including his fellow Serb, Milinko Pantic, who had been with him at Partizan but had drifted into the Greek league.

Gil had never heard of Pantic and said it was a mistake to risk even pounds 375,000. But Pantic became the catalyst for success on the field while Antic's functional approach and work on improving relationships between players and coaching staff allowed him to coax out more untapped potential. The culmination came two years ago when, inspired by Pantic, Atletico beat Barcelona in the Cup final and won the Spanish league for the first time since 1977.

Antic's reputation had grown substantially when Atletico stubbornly retained their lead over the last difficult weeks of their championship season. But though the club's journey in the Champions' League last season took them to the quarter-finals, in which they lost to Ajax, their effort came at the cost of retaining their league title. Nevertheless, Gil offered Antic a new contract.

This season the signings of Juninho and Christian Vieri for a total of nearly pounds 25m were intended to restore the joys of the double year, but Atletico are already out of the domestic cup and, partly because of injuries (Juninho, who inspired them against Leicester City earlier this season, has a broken ankle) they have to content themselves with compliments about still being the most attractive team in Spain. But will Gil still be content? Spurs should watch with interest on Tuesday.