Football: Toshack back with Real awareness

Steve Tongue finds experience will have strengthened the new man in Madrid
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The Independent Online
JOHN TOSHACK will be a wiser, as well as an older manager second- time around at Real Madrid, according to the fellow Briton he has left behind in Turkey. Gordon Milne believes that any coach would be better equipped after working in the bear-pit that is Turkish football, where ruling passions can make those of Madrid or Merseyside look positively docile.

It was at Shankly's Anfield that Milne first established his reputation, a Kop hero a decade before Toshack. Sold to Liverpool by his father Jimmy, the manager of Preston North End, he won 14 England caps as a cultured wing-half, then managed Coventry for nine years and Leicester for four before leaving the East Midlands for the Bosphorous and Besiktas. If surviving for almost a decade in charge at Highfield Road was an achievement, lasting as long in Turkey surely puts it in the shade, and qualifies him as something of an authority on how to live with the whims of foreign employers.

"I've got used to it," Milne said from his Istanbul hotel, while preparing for an away game with his current club Bursaspor. "You go where it happens for you and I've managed to make a bit of a reputation here, just like John did in Spain. You're under pressure because of the very fact that you're a foreigner, so you have to adapt to the conditions of work and the mentality of the people. You quickly learn that they react in different ways than British players, or British crowds, or British chairmen."

Toshack, who joined Besiktas, one of Turkey's big three clubs, after 12 years in Spain, discovered the truth of that when one of his players was sent off early in the season. The player refused to go, pushing and insulting the referee, who was then hit over the head by a supporter rushing on to the pitch. Besiktas were ordered to play their next two matches at neutral grounds, but told they could appeal - after the games had been played.

Toshack, who still tends to wear his heart on his sleeve, was furious and let his feelings be known. Milne, who has the demeanour of an honorary consul, would, you feel, have taken the diplomatic approach. "John was never frightened to make his opinions known," he said. "He said what he felt and caused a bit of controversy, but we're all different. I think he'll find it easier than before in Madrid and easier than here. He'll feel more in control." Easier or not, Toshack's second spell in charge began with a 3-2 defeat to an injury-time Ito Alvarez goal at Real Betis last night.

Toshack ought really to have been in London this week, bringing Besiktas to play Chelsea in the European Cup-Winners' Cup quarter-final. In the previous round his team led Valerenga of Oslo 3-0 at half-time, only to allow the Norwegians a 3-3 draw that took them through on aggregate. The frustration of that night, combined with slipping from the top of the Turkish League, led to tensions developing, and the offer to rejoin Real was irresistible.

He will be under no illusions. After all, his previous opportunity at the Bernabeu, in 1989, came about because Real had won the Spanish championship four times running but "only" reached the semi-finals in three successive European Cups. It was a better record, in other words, than Alex Ferguson's, but it meant that the Dutch coach Leo Beenhakker had to go. Then last year Jupp Heynckes won the European Cup, ending a wait of 32 years, but did not do well enough in the league. His eventual successor, Guus Hiddink, also progressed in Europe, to Wednesday's Champions' League quarter-final against Dynamo Kiev, while faltering at home. So all that's really required is the best of both worlds.

Last time, Toshack was not all that far away from hitting the jackpot. Given a European Cup tie with Milan, the Spanish went out 2-1 on aggregate, having conceded a penalty in Italy that was subsequently shown to be outside the area. The Milan side of Gullit, Rijkaard and Van Basten, as expected, went on to take the trophy, but Real scored a record total of 107 goals in 38 games to win the Spanish title. Losing three matches before the end of November the following season proved too much for the president, Ramon Mendoza, and Toshack was soon on his way back to Real Sociedad.

The question now is whether he can control his stubborn streak, and temper the self-confidence that spills over into arrogance. Two years in Turkey should, as Milne says, have enabled him to see the warning signs. "No one can understand what it's like to coach Real Madrid," Beenhakker had lamented, but Kevin Keegan's former striking partner must have a good idea.

"Real Madrid must rule Europe, or Toshack will surely be fired" ran a newspaper headline10 years ago. Some things, he will find, have not changed.