Football: Toshack urges caution at Real

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The Independent Online
REAL MADRID kick off their campaign to prise the Spanish title away from Barcelona with a tough game at Real Mallorca tonight, and doubts are already setting in about their championship chances.

After spending upwards of pounds 50m on new talent for the 1999-2000 season, including an extravagant pounds 22m on the French international striker Nicolas Anelka from Arsenal, the Real coach, John Toshack, should be confident of starting the season in style.

However, Toshack, the former Wales and Liverpool centre-forward, is discouraging high expectations. "To be playing Mallorca on the opening Saturday, three days after a round of internationals, is the last thing we needed," he complained. "We're still a little way from being at our peak. We're not going to see the Real Madrid we all want to see until October."

In the last two seasons Mallorca, who finished third last season, have proved themselves masters at embarrassing more celebrated opposition. They beat Real 2-1 at home last season when the Madrid giants finished second, 11 points behind Barcelona. A similar result this time would be a big blow for Toshack - but would not be unexpected.

Real's coach may not be able to give Anelka his debut tonight. The Spanish Football League had still not received the player's transfer clearance last night, following his protracted and controversial move to Madrid from Arsenal.

As well as Anelka, the Welshman has another import from the Premiership in his squad: the England winger Steve McManaman, who arrived on a "Bosman" free transfer from Liverpool. Having sold Predrag Mijatovic and Davor Suker, Toshack has spent heavily on Balic, Christian Panucci and Michel Salgado, while last night he was set to sign the Real Valladolid goalkeeper Cesar Sanchez for around pounds 3m.

Barcelona, who kick off the defence of their title at home to Real Zaragoza tomorrow, were also rumoured to be ready to beat last night's transfer deadline by sending the midfielder Roger Garcia to their neighbours Espanyol in exchange for the Argentinian centre-back Mauricio Pochettino. He could be a replacement for the Dutch stopper Winston Bogarde, who has been linked with a move to Manchester United.