Ramos out to get rich from Real's 'impossible' odds
New manager plays for high stakes in daunting La Liga debut at Barcelona
Saturday 13 December 2008
A fraud? A victim of circumstances? Or, like pimientos de padron, a Spanish delicacy which does not travel well? The truth about Juande Ramos may not be answered until he ventures outside Iberia again, but the former Tottenham manager would go a long way to restoring his reputation should he oversee a Real Madrid victory at Nou Camp tonight.
It is not inconceivable. There are plenty of decent players at Real, even with an injury crisis, and as Harry Redknapp proved when replacing Ramos (below) at Spurs, sometimes all players need is a new voice in the dressing room, one who puts an arm round the shoulder of the disaffected and delivers a kick up the backside to the complacent.
Five days is not long for Ramos to determine which players need the carrot, and which the stick but the midweek substitution, during the 3-0 Champions League defeat of Zenit St Petersburg, of the talented but lazy Guti was a reminder he has prior knowledge of the La Liga scene, just as Redknapp did not go blindly into White Hart Lane.
Redknapp, however, began with Bolton at home. With due respect to Gary Megson's over-achieving team, Barcelona away, a Barcelona who have won 11 and drawn one of their last 12 league games, scoring 43 goals in the process, are a different proposition.
Ramos's predecessor admitted as much, and more, Bernd Schuster effectively tendering his resignation when he said it was "impossible" for Real to win tonight. Ramos is not so daft, whatever the impression he gave at Spurs.
"Barcelona are playing great football, that is indisputable, the table shows that, but no team is invincible," Ramos said. "We have some superb players. They are all internationals and if they play at their best we have a chance to win.
"It is a good situation for those who bet, and are willing to take risks, to become millionaires. There could be a very good financial reward."
Despite Real's poor form - they have lost three of their last four league games and trail leaders Barça by nine points – they are the defending champions and won in Madrid 4-1 earlier this year. However, the squad that won the title is not the one Ramos has at his disposal.
Ruben de la Red, who collapsed during a match at the end of October, has just become the latest player thought to be out for the season, joining Ruud van Nistelrooy and Mahamadou Diarra on the sidelines. Arjen Robben and left-back Marcelo are suspended, while defenders Gabriel Heinze and Pepe are doubtful. By contrast, Barça's Pepe Guardiola should be able to pick from a full squad.
Ramos's contract is only for six months but his prospects already look promising after Raul, an important ally for any Real coach, was spotted dining with him last month. Raul scored twice in midweek, further cementing the relationship. A winning goal tonight and White Hart Lane will seem a world away.
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