Toshack is sacked after criticising Real players

Real Madrid sacked John Toshack yesterday, almost exactly nine years after they last showed the Welsh coach the door. He was eight months into a mediocre season, with Real standing eighth in Spain's La Liga. Vicente del Bosque, one of the club's assistant coaches, is to hold the fort until the end of the season or until the club president, Lorenzo Sanz, finds a replacement.

Real Madrid sacked John Toshack yesterday, almost exactly nine years after they last showed the Welsh coach the door. He was eight months into a mediocre season, with Real standing eighth in Spain's La Liga. Vicente del Bosque, one of the club's assistant coaches, is to hold the fort until the end of the season or until the club president, Lorenzo Sanz, finds a replacement.

Toshack's dismissal was triggered by his refusal to withdraw criticisms of his players despite an appeal by Sanz this week. Toshack's riposte - "there's more chance of a pig flying over the Bernabeu than for me to withdraw my comments" emblazoned across yesterday's front page of Marca sports daily - was said to be the last straw for Sanz.

But, as one Spanish commentator observed poetically some weeks back, vultures have long been circling round Toshack, and with each disappointing result "a couple of feathers fell upon his head".

The death knell sounded when Toshack publicly criticised Madrid's Argentine goalkeeper Bizzari for letting in goals "that made me weep" in an undistinguished 3-2 victory over Rayo Vallecano, Madrid's poor neighbours who were promoted only this season yet are top of the table.

Toshack insisted that he had used the tactic to motivate his players, but Sanz had seen enough. The Real chairman had always judged his coaches on their domestic results, leaving European success as a secondary consideration.

In 1998 Sanz sacked the German Jupp Heynckes hours after victory in the European Cup final and last year he fired Guus Hiddink just weeks after Real became the world club champions.

Toshack has been roundly criticised by the Spanish media since the start of the season, with sports papers insisting that "everything he touches he spoils".

After a three-hour meeting with his employers yesterday, Toshack left the Bernabeu without comment. Possible successors include the former Barcelona manager Johann Cruyff, who was said yesterday to have declined Sanz's offer of "a blank cheque", and Radomir Antic, the former coach at Atletico and Real Madrid.

Fabio Capello, Jorge Valdano, Victor Fernandez of Celta Vigo and the Spanish national coach, Jose Antonio Camacho, are also tipped to replace Toshack. Camacho, if he leaves the national post, and Fernandez are considered favourites.

Antic has been seen around the smart haunts of the Spanish capital looking chirpy in recent weeks despite being unemployed since his dismissal last season by Atletico, but he is understood not to be interested in a short-term attachment to Real Madrid - or reattachment: he was briefly coach in 1991.

Toshack came in as the disciplinarian to succeed Hiddink, who was dismissed half-way through last season for being weak. Once describing himself as "a bastard, but a lovable bastard", Toshack was thought to have the presence to forge Madrid's costly purchases into a functioning team.

However, injuries to a number of leading players, and the lacklustre efforts by the £22m signing, Nicolas Anelka, put paid to those hopes.

JOHN TOSHACK FACTFILE

1949: Born 22 March, Cardiff. 1966: Signed for Cardiff City. 1970: Signed by Liverpool. Won three League titles, the FA Cup and two Uefa Cups. Played more than 200 games, scoring 95 goals. Won 40 caps (13 goals) for Wales. 1979: Became Swansea City player-coach, taking them from the Fourth Division to the First. 1984: Moved to Sporting Lisbon. 1985: Join Real Sociedad as coach. Won Spanish Cup (1987), second in League (1988). 1989: Becomes Real Madrid coach. Won League in first season as side scored 107 goals. 1990: 18 November, dismissed 11 games into the season after three successive defeats. 1991: Second spell at Real Sociedad. 1994: 28 January, appointed Wales coach on part-time basis. Resigned after one game, a 3-1 defeat by Norway. 1994: 24 November, dismissed as Sociedad coach. 1995: 23 March, appointed coach of Deportivo la Coruña, taking over on 1 July. 1997: 9 February, resigned from Deportivo. 1997: 25 June, appointed coach of Turkish club Besiktas. 1999: 24 February, appointed coach of Real Madrid. 1999: 17 November, sacked as Real coach after 11 games, with the team in eighth place.

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