Beware the team with nothing to lose. Real Sociedad, La Liga’s fourth Champions League representative (the Real that gets €14m a season in television money not the one that hoovers up €140m) will turn up at Old Trafford tonight with 7,000 supporters behind them and none of the pressure being heaped on David Moyes.
“If we win then we are back in the fight for a place in the last 16,” said winger Antoine Griezmann. The peroxide-blond French-Basque whose overhead kick in Lyon helped seal his team’s place in the group stage, also knows that if they fail then there will be no recriminations.
Arsenal finished fourth in the Premier League last season and then broke their transfer record to sign Mesut Özil. La Real finished fourth in Spain, have no regular shirt sponsor, and made no significant investments, losing midfielder Asier Illarramendi to Real Madrid for €32m (£27m).
Three days ahead of the richest football match on the planet in La Liga this is the other side of the peseta – Real Sociedad still have the same back four they had in the 2009-10 season when the club were stuck in the Second Division and still recovering from a period in administration.
The future looks tentatively brighter. There is talk of adidas becoming kit suppliers again as they were in the Liga-winning campaigns of 1981 and 1982. And adidas-sponsored Xabi Alonso, out of contract at Real Madrid at the end of the season, could also be on his way back.
In two years collective bargaining might also be in place but, in the meantime, Madrid and Barcelona take €280m (£237m) between them from the television pot and Real Sociedad earn half as much as the team finishing bottom of the Premier League.
Their youth system has been their salvation. Illarramendi’s sale swelled the coffers this summer. Griezmann could be next year’s departure.
He had the video camera out on arrival in Manchester yesterday. The 24-year-old cannot wait to step out onto the hallowed turf. And they really do see it as hallowed. They use the Spanish translation of “theatre of dreams” (Teatro de los Suenos) when referring to Old Trafford and they watched enviously last year when local rivals Athletic Bilbao visited in the Europa League.
“I was here as a fan last Christmas” said Griezmann (right). “It was a surprise trip with my brother to watch Manchester United v Newcastle.”
With the camera, and the talk of hero Robin van Persie being “one of the best centre-forwards in the world”, Griezmann might come across as a tourist but he’s here for business – his team must go for it after losing their first two matches.
New coach Jagoba Arrasate, who replaced Philippe Montanier at the end of last season, has been too conservative so far.
Montanier’s exit was agreed long before he made a mockery of the decision by guiding the team into the Champions League. Real had tried to hire Gerardo Martino but he was in the middle of a Copa de Libertadores campaign with Newell’s Old Boys when they made their approach.
Martino ended up at Barça and Real ended up promoting from within – they had a team of home-grown talent so why not a coach who had also come through the club.
Having spent most of his coaching career so far in the Third Division, Arrasate is also cheap. And unlike his opposite number tonight, he will not have his future discussed at length if he fails to win this evening.
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