Letter from Madrid; Fever pitch, Real style

The debut of Real Madrid's starriest acquisition, Nicolas Anelka, flung the start of the Spanish League into greater paroxysms of enthusiasm than usual, even though he'd left the field before the winning goals against Mallorca were scored.

The occasion jolted the nation's heart, despite falling in the middle of the sacred summer holidays when fans are lolling on the beach or ambling through deserted city boulevards in their flip-flops. The season began earlier than ever this year because of an unprecedented number of fixtures.

Anelka - whisked from Arsenal for 5,600m pesetas (pounds 22.8m) in Spanish football's costliest signing - briskly shook from his boots British criticisms of greed for accepting a fourfold pay rise: "My dream has always been to play in France in Marseilles or Spain in Real Madrid. It's not a question of money. I am not the first player to abandon a club and I won't be the last."

Real Madrid has spent more on new players, who include Liverpool's former midfielder Steve McManaman, than any other Spanish club - 13,000m pesetas - to improve its mediocre showing. "Mediocre" in this context means succumbing two years running to the Barcelona killing machine. But despite John Toshack's mid-season arrival as the coach to impose discipline, the Whites are still seen as less of a team than an assemblage of gods, each attacking as he pleases.

Toshack knows his job depends on triumph this year: "They say that when a ship sinks, the last one to leave is the captain. Here when the ship starts to list, the captain is the first one they throw overboard," he noted recently. When every player is a star and the team still loses, "it's always the coach's fault for choosing player X over player Y".

The club is millions of pounds in debt, but no one at the Bernabeu is worried, knowing that their 90,000-capacity stadium welcomes more fans on an off day than Manchester United at capacity. Funds to buy Anelka were rustled up from a juicy deal with Digital Satellite Channel television company who bought broadcast rights for years to come. Sales of kit skyrocketed last year following a merchandising offensive orchestrated by advisers to Manchester United, and sales of the revolutionary away strip (black!) are expected to bring in a fortune. Real Madrid, in other words, is in debt like the Bank of England is in debt.

Barca, by contrast, run a tight ship, nicely in the black, spending a relatively prudent 4.8bn pesetas. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. So why is Barca's Dutch coach, Louis Van Gaal, laden with trophies, universally loathed? Critics say he has created a rarified "Barca-land", a passionless Ajax-clone supreme in Spain's football war, but has broken the hearts of adoring millions by dropping their favourite idols and still hasn't built a happy team.

Beleaguered Atletico Madrid, whose controversial president Jesus Gil faces fraud charges over the funding of his club, has invested 3,200m pesetas in Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, the Dutch striker from Leeds. And, to the grief of Atletico fans who still chant "Radomir [Antic] we love you", Gil also ditched his coach - a normal reflex action.

All this could mean the end for poor Juninho, effectively supplanted by Hasselbaink. Atletico's new coach, Claudio Ranieri, says the Brazilian no longer fits in. Juninho may yet creep "home" to England, despite having played like an angel, leaving his heart on the turf of the Vicente Calderon, as they say here.

Spanish fans follow football overwhelmingly via television, and their loyalty has been tested by the encroachment of pay-per-view channels. Fears that take-up would not meet expectations are fading, however, as fans grit their teeth and pay up.

A television ad for the Via Digital pay channel - owner of Barca's broadcast rights - says it all: a young man chains himself to the railings of a statue in Madrid's Puerta del Sol, pleading with his girlfriend to let him have Via Digital. She resists: "You only want it for the football". No, no, he insists, then concedes that yes, he wants it for the football. He is still there as night falls, chained up, waiting for her to relent.

Of the 15 television programmes most viewed last season, nine were football matches. Matches are broadcast every day now, and, with Barcca and Madrid each with their own television channels, you can watch football on television in Spain virtually round the clock.

General elections are due next spring, just as the league builds to fever pitch. But millions of Spaniards, gripped by the power struggle that really matters, won't even glance away from the screen.

Life and Style
“What is it like being a girl?” was the question on the lips of one inquisitive Reddit user this week
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Life and Style
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur

Midsummer swimwear season is well and truly upon us – but diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
peopleMario Balotelli poses with 'shotgun' in controversial Instagram pic
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily World Cup Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General


£50000 - £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

SAP Data Migration Consultant

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client, a FTSE 100 organisation are u...

Programme Support, Coms, Bristol, £300-350p/d

£300 - £350 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...

Linux Systems Administrator

£33000 per annum + pension, 25 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A highly successfu...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice