Stand by your beds, here comes Jose Mourinho. Real Madrid's pre-season training began yesterday, with those among the squard who were not called to international duty this summer (this being Real, they number no more than 10) summoned to touch base with their employers. They may well have noticed a few differences. Starting with those beds.
The new coach, a man with a reputation for making an impact, and no reputation whatsoever for letting his players have an easy ride, has already passed like a whirlwind through the corridors of their Valdebebas complex. Areas previously put in place to allow fans to meet their heroes and ask for autographs have been closed off – no longer will the Galacticos be revelling in their fame on the company buck. And sleeping quarters have been installed at the training ground – no more popping home for a siesta between morning and afternoon sessions. Mourinho's message is clear: there is work to be done.
But the biggest break with the past is in personnel. In Madrid, Raul is close to royalty, and the club's leading goalscorer. Along with another club favourite, the midfielder Guti, the pair are as much a part of Real as the famous white shirts and notorious grand plans to rule the world – but it appears their reigns are at an end. Both players made their debuts here 16 and 15 years ago respectively, despite having long since stopped commanding regular first-team places. Both have survived 14 different coaches. But neither will see in the Mourinho era. Jose told them there was no need to turn up yesterday. Officially they have been allowed time to "sort out their futures" – and unofficially told not to come back.
Out with the old, in with the new. The incoming gaffer oversaw the returning players' pre-season medical checks, but he also met with Sami Khedira who was in Madrid yesterday ahead of a €10m (£8.5m) move from Stuttgart. The 23-year-old German World Cup star looks like becoming the "English-style box-to-box midfielder" that Mourinho had admitted he wanted for Real, so closing the door on the older and more expensive Steven Gerrard.
Mourinho has already brought in Argentine left-winger Angel di Maria from Benfica for €25m (£21m) and insisted that the winger Pedro Leon and striker Sergio Canales are not loaned backed to Getafe and Racing Santander respectively, the clubs they have just signed from, but instead form part of a first-team squad that still lacks a left-back and a central defender.
The speed at which Mourinho has rearranged the Valdebebas furniture has stunned a club that has become used to a very different sort of management, particularly under the stewardship of president Florentino Perez. After Perez sacked Vicente del Bosque in 2003 he went through five replacements in three years. During the particularly inept 2004-05 season there were three managers in one term.
There was the disciplinarian Jose Antonio Camacho, who quit six games into the campaign when he was told he could not drop any big-name players. The goalkeeping coach Mariano Garcia Remon took over and training sessions seemed to descend to the level of a couple of laps around the pitch and a game of head tennis before players went home in time to watch the lunchtime news. He was sacked after 100 days and replaced by the Brazilian Wanderley Luxemburgo. The former Santos manager had no European experience and lasted a year, leaving trophyless with failed attempts to introduce Brazil-style sand training pitches and earpieces so that players on the pitch could be in communication with the bench.
Mourinho is already laying the foundations for a very different Real Madrid. His own 12-hour days have bemused the press photographers who are dispatched to the training ground every day to snap his arrival and departure. Creating a bond with the media that will not disintegrate the first time it is put under pressure – as happened last season in the Spanish Cup when Real were knocked out by Third Division Alcorcon in November – will be high on Mourinho's agenda. But then one thing you know about Mourinho is that he will provide journalists with an unrivalled supply of stories.
Players will spend more time together with whole working days at Valdebebas replacing two-hour morning sessions or double sessions with the chance for the squad to go home in between. Cristiano Ronaldo and Co will breakfast together before morning training. They will then eat lunch together and rest in that relaxation area that on Mourinho's request now has eight sofa beds.
Mourinho's Madrid will be younger and cheaper than previous versions. The club's four signings all have youth and relative value on their side. Canales, 19, Leon, 23, Di Maria, 22, and Khedira, 23, will not cost more than €50m in total. Ashley Cole's age and price suggest he does not fit the new profile, although the Chelsea left-back remains one of the best in the world in a position that Real are yet to fill.
Real will embark on short tour of the United States at the start of next month with friendlies against the San Jose Earthquakes and Los Angeles Galaxy. Bayern Munich, Standard Liège and the Spanish side Hercules await them when they return ahead of the season's kick-off at the end of the month, when the real business of overhauling Barcelona begins.
Mention Mourinho's name to Barça fans and first there is a twitch of the nose, as if a bad smell has wafted across the room, followed by a more respectful shrug of the shoulders. The Catalan purists do not like the way his sides play football, but they know he wastes no time in finding winning ways, whichever club he manages. Mourinho is already showing his new employers just why that is.
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