Aside from determining a champion, a major subplot of the World Cup finals is the emergence of world-class young talent. Players stepping out of the shadows on this stage tend to earn themselves enormous contracts as the biggest club’s in Europe look to gain in quality and notoriety by snapping up those players who make their mark on the world stage. After a breakout campaign that made German supporters forget all about injured captain Michael Ballack, 21 year old phenom Mesut Ozil recently became one of this summer’s biggest transfer signings, having been lured to Real Madrid by new manager Jose Mourinho. Ozil departs Werder Bremen following a summer where most major clubs made their pitch for one of world soccer’s brightest young talents. Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Barcelona were all rumored to have tabled enormous bids before Ozil made his final choice to take up residence at the Santiago Bernabeu in Spain’s capital city.
With the beginning of La Liga play just around the corner and renewed expectations of Champions League glory higher than ever, Mourinho has proven yet again that despite his self-aggrandizing speech, his “The Special One” nickname is incredibly apt. After all this is the manager who took new money Chelsea on a dynastic tirade through England and departed the West London club only to win the Scudetto with Inter Milan in 2009 before completing the treble this past season (League, Cup and Champions League winners in the same year). And before all of those successes, there is the small matter of the Champions League title he won with Porto in 2004. Their only defeat of that competition came at the hands of… Real Madrid. It seems only fitting that with nothing left to win, Mourinho is trying to do it all again in a new league, with the biggest club in Europe, having to overtake Barcelona in the process.
In his first transfer window at the controls of Real Madrid, Jose Mourinho has put a stamp on the club very reminiscent of his early dealings with Chelsea. Before his hands were tied and he was forced to accept aging superstars like Andriy Shevchenko and Michael Ballack, Mourinho splashed owner Roman Abramovich’s cash on loads of young talent in an effort to build a balanced side that could compete at the highest level for years. This was no Man City hatchet job, buying everything in site, throwing them on the pitch and praying for results. There was method and purpose in his decision-making and while certain big name signings never panned out during their time with the Blues; Mateja Kezman, Shaun Wright-Phillips and Arjen Robben, Mourinho managed to build himself a backbone of talent that led Chelsea to greatness for many years in Petr Cech, Didier Drogba, Paulo Ferreira, Ricardo Carvalho, Michael Essien, Ashley Cole and John Obi Mikel. With this group, Mourinho helped himself to two Premier League titles to go with an FA Cup and a League Cup.
Fast forward to summer 2010 and Mourinho finds himself in arguably the most challenging job in world soccer. He replaces Chilean Manuel Pellegrini, whose sacking after one season would be shocking in most situations, considering that his side maintained such splendid league form that their two-horse race with Barcelona stretched the point gap between second and third to an obscenely large 25 points. Pellegrini’s dismissal and the recent lack of hardware has made the Real Madrid job the ultimate pressure cooker of “WIN NOW” mentality. Tack on a lengthy injury spell on the sidelines for Brazilian superstar Kaka and already the newly appointed manager has an enormous mountain to climb, both domestically and in European competition. This is not to say that should Mourinho fail to capture the Champions League or La Liga glory in his first attempt that he too will be on the chopping block after only one season. His pedigree alone has earned him the chance to establish himself, select his players and build a team, but if the results do not follow swiftly, relations in Madrid could deteriorate rapidly.
Getting off to a fast start in his new role, Mourinho has gone out and assembled an exceptional collection of new players for the upcoming season. In addition to Mesut Ozil, Real have captured powerful German midfielder Sami Khedira (another player who had an immense World Cup) from Stuttgart, highly regarded Argentine winger Angel di Maria from Benfica and setup a reunion with former Chelsea security blanket Ricardo Carvalho. Throw into the mix Sergio Canales and Pedro Leon, two highly talented homegrown youth players being given their official promotion to first team soccer, and it is clear that Real Madrid is a much deeper side, a direct reaction to their most recent early Champions League exit. With a grueling domestic season ahead, all the time chasing Barcelona, creating depth within his squad is paramount and all of Mourinho’s new signings can slot into Madrid’s starting eleven without breaking stride, regardless of the competition.
Whether or not Real Madrid can overtake Barcelona remains to be seen, but anyone hoping for parity across the Spanish table this year looks to be in for a disappointing season. However, this year’s edition of El Clasico looks set to be one of the best yet. On Sunday, 28 November 2010, Real Madrid visits Barcelona and the return leg in Madrid takes place on Sunday, 17 April 2011. It would be hard to imagine anything other than those two ties deciding the Spanish Champion for the 2010-2011 season.