MADRID: Stars of Spanish football such as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are set to be back in league action this weekend after players called off a strike that delayed the start of Spain’s Liga for the first time in 27 years.
Negotiations dragged on into the early morning before the players’ association AFE said it had struck an agreement with the league to guarantee wages, meaning the football-addicted nation will get its weekend fix.
The strike cancellation means Spain’s two giants will once again go at loggerheads with each other in pursuit of the La Liga crown.
Madrid face enormous task
With Barcelona having strengthened their squad over the summer, Jose Mourinho and Real Madrid face an ominous task in preventing the Catalans from winning a fourth straight Spanish title.
In recent years Real have been known as La Liga’s big spenders, with president Florentino Perez paying lavishly for high-profile figures like Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka and Xabi Alonso, while Barcelona have been regarded as the club who nurture their own talent through their famous youth system.
However, this summer has been vastly different for the two giants of the Spanish game.
Pep Guardiola’s number one target Cesc Fabregas, finally made the move from Arsenal after yet another summer of rumours and conjecture.
As a product of the Barca academy and close friend of a number of the players, there is little doubt that the former Arsenal captain will fit comfortably into the Camp Nou dressing room.
Meanwhile, Chile’s Alexis Sanchez, the other major summer recruit, also has the traits to do well as a skilful attacking midfielder who joined the club on the back of an excellent season for Udinese.
Barcelona’s manager Guardiola, who is looking for his fourth straight championship to equal the success of Johan Cruyff’s famous Dream Team of the early 1990s, of which he was an integral part, believes his team may yet improve.
“After the three years that we have just had and what these players have done it would be impossible not to be optimistic,” said Guardiola.
After finishing runners-up in La Liga for the third consecutive year, the new season marks the 10th anniversary of Real Madrid’s last Champions League triumph, turning the pursuit of those two titles into an obsession.
Madrid’s manager has concentrated on further bolstering the backline by capturing Fabio Coentrao and Raphael Varane, while midfielders Nuri Sahin and Hamit Altintop have arrived from the Bundesliga.
The only attacking player to arrive is Jose Callejon, who returns to his first club after a good season at Espanyol.
The attack though looks slightly weaker after Mourinho opted against making Emmanuel Adebayor’s loan from Manchester City a permanent deal, but the coach does not see that as a problem.
“It is a small squad but that is our decision,” said Mourinho. “The transfer market is open until August 31 but as far as I am concerned the squad is now closed.”
Published in The Express Tribune, August 27th, 2011.