Andy Mitten

Mourinho’s Madrid may match Barca

Andy Mitten

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Ever
the showman, Cristiano Ronaldo indulged in four stepovers as he dribbled his
way through the LA Galaxy defence before striking an unstoppable shot past
their goalkeeper. Such box office moments kept the 56,000 crowd happy in the
Los Angeles Coliseum on Sunday night as Real Madrid beat LA Galaxy 4-1 as part
of their pre-season tour.

The result means little in the greater scheme
of things. Madrid had only returned to pre-season training five days earlier,
but there were indicators of Madrid's health as they seek to overcome Barca
this season and win a first league title in four years.

Like Manchester United, Madrid are content to
train in America where the facilities are top notch, sponsors can be courted,
players enjoy their anonymity (Ronaldo excepted) and big match fees are earned
for friendlies against competitive opponents.

International commitments mean that not every
Madrid player is present, but most are and the signs in Los Angeles were
positive as Mourinho enters his second term.

Kaka, who is enjoying his first injury free
pre-season since signing for Madrid two years ago, looked like the brilliant
playmaker of old against David Beckham's side. A fit and in-form Kaka will be
huge addition to Mourinho's squad this season.

There have been changes off the field.
Mourinho fought - and won - a series of battles last season as he sought to
exert his control at the Bernabeu. The main clash was with director of football
Jorge Valdano, who departed in May. He has been replaced by Zinedine Zidane,
who will be much closer to the squad with involvement in training and a
presence pitchside during games. The players have been queuing up to praise
both the move and Zidane.

Unlike last season, Mourinho wants to show unity,
with the French great onside and supporting the coach rather than briefing
the media against him.

Madrid were up and running before Barca's
players had even returned to training, but both clubs have a gruelling
pre-season schedule across several continents before they meet twice in the
Spanish Super Cup, first in the Bernabeu on August 13 then at Camp Nou four days
later. The games will kick off at the fan-friendly times of 10pm and 11pm
respectively.

Mourinho hopes to build on a successful first
season marred only by a few ridiculous outbursts and several defeats to Barca.
He is enthused by his low-key new signings, saying: "They have the legs
for the adventure to come."

Those recruits include Jose Callejon, the
24-year-old winger who signed for €5.5m from Espanyol. Callejon, who was at
Madrid as a youth and reserve player, will wear number 21 in honour of his
former Espanyol captain Dani Jarque, who passed away in 2009.

Versatile Portuguese left-back Fabio
Coentrao, 23, has also joined from Benfica
in a €30m deal which could also see Argentine
midfielder Fernando Gago go in the opposite direction. His compatriot Ezequiel
Garay has joined Benfica
in a separate €5m deal.

Another adaptable arrival is German born
Turkish international Hamit Alintop, 28, who comes on a free transfer from Bayern
Munich.

Nuri Sahin is another German born Turkish
international. The brilliant young midfielder, 22, starred as Borussia Dortmund
won the Bundesliga before moving to Madrid for a reported €10m fee.

Younger still is Raphael Varane, 18, who can
play as a defensive midfielder or central defender. The French U21 player arrived
from Lens, again for a €10m fee. All the players said that the prospect of
working under Mourinho was as enticing as that of playing for Madrid. 

There may be more new players and reports of
the Brazilian Neymar and the Atletico Madrid's Argentine Sergio Aguero going to
the Bernabeu have persisted for months, but space will have to be found in
Madrid's bulging squad.

Second goalkeeper Jerzy Dudek has already
left and Emmanuel Abebayor's loan spell has expired. Sergio Canales is unsure
of his future at the club, but most Madrid fans are satisfied that Mourinho will
soon see his side match Barca in La Liga.

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