I BE­LONG TO GLAS­GOW

For­mer pres­i­dent ex­plains why Ham­p­den is syn­ony­mous with glory for a club aim­ing to add an 11th Eu­ro­pean Cup tonight

The Herald - Herald Sport - - FRONT PAGE - HUGH MAC­DON­ALD RA­MON CALDERON

For­mer Real Madrid pres­i­dent Ra­mon Calderon on club’s mys­ti­cal link to Ham­p­den

HE con­cedes there may be a “mys­ti­cal” con­nec­tion to Scot­land, in par­tic­u­lar Ham­p­den. But Ra­mon Calderon knows that it is never hard to put the ‘real’ into Real Madrid and that en­dur­ing trait is al­ways about win­ning.

“Yes, we can say there is a mys­ti­cal link,” says Calderon, who was a Real di­rec­tor for nine years, three of them as pres­i­dent, “but that is so only be­cause of what we did there.” This, specif­i­cally, refers to the 7-3 vic­tory over Ein­tra­cht Frank­furt in 1960 and the 2-1 win over Bayer Lev­erkusen in 2002, both in Europe’s great­est tour­na­ment. “To win is a must. It is an obli­ga­tion,” he says, adding that there is lit­tle af­fec­tion for Eu­ro­pean bat­tle­fields where the Real stan­dard has been low­ered. “It took us 32 years to win the sev­enth Cham­pi­ons League af­ter win­ning the sixth in 1966,” he says us­ing the modern term for the Eu­ro­pean Cup.

“We did not have fond­ness for the sta­di­ums where we lost.”

The ninth, of course, was won at Ham­p­den but Calderon uses this tri­umph to il­lus­trate that chill­ing stee­li­ness that lies at the heart of Real. “I have been a sup­porter all my life. I have trav­elled the world to watch the team,” he says. “The Ham­p­den fi­nal was lit up by that [Zine­dine] Zi­dane vol­ley but [Iker] Casil­las had to make great saves to pre­vent an equaliser. It was tough to win.”

It was also nec­es­sary. Calderon, who joined the board as a di­rec­tor in 2000, start­ing his three-year ten­ure as pres­i­dent in 2006, has two sto­ries that tell of the Real Madrid way. “The world cheered that Zi­dane vol­ley but peo­ple for­get he was booed from Au­gust to Novem­ber that sea­son when we bought him be­cause peo­ple be­lieved we had paid too much for him,” he says.

I tell him I once sat in the Bern­abeu when Cris­tiano Ron­aldo, who had scored a hat trick, was be­rated in a 7-3 vic­tory over Sevilla in 2013. “That is not un­usual. Peo­ple don’t un­der­stand the na­ture of this club. The fans here can boo Ron­aldo, Zi­dane, every­one and any­one. More than 70 per cent of fans sup­port­ing the club are not born in Madrid. They have no link re­gion­ally or lo­cally. They iden­tify not with the club but with suc­cess. Ron­aldo will score 50 goals very sea­son but still be crit­i­cised.”

The sec­ond story con­cerns Calderon’s most stress­ful mo­ment as Real pres­i­dent. It oc­curred on June 17, 2007. “We had not won the league for three years and it was my first sea­son as pres­i­dent. We had to win the last game against Mal­lorca to win the league. With 20 min­utes to go we were 0-1 down,” he says. “I had made a lot of changes be­cause we had to move quickly that sea­son. We signed 14 play­ers such as [Wes­ley] Snei­jder, [Gon­zalo] Higuain, [Fabio] Can­navaro, [Ruud] Van Nis­tel­rooy. We had to change the mind­set. We had to re­turn to the path of vic­tory.”

His reign fol­lowed im­me­di­ately on the failed episode in­volv­ing Los Galac­ti­cos. He sat in the box watch­ing Mal­lorca de­fend­ing des­per­ately. “It is a lot of pres­sure be­ing pres­i­dent. It is a big shop win­dow and ev­ery passer-by is look­ing in. I have said many times that if you are the pres­i­dent of Real Madrid and if the team gets a vic­tory you do not feel joy but re­lief. You then know you have three days of calm be­cause no one will ques­tion the play­ers you signed or the coach you hired.”

Calderon was ac­corded his days of grace. Real scored three times and La Liga was se­cured. He says: “Af­ter we won the league, we then started to do things in a bet­ter way. That was an im­por­tant vic­tory. Per­haps we had for­got­ten that you must fo­cus on events on the field.”

“That is the best mem­ory for me,” he says of a reign that was to end in Jan­uary 2009, in one of those con­vul­sions that rou­tinely con­sume Real, this time over al­le­ga­tions of vot­ing ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties at a club assem­bly.

His po­si­tion at Real al­lowed him ac­cess to the in­ner work­ings of Uefa and Fifa and he was vice-chair­man of the clubs’ com­mit­tee on the for­mer. He says no im­me­di­ate change to the league set-up in Europe is im­mi­nent, be­liev­ing “it is a big cake but it is cut up fairly”. But will clubs such as Ben­fica, who broke Real’s dom­i­nance in the Eu­ro­pean Cup in 1961 and 1962, Ajax, who won the tro­phy three times in the 1970s and once in the 1990s or Scot­tish clubs such as Aberdeen, Celtic and Rangers who won Eu­ro­pean tro­phies in the past, ever hope to com­pete with the fi­nan­cial strength of the Bun­desliga, La Liga or English Pre­mier League?

“I hope so. I am sure they can come back, why not? Le­ices­ter won the Pre­mier League and you see that money is not ev­ery­thing, that you can­not buy ev­ery­thing. That is a strong mes­sage for foot­ball and for the world. Noth­ing stays the same. The an­swer is in young play­ers. Clubs [in smaller

leagues] can pro­duce them and if they can keep them then suc­cess can come,” he adds. He knows this re­ten­tion of play­ers is a prob­lem for the poorer leagues but sur­pris­ingly con­ceded there may be prob­lems ahead for La Liga. “It is clear that the EPL now is go­ing to have huge amounts of money, five times more in TV rights than La Liga,” he says of the £9bn deal, in­clud­ing for­eign rights, that kicks in next sea­son.

“That could be a prob­lem be­cause many play­ers could be tempted to go to Eng­land be­cause they will get more money. But I hope, too, that play­ers will stay. At Real Madrid, [Gareth] Bale and Cris­tiano are very im­por­tant for us and they cer­tainly want to ex­tend their con­tract. Play­ers tend to be very happy here per­haps be­cause they have the chance to win the big prizes.”

Aah, the big prizes. Real, of course, play Atletico Madrid tonight in their at­tempt to win an 11th Eu­ro­pean Cup. So what awaits Real in the San Siro? “We have talked about money in foot­ball and we have our own story in Spain where Atletico has one third of the bud­get of Barcelona and Bay­ern Mu­nich and beat them both to reach the fi­nal. It is true money helps but there are other fac­tors that make a team,” he says.

“We are ob­sessed by this fi­nal. It is now twice in three years that the clubs from this city have met so that it is his­toric and it will be an in­ter­est­ing match and one that will have dif­fi­cul­ties for both teams. Atletico have a nearly per­fect de­fence.”

Calderon ad­mires Diego Sime­one, the Atletico man­ager, though he ad­mits the Ar­gen­tinian would not be a nat­u­ral fit at Real where there has to be an ex­trav­a­gance in the play. “The coach is tac­ti­cally ex­cel­lent and he has pro­duced fan­tas­tic com­mit­ment from the play­ers. They blindly fol­low him be­cause they know he has been right many times,” he says.

“But if you look at the names that Real have, then it is im­pres­sive,” he says of such as Ron­aldo, Bale, Karim Ben­zema, Toni Kroos, Luka Mo­dric and Ser­gio Ramos. “We have great play­ers. We have paid huge money for Bale, Cris­tiano and oth­ers. Atletico have re­cruited well. They may not have been signed for the same sums, but they are great foot­ballers. The dif­fer­ence I see is that Atletico are tac­ti­cally per­fect. They have con­ceded only 18 goals in La Liga and they counter at­tack danger­ously with [An­toine] Griez­mann and [Fer­nando] Tor­res. The last time we met in the fi­nal it took us more than 93 min­utes to equalise so I am sure every­one knows it will be tough.”

He re­calls that when he was pres­i­dent he put up a sign in ev­ery Real dress­ing room, from the boys’ teams to the se­nior squad. It read: “We fight and we may lose. But if we don’t fight we will lose.”

At 64, he craves no fur­ther in­volve­ment in the Real board­room but hopes to be in Mi­lan tonight. “Every­one at the club knows they have to win,” he says. As the Cham­pi­ons League an­them drifts out over the 60th fi­nal in the big­gest club com­pe­ti­tion in foot­ball, Calderon knows tunes can change but the song re­mains the same for Real. “You win or you go,” he says of pres­i­dents, coaches and play­ers. “Some­times both,” he adds with a chuckle.

Peo­ple don’t un­der­stand the na­ture of this club. The fans here can boo Ron­aldo, Zi­dane, every­one and any­one

Pic­ture: Getty

REAL IN­TEN­SITY: Ra­mon Calderon ad­mits wins were met with re­lief rather than de­light in Madrid.

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