La Liga kicks off today and a former Liverpool striker and now director of football at Cádiz can hardly contain himself as the team host Real Madrid
Sid Lowe in Madrid
Saturday August 27, 2005
When the final whistle went on Liverpool's Champions League semi-final against Chelsea at Anfield in May, the victors' former striker Michael Robinson leaped in the air, screamed "Yes!" at the top of his voice and broke into tears - which would not have been a problem except that he was commentating on the match for Spanish television and an entire nation heard him.
"Liverpool are in the final but Michael can't speak," Robinson's colleague, Carlos Martínez, told viewers. "He's crying too much." By the time the whistle went in Istanbul, two weeks later, the tears were gushing down his cheeks.
Viewers this weekend have been warned. Tomorrow night in crumbling, colonial Cádiz, Robinson's emotions will be exposed again as La Liga sparks up just the way he dreamed it. Back in the top division after 12 long years, the visitors to Cádiz's brilliant yellow Ramón Carranza stadium are Real Madrid.
"I only hope we don't score first," jokes Robinson, a Cádiz scarf around his neck, yellow band on his wrist. "That would just make them angry."
The "we" is not gratuitous. Member of a consortium that rescued the club from financial crisis, Robinson is Cádiz's director of football. Though he played for Osasuna, it is Cádiz, a peninsula jutting into the Atlantic, with which he fell in love.
Tomorrow is a big night for the club - and for Robinson. "I'm in trouble here," he laughs. "My final game last season for Canal Plus was Istanbul; now I'm starting this one with Cádiz. Objectiveness has gone out the window. Getting involved with Cádiz was the best thing I've ever done. It was maybe the craziest but definitely the most gratifying. I meet so many ex-players who are affluent and don't like football but I love football. And Cádiz is football."
Appropriately for a man behind the television show El Día Después (The Day After) - a celebration of the culture of the game, a show that Robinson calls a "social x-ray that is offside-free" - Cádiz are as defined by the city and the loony fans that follow them as the football itself.
Even the club's most celebrated player is idolised for his waywardness as much as his genius. Mágico González, says Robinson, is the embodiment of the city's anarchic style. "He'd sit on the beach with a bit of dope, a beer and his guitar. Sometimes they'd name him as a sub while they went looking for him." Once Mágico overslept, arrived only at half-time and turned round a 2-0 deficit single-handed.
"Cádiz is a good socialist place," says Robinson. "Warm, relaxed, friendly. It has the most humble, open people. In Seville people reckon they're funny; in Cádiz they don't pretend to be funny but they are hilarious. It's more spontaneous, more natural and they love football. There's an entire society behind the club - a city and a region. There's only 120,000 people in the city yet we've filled our ground for 47 consecutive months - with special people. Going to the Carranza is poetry," he says. "So, why Cádiz? Just because. There's something cult about it."
It is also something very different from Real who on Thursday night held a movie premiere at the Bernabéu, complete with red carpets, screaming fans, paparazzi and camera flashes, even a troupe of dancers. The film? Their own: Real, the Movie, starring David Beckham, Ronaldo, Raúl, Zinédine Zidane and the departed Luis Figo, pioneer of the galactic era.
Cádiz, who have spent £1.7m compared with Real's £42m, have their hands full on their return. Ronaldo, says Robinson, is "an animal", Zidane is "football's Bolshoi ballet". And he defends Beckham like few others, too. "Beckham is a bloody good footballer," he insists, "but people expect his football status to match his incredible status as a social icon and that's impossible."
Not that Robinson is worried. The reality has not met the hype and the galácticos have won nothing in two years.
Robinson believes they still lack a central midfielder and rates Barcelona as favourites to win the league title for a second successive season. "Real Madrid have great football players," he says, "but maybe not a great football team." Even Madrid's new signings do not frighten Robinson as he looks forward to tomorrow. Robinho, who arrived yesterday and whom Robinson describes as "a player of unbelievable ability that's starting to learn how to channel his talent," is likely to sit it out while Julio Baptista is, he believes, being wasted. "Baptista is a great signing but not if he plays on the left," Robinson says. "It's like having a great chef and making him wait on tables. Arsène Wenger [who tried to sign him] must feel sick. If he's going to be out of position, I hope he does play against us."
No wonder Robinson leans forward and says earnestly: "You know, I don't think we'll get beaten." He may have a point. Cádiz could yet spring a surprise. Just do not expect Canal Plus's commentator to stay calm if they do.
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