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Friday, June 27, 2003

PREMIER REPORT

Real Madrid kept quiet on Queiroz during Beckham transfer


LONDON -- One of the hallmarks of any successful businessman is to plan ahead for all eventualities, to have a Plan B in place should a major decision have to be taken suddenly.

Christopher Davies

Florentino Perez is one of Spain's richest people thanks to his construction business while his "hobby" -- president of Real Madrid -- has also seen the man who lists egg and French fries as his favorite meal reach the top of the footballing tree.

Perez keeps ahead of the rest of the pack whichever hat he wears, which has helped him to become a multimillionaire and preside over the most successful club in European football.

So it is difficult to imagine that Perez and his right-hand man, sporting director Jorge Valdano, did not know they were going to sack coach Vicente Del Bosque the day after Real won its 29th Spanish championship.

Most observers had expected the popular Del Bosque to be given a one-year contract, but the night of the long knives in Madrid saw Del Bosque and Fernando Hierro both shown the door.

When David Beckham returns from the Far East and travels to the Spanish capital for his medical and official signing next week he will have a new coach and captain as well.

The timetable to the Beckham story, which keeps finding new chapters, is fascinating (incidentally, Beckham's book is due out in September and word is one newspaper group have paid £1 million for serialization rights).

It is understood Valdano was enjoying a late dinner in the early hours of Monday morning after Real had beaten Athletic Bilbao, when he telephoned Luis Figo and asked if he could come to the Senorio de Alcocer restaurant.

There were two reasons for this. First, to reassure Figo, in the wake of renewed rumors that the Portugal international could be on his way to Manchester United, that he was very much part of Real's plans for 2003-2004.

The second was to pick Figo's brains about Carlos Queiroz, the assistant manager of Manchester United whom the winger knew from their time together with Portugal's junior and senior national sides.

By coincidence, Figo and Queiroz also share the same agent, Jose Veiga, and the Real player was extremely flattering about the man whose appointment last summer was hailed as "one of the best decisions I've made in my 16 years at Old Trafford" by Sir Alex Ferguson.

What is intriguing is that while most would no doubt feel Perez (a) knew Del Bosque's days were numbered and (b) Queiroz had been identified by Real as his successor while the Beckham transfer was concluded, nothing was said to United at the time.

Of course, it is possible that Perez and his fellow directors did not know what to do about Del Bosque -- should he stay or should he go? -- until last Monday's board meeting but it seems unlikely.

If that is the case why did Real wait until now to make its move?

To not unsettle the squad as it prepared for the decisive game against Athletic Bilbao?

Or was it because it did not want to do anything that could prejudice the Beckham transfer?

While Beckham's move to Madrid was no surprise -- this correspondent heard Real wanted the England captain last February -- the sacking of Del Bosque and subsequent declaration by Perez that "Queiroz is one of the people we are interested in . . . his profile fits exactly what we are looking for" came out of the blue.

This, from the man who said "no, no, no, never, no, no, no" when asked a few weeks ago if Real was interested in Beckham. Then "no" meant "yes" and this time "yes" meant just that -- football has a strange language at times.

The wheels were now in motion.

On Tuesday, Queiroz, who was on holiday in Lisbon, took an early flight from the Portuguese capital to Nice and then a taxi to Cap Ferrat where Ferguson was on vacation in his favorite South of France resort.

Ferguson knew that an offer from Real was one no man could refuse -- "it's too big an opportunity for him . . . too big a chance to turn down" -- and the pair spoke for 75 minutes before Queiroz flew from Nice to Manchester for talks with United's chief executive Peter Kenyon.

Initially, Kenyon was reluctant to allow Queiroz to leave, stressing his value to United's future. But Kenyon was fighting a losing battle as there is a clause in Queiroz's contract, which has two years to run, that enables him to speak to foreign clubs should the situation arise, though United would expect compensation.

Queiroz completed a marathon day by flying from Manchester to London, where he met up with Veiga and the pair returned to Lisbon to finalize financial details of the two-year contract with Real.

The following day (Wednesday) Queiroz flew to Madrid to meet Valdano about becoming the new coach of Real Madrid.

Ferguson was happy to sell Beckham to the nine-time European champion, but it is fair to assume he will be angry to lose his valued lieutenant to Real under such circumstances.

It means Ferguson will have to search for his fifth coach in as many years after the previous departures, for different reasons, of Brian Kidd and Steve McClaren while Jim Ryan did the job on a temporary basis until Queiroz arrived last summer.

Queiroz can claim to have the best job in club football, being in charge of the self-styled dream team with superstars everywhere.

He will also be aware that success is not enough for Real which fired Jupp Heynckes after winning the Champions League in 1998, while Del Bosque led the club to two European and Spanish triumphs (seven trophies in all) during his four seasons in charge.

Real has had six different coaches since 1996 -- Arsenio (five months), Fabio Capello (one year), Jupp Heynckes (one year), Guus Hiddink (seven months), John Toshack (nine months) and Vicente Del Bosque (four years).

The revolving door on the coach's office at the Santiago Bernabeu has seen plenty of action as it awaits it's seventh incumbent in seven years.

Christopher Davies covers Arsenal and the Republic of Ireland for the London Daily Telegraph.


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