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Kiyan’s Monthly Mailbag

On the greatest Real Madrid teams that didn’t win the Champions League, Marcos Llorente trust, sports journalism, and more

Real Madrid CF v Bayern Muenchen - UEFA Champions League Semi Final Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

These observations — where I look at Real Madrid’s history, its players on loan, Castilla, tactical tidbits, and other relevant thoughts -- are now a regular thing. All previous editions can be found here.

‘KO’ — by Finn

Always a great time interacting with you guys. Here’s some of this month’s mail from our Patrons / Twitter / Facebook.

Sahil, daily pods are a big ask. Currently, I rock the four-a-week lifestyle: Sundays, La Liga post-game; Mondays, Churros y Tácticas; Tuesdays, loan tracker pod; and Wednesdays, UCL / mid-week show. That leaves three days for writing. Scratch Saturdays because that’s dedicated to watching football / spending time with my wife and Luka. That leaves two days to write articles outside of the regular mailbags / match coverage (and you are well aware of the word count on my articles — I’m a volume writer) and work on my book. BUT, at four a week, I’m amazed that you guys keep up with the podcasts as is — but maybe that’s a testament to the content we put out and the great insight we get from Gabe / Om / Matt / Sam / Diego. I’ll also throw in the odd additional show with high profile guests (this one with Kay Murray is timeless, and this one with Phil Kitro is good for journalism advice which a lot of you ask for), or post-game analysis anytime the Spanish national team plays. Thanks for the support, homes.

Best Real Madrid sides that didn’t win the European Cup:

1961 - 1962: This was in the fledgling stages of Real Madrid’s famed Yé-Yé era, which was defined by an entire team of Spanish players which dominated football in the 60s. Interestingly enough, in this particular year, Real Madrid had an overlap of two eras — Di Stefano and Puskas’s dynasty (which also still had Del Sol, Gento, and Santamaria), plus some of the 60s legends like Araquistan, Pachin (and again, Gento, who ended up captaining the Yé-Yé’s). In ‘62, Real Madrid got to the European Cup final, where they lost 5-3 to Eusebio’s Benfica. Di Stefano was Europe’s joint top-scorer that season, and the team won the domestic double.

The Yé-Yé team did more than ok, though, once other legends like Pedro de Felipe, Sanchis, Zoco, Pirri, Amancio, Grosso, and Velazquez entered the mix. They won a ridiculous eight La Ligas and one European Cup in 1966.

Quinta del Buitre reign, late 80s: The entire golden generation from Castilla consisting of five players (which you are well aware of by now: Butragueño, Sanchis, Vazquez, Michel, and Pardeza), and spearheaded in attack by Hugo Sanchis (for some of it), dominated domestically and won a couple UEFA Cups, but could never win the Champions League. They were semi-finalists thrice.

2002 - 2003 / 2011 - 2012: You have heard me discuss these particular teams regularly over the years. The ‘02-03 team was the best of the galactico 1.0 lot; and ‘11-12 was a blitzing counter-attacking machine. Both won the league title, and both fell at the semi-final hurdle in the Champions League. From my column last week:

Since 1999, only one moment broke my heart more than Figo’s penalty miss in Turin: The heart-wrenching, penalty-shootout elimination against Bayern Munich in 2012 at the Bernabeu.

Most of you have heard me relive these top-two traumatizing moments. And if we’re being clear, most of you don’t need me to relive them for you — because you experienced the pain yourselves. 2012 was extra traumatic because that was supposed be our year. We had waited too long (relative to the spoiled Real Madrid fans that we are) for la Decima, had been leading in the match by two goals before letting Bayern back in the game, had watched Higuain annoyingly keep himself offside in what would’ve been a breakaway at the end of extra-time, had a less-than-potent Chelsea waiting for us in the final, and on top of that, we lost in a fucking penalty shootout in front of our own fans. Too cruel.

Growing up supporting this team, the 2003 exit was almost as bad. It was a bitter exit for mostly one reason: It was the best year of that galactio era, and it came up empty in Europe. It was the year before the team had (not directly, but essentially) replaced Beckham with Makelele. Zidane, Figo, Raul, and Roberto Carlos were all still at a very high level. Ivan Helguera was in his peak. Makelele was a wall defensively to mask defensive frailties. OG Ronaldo had just come off a hat-trick in Old Trafford. Waiting for us in the final: An absolutely brilliant AC Milan side. It would’ve been a historic final between two incredible European giants at the peak of their powers.

As the second leg unfolded in Turin, it was clear that everything that was supposed to go wrong, did. Claude Makelele, the essential keystone, could not play due to injury. It’s not just that Makelele was insanely important, but you needed him that night in Turin in particular, against a team that was tactically exemplary; against a team you needed to defend a slim lead against; against a team that wanted to spoil Zidane’s comeback party; against a team that boasted Zidane’s successor in Nedved, who was in the process of proving a point; and against a team that played in a country you historically crumbled in — over and over again.

Furthermore, Ronaldo, who later came in and caused a bunch of discomfort for Juve’s backline, nearly scoring twice, including a last second chance that would’ve saved Real Madrid’s European season (and as the possessed Del Piero put it: “(there was) much suffering in the closing minutes”) couldn’t start because of a niggling injury. Del Piero was roasting Salgado and Hierro in this game, and Juventus’s scheme caused Raul to be isolated and disconnected from the rest of the team. It was hard for Real Madrid to find openings until Ronaldo came in, and his first contribution as a substitute was to win a penalty and give Real Madrid a life-line.

I remember thinking when it happened ‘ahh shit, we got this now! No way Figo misses this. He’s reliable from the spot, always. No way he pick THIS MOMENT to launch one of the worst penalties of his career’. But, he kicked a tame penalty at Buffon, and at the same time kicked a dagger into my heart.

We’re on the same page here, Jay. There was a lot of hype around Roma, but in truth, were they really as good as we hyped them up to be? They played the same suicidal high-line against us that they did in the pre-season, which, if we’re purely speaking football fundamentals — you just can’t allow Gareth Bale 800 tries at latching onto a through-ball and going through on goal unchallenged. They could barely get Dzeko involved apart from the odd long-range pass; and were loose defensively. El Shaarawy was on the field (but no one actually saw him). Starting alongside N’Zonzi and De Rossi was 19-year-old Nicolò Zaniolo, who, while promising, had zero influence.

Bilbao was a much tougher test. They man-marked options out of the back, gave Modric little space, and stayed compact while exploiting the half-space between Ramos and Marcelo.

I had set-up a coffee business — a couple cafes, plus wholesale and online distribution — to run without me in order to fund my journalism lifestyle. This entire thread (which still applies) explains the sale. Cheers Saajid.

I still sling more espressos in my home than Ronaldo scores goals. My life is essentially football and coffee.

Is Eminem the Rap God? Is Marcos Llorente an alien? Is Gareth Bale a samurai? Is Florentino Perez our father? Is Om Arvind Indian? Is Gabe Lezra getting married this weekend? Is peanut butter infallible? Do I love coffee? Is Raul the reason I’m a Real Madrid fan and have a job today? Is Luka Sobhani the goat?

I don’t put pineapple on my pizza. I prefer figs.

We didn’t have anything concrete about Lopetegui trusting Llorente or not. A lot of speculation, and some reports in gossip columns in our favourite Spanish tabloids is all we had. I’m not saying Lopetegui didn’t have his real reasons to consider Llorente’s departure one way or another — Casemiro is one of the best on earth in his position, Toni Kroos can play the anchor role in specific schemes against specific opponents, and Kovacic has looked great in a double-pivot alongside Kroos or Modric in the past. But then Kovacic left, and Casemiro would’ve been the only pure anchor in the squad if Llorente was rented out for another season.

Llorente then fit an awkward slot — a position where he won’t play much, but losing him in a ‘break in case of emergency’ scenario would be risky. But he’s also a prototypical anchor for the specific scheme Loeptegui wants to implement. Marcos is an organizational defensive midfielder who can communicate where players need to be on any given sequence; he can read passing lanes at an elite level; and he can distribute quickly and retain possession. He will never be Kroos with his vertical and diagonal passing, nor will he be a threat as a late-arriving goal-scoring threat from midfield. But what he does from the anchor slot is ideal. I always said all he needs is one or two moments on the pitch to slowly knock down barriers and into the regular rotation. The Espanyol cameo was a good start.

Emilee — thanks for all your support. I think we can all resonate using Managing Madrid (whether through Patreon, here, or on Twitter), as a channel for match analysis, when, for many of us, doing this in person with other like-minded individual isn’t conceivable. Maybe it’s easier in some places rather than others — but there is definitely a universal thirst for a higher-level of discussion among Madridistas. That’s why I love podcasts so much, because it’s everything I always wanted to do with my life: sit on a couch with a beverage in hand and chat about football unfiltered. I still go out of my way to meet up with journalists monthly in Madrid just to chat about Real Madrid / Spanish football (some of these conversations will actually be transcribed in HBOM).

Side note — some of you might find this series interesting. It was a ton of fun to record:

I think your trajectory as a journalist is not dissimilar to mine. I started about 10 years ago, blogging about the Raptors on my own site, (RIP). Then I started getting accredited to Raptors games and practices, and jumped ship to — an ESPN True Hoop affiliate — and was writing there regularly until 2016 when I took a full time gig as a football journalist.

SB Nation is always looking for writers (check the SBN blog umbrella and see if any particular team-sites interest you). Some will be paid gigs, and some will be unpaid. I normally don’t suggest writing for free; nor should you devalue your work. Everyone on the Managing Madrid masthead is getting paid on some level now, which I’m happy about. But the reality is, I did a lot of hard work that went unpaid to get to where I am now. But that was easy for me to do because I was in love with writing, and in love with my subjects — Real Madrid and the Toronto Raptors. Sometimes that’s what it takes. I’m rooting for you Emilee. You already know I’ll be in touch with you through e-mail, but this is a general call to you all — I’m rooting for all of you. Never hesitate to reach out.


Everyone here works insanely hard, which I hope doesn’t go unappreciated. Om’s videos take an absurd amount of time to make — they require film study, trimming videos, adding text, overlays. Those things can take days. Lucas spends all day providing us with timely news so that you can discuss it immediately — it’s around the clock. Matt writes full-time for us and adds amazing insight on top of the news he provides in addition to his tactical reviews and watching games all weekend for the loan-tracker podcast. Sam watches Castilla religiously and runs the social media for games, creating graphics for each line-up and goal, on top of his weekly Castilla articles. C-Trick’s weekly tactical reviews are no joke. They require at least an entire day of studying film and adding analytical writing. We have amazing columnists in Gabe and Jess who spend a lot of time working on weekly unique, and original content. Sofi’s art and articles are always a must-read, and I can’t imagine how long it takes to create those amazingly detailed drawings.

(All this is important to lay out, so that you all understand how hard the team works. And we’re hoping the quality of the content can create a platform for high-quality discussion in the comments, and might make fans more sympathetic to the writers’ efforts when commenting.)

For myself, it’s engrained in my life. Weekdays are for content curation — books, columns, podcasts, film study, research. Weeknights and weekends are for watching every game I possibly can so that I have a proper grasp on Real Madrid’s opponents and players on loan. My only breaks come in the afternoon where I do some exercise and pick-up Luka from daycare. (By the way: Luka started walking this week!). So there’s a good five-hour chunk in the day where I don’t work at all, and just spend time with family and friends; but after Luka goes to bed, I get back to work. None of this is laboured, by the way. No one should feel sorry for me. I’m having more fun now than I ever had doing this shit.

If I had to guess, I’d say I spend 50 hours per week being a journalist.

Patron mail from Abdulla Wasti

“So I thought that it was great that you guys touched on the issue of RM not having a female team. It was heartening to read Gabe’s piece on the issue, however, there were no comments under the article. That is in stark contrast to how there is a robust debate in the comments section on almost every other article. I think that speaks volumes. It’s not just the board, but even the fans who are culpable. Keep up the great work!”

To be clear, we just disabled comments for that article, because based on past-precedence (and the reaction on Twitter), people just can’t help themselves putting a negative spin on an important subject. Gabe’s article embodied how we all feel about this situation. Not having a women’s team is a stain on the club. I may write a full-feature article about it after I do some more digging and getting answers from the club over the next few months.

I’ve seen a few takes on Twitter this season proclaiming that Ramos is “the greatest ball-playing defender ever”, and we need to pump our collective breaks here. Ramos’s distribution has been great this season (though, odd timing to say this with some his giveaways against Espanyol). His diagonal long passes have provided ‘hockey assists’ and caused defensive lines to collapse. But, he was misplacing a lot of those last season (like, badly), and fans, as a general rule of thumb, have recency bias — or are so far removed from great historical players that they just can’t see past their own favourite players.

We can’t forget, that some of the greatest central defenders of all-time — Alessandro Nesta, Daniel Passarella, and Franz Beckenbauer — were great on the ball. That extends to some of the other greats like Fernando Hierro, Ronald Koeman, Giussepe Bergomi, and Roberto Ayala, who were all great ball-playing centre-backs. That extends to recent names too: Rio Ferdinand, Gerard Pique, and Mats Hummels. Ramos is definitely in this list. Where he ranks among them regarding this specific trait will be subjective — as all of those players were really good on the ball, and some of them just clearly better when it comes to dynamism, dribbling, and shooting.

Wait, what? How did I not know about this?

For those that want to do away with red and yellow cards, a House Rules mode lets players turn off fouls entirely.

That makes it impossible to get sent off for illegally hard tackling, and also gets rid of the famously beginner-unfriendly offside rule.

Another option, when activated, means that only headed or volleyed goals are counted.
Source: FFT

Truth be told, FIFA ‘18 was my last FIFA. I love playing it too much to continue. I have an ‘all-or-nothing’ attitude. I’m either all-in to dominate the earth, or not play at all. And this year I’m dedicating any extra time to more writing, which means zero half-assed FIFA sessions. But, I can see why this feature would be useful. The amount of accidental red cards I’ve seen (like an accidental slide tackle into the back of another player, which is always a red card.) can take the fun out of the game at times. But, overall, I’d personally stay away from this lawless FIFA street feature. I love FIFA because it’s becoming increasingly more real and requires an understanding of the game to play. Taking away red cards would mean an endless amount of slide-tackles in the box from 11-year-olds.

I take the bullet.

Going to be doing a written mailbag for Managing Madrid. Ask me anything you want. Anything.

Posted by Kiyan Sobhani on Thursday, September 20, 2018

You’re not seeing things — it’s a real thing that’s been happening. Marcelo’s curation stats from the wing-back position are consistently among the top three in the team along with Kroos and Isco. I wouldn’t put Modric in this category solely because he was focused on doing so much defensive work under Zidane to aid the right back. But anytime he could, he would conjure some magical, defensive-splitting passes.

Most key passes from last season

La Liga:

  1. Kroos, 2.4
  2. Marcelo, 2
  3. Asensio / Isco / Bale, 1.6

Champions League:

  1. Kroos, 2
  2. Marcelo, 1.8
  3. Isco, 1.7

Going to be doing a written mailbag for Managing Madrid. Ask me anything you want. Anything.

Posted by Kiyan Sobhani on Thursday, September 20, 2018

Yes. Then I would use some of that money to create a new finger that was better than the God-given finger I lost. The new finger would be able to shoot lasers (for a good cause, of course), transcribe my thoughts into a coherent article with the touch of a button, and launch anyone who says “attacking players shouldn’t be doing any defensive tasks” into orbit — floating in space perpetually alone with their thoughts.

If you’re looking to follow me around Madrid / the Bernabeu / Valdebebas this weekend for the Madrid derby and beyond, give me a follow on Instagram — if you’re into that type of thing.

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