The curious case of Wanderlei Luxemburgo, Real Madrid and the six minute match

The curious case of Wanderlei Luxemburgo, Real Madrid and the six minute match

On 5 January 2005, one of the most curious managerial debuts in modern footballing history took place as Wanderlei Luxemburgo led Real Madrid out for the first time to compete in a six-minute match against Real Sociedad.

The fixture was the continuation of a match that had originally taken place three weeks earlier, with Mariano García Remón in the home dugout. However, the game was abandoned with the score at 1-1 in the 88th minute when match officials were informed that the Basque terrorist group ETA had warned Gara newspaper that a bomb had been placed inside the stadium, timed to explode shortly after the end of the fixture at 21:00.

It took 10 minutes for the Santiago Bernabéu to be evacuated. More than 70,000 fans exited the ground in a remarkably calm fashion, and the players were discretely shuttled outside of the stadium – still in full match kit including the boots they had been playing in- where they waited, shivering and studs clattering against the tarmac on the Avenida de Concha Espina, on a typically cold Madrid winter night.

The referee at the time, Lisandro Cortes, neglected to tell the players the true reason behind the evacuation out of fear that they might have tried to climb into the stands in order to reach their loved ones and cause further public panic, but it wouldn’t have been hard for them to put two and two together.

The city and club, already scarred by previous a bombing outside of the stadium in 2002 – also perpetrated by ETA – waited in angst, hoping for the best but expecting the worst. The police fastidiously scanned the stadium for hours after the evacuation but were unable to find any sign of a bomb. Fortunately for all involved, it had been nothing more than a grand hoax.

The incident meant that two minutes of normal time and four minutes of stoppage time remained unplayed. Rather than just calling it a draw and moving on from the event, the authorities decided that the game had to be completed at the next available opportunity.

Up until the point of the unfinished match, Real Madrid’s season had been a minor disaster. The expensively-assembled squad, led by García Remón – himself an early season managerial replacement for José Antonio Camacho – had failed to live up to expectations. They were in fifth place in the league, 13 points away from eternal rivals Barcelona who were running away at the top, and to add salt to the wounds they were struggling in the Champions League having just squeezed through the group phase. Sound familiar?

The infamously demanding Real Madrid fans and the equally demanding club president at the time, Florentino Pérez, were becoming increasingly frustrated by the lack of on-field success. Specifically, the missing entertainment factor. Therefore, a 1-0 home defeat to Sevilla on 22 December meant that Remón’s days were numbered.

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Rumour has it that a certain Brazilian contingent within the squad managed to find time to voice their concerns about the current manager to Pérez during a Christmas function whilst also, perhaps, suggesting a suitable – Brazilian – replacement. It didn’t take long for Pérez to heed the advice of his players and, on 30 December, García Remón was dismissed as manager and given a reduced role at the club, replaced by former Brazil manager Wanderlei Luxemburgo.

Luxemburgo’s mandate was clear: he had to unify a squad full of competing egos and restore its confidence while giving the Bernabéu its swagger back by unleashing the innate flair within his star players. Roberto Carlos claimed that his compatriot was going to “bring true football back to Real Madrid”.

Wanderlei’s first challenge, however, was this unique game with Sociedad. He had six minutes to make a mark; six minutes to pick up three vital points and put the Galácticos’ faltering title challenge back on track. On 5 January, on the eve of an important Spanish holiday known as Día de Reyes, the game was continued. The Bernabéu was opened up and fans were invited to come and watch free of charge, regardless of whether they had attended the fixture three weeks earlier or not.

How do you prepare for a six-minute match? Go hell for leather and hope to pick up the three points in a smash and grab? Or sit back, bunker down, weather the storm and take the point? For a club of Real Madrid’s stature, only one option was viable: they were going to attempt to overwhelm Real Sociedad, in a must-win game if they wanted to apply any pressure on Barcelona.

The nature of how Real would play the game was perhaps most evident from the sole change they made. The tall and strong Fernando Morientes, newly returned from an unheralded loan period at Liverpool, replaced the more diminutive Michael Owen.

The authorities decided the match would begin again from the 84th minute and, from the first touch of the ball, Real Madrid went in only one direction – forward. It took barely 20 seconds for them to threaten. A defensive clearance by Los Blancos was met by Raúl. He headed into the path of Morientes who brought the ball down before passing to Beckham who in turn looked to play a through ball to a forward-rushing Ronaldo. The Brazilian was inches away from getting the killer touch but keeper Asier Riesgo was quick enough off his line to sweep up the danger.

The game continued to be played at a blistering pace in probably what was the closest a football match has ever resembled a tennis match. Every time the Basque outfit hit a ball into the Madrid half it would be returned stronger, deeper and more precise. Real Madrid constantly peppered their opponent’s defence looking for chances off second balls where they could take a dig from distance or try to play in Ronaldo, who was looking to get in behind the defensive line.

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After three minutes, the tactic finally paid off. A long ball was punted up the pitch by Guti to the Brazilian who collected and drove into the box before being brought down by a heavy challenge from Mikel Labaka. The referee immediately pointed to the penalty spot and up came Zinedine Zidane to deliver the blow. His well-struck penalty was tucked into the bottom left corner just beyond the reach of a fully outstretched Riesgo.

Phase One of Luxemburgo’s plan had worked to perfection. Ronaldo was brought off and replaced by centre-back Francisco Pavón. Now it was the Madrileños’ turn to batten down the hatches. The Basques looked for an opportunity of their own and long balls were launched forward but there was no way through the solid white wall. The game was over: two points lost for La Real, and three essential points won for Luxemburgo and his squad.

The fans had finally seen the sort of attitude and desire they expected from their beloved team. What’s more, the fierce Spanish press were so impressed with the manner of their victory that they dubbed Madrid ‘La Cofradia del Clavo Ardiendo’ (an odd term that translates very roughly as the Brotherhood of Indomitable Spirit) in reference to their never say die attitude. Luxemburgo had given the Galácticos their mojo back, the squad was reinvigorated and, just four days later, they followed up their victory over Sociedad with a 3-0 away win at cross-city rivals Atlético Madrid.

After this, there was to be no stopping the newly-formed brotherhood as they won their next five matches. These victories propelled Luxemburgo’s charges up the table as they pushed runaway leaders Barcelona until the very end, only losing the league title in the penultimate match of the season, and eventually finishing just four points off the top spot.

Flash forward 13 years and Real Madrid once again find themselves in a similar position with history completing a full circle within that time. The likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema are misfiring, they are in fourth place in the league, 14 points away from leaders Barcelona – albeit with a game in hand – and seemingly short on confidence after some disastrous results, none more so than the 3-0 home defeat to their bitter enemies just before Christmas.

Current manager and calm dispatcher of the winning penalty 13 years ago, Zinedine Zidane, will be hoping to tap in to the ‘Cofradia’ spirit that he witnessed first hand as a player and utilise the turn of the year and the winter break as a platform to make an upward charge in the table.

Perhaps he has reminded his players of a time when he scored the winning penalty in a six-minute match that proved to be the catalyst a previous generation of Galácticos needed in order to turn their season around and restore their honour?

By Dan Parry @thelinesmanblog

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