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Dec 15, 2005

Luxemburgo's failings were many

Count me among those not the least bit surprised by Wanderley Luxemburgo's flameout at Real Madrid. Having been in the Spanish capital in the aftermath of the 3-0 thumping at the hands of Barcelona, and witnessed firsthand the frustration of the fans throughout the subsequent 1-1 draw with Lyon in the Champions League, the expression "dead man walking" certainly came to mind.

As the Brazilian reflects on the second colossal failure of his coaching career, one would hope he is intelligent enough to grasp the true reasons for his downfall. Luxemburgo's biggest sin was not his tactical ineptitude, or his lack of motivational skills; rather it was his inability, or unwillingness, to appreciate the sensitivities of a fanbase desperate to maintain its identity.

I part ways with many of my fellow Brazilians on Luxemburgo. I've never been all that impressed. He stands out in the cesspool that is the Brazilian coaching fraternity, a festival of incoherency that makes anyone with a shred of competence, a genius by comparison. His record in the Brazilian league is unparalleled, but that only goes so far. This, after all, is the league where Romario is still scoring freely.

But this is not about Luxemburgo's ability. It is about his adaptability. Upon arriving in Spain last January, he made do with the roster he had. But from the moment Europe's "silly season" began, Luxemburgo's intentions became very clear. He sought to surround himself with his own kind, transforming Madrid into a Brazilian colony. Interestingly enough, Florentino Perez was happy to oblige.

Luxemburgo had gained a great deal of clout in a relatively short period of time, on the back of a frankly meaningless, and misleading, late-season run. Despite the presence of Club vice president Emilio Butragueno and Sporting director Arrigo Sacchi, it seemed he was calling all the shots. Luxemburgo barked out the (Brazilian) names and Perez wrote the checks.

Consequently, the club persisted with the Robinho chase, even after the price spiraled out of control, and coughed up another $25 million for Julio Baptista. Madrid also inked Cicinho to a deal, with an eye towards a move in the winter. And these are merely the moves that came off.

Luxemburgo also asked for Santos midfielder Ricardinho, Fenerbahce playmaker Alex de Souza and Cruzeiro defender Edu Dracena. He assembled a gigantic backroom staff of Brazilian coaches and trainers. He even brought over his own nutritionist. Suddenly, Portuguese had become the official language in Madrid. The Spaniards were forced to adapt.

Not surprisingly, the newspapers ate it up. Marca, often seen as Perez's unofficial mouthpiece, splashed pictures throughout the preseason of the Brazilian clan paling around, not a teammate in sight, below headlines such as "Real Brasil" or "Samba style". It all sounded good in theory, but it sure wasn't difficult to spot the trouble ahead. As soon the, still imminently flawed, team began to falter, Madrid became a house divided. Following defeats, the Spanish players routinely bore a "what are you looking at us for, this isn't our team anymore" look, while the Brazilians did what Brazilians do, on the rare occasions that things don't go their way, make excuses.

Even in supposed "happy times", the chasm in the squad was there for all to see, with Brazilians literally shoving Spaniards out of the way to celebrate each others goals and engage in goofy dances, a sight that left many of their own countrymen, including yours truly, embarrassed.

Luxemburgo did not take too kindly to criticism from the local media. He seemed indignant at the thought that any Spaniard would dare question a Brazilian's methods. Despite mounting evidence to the contrary, he insisted he deserved the public's trust, on the sole basis of his nationality. Indeed, Luxemburgo and his staff never missed a chance to flaunt their country's superiority.

In an interview with Brazilian radio station Rede Bandeirantes, Luxemburgo assistant Paulo Campos claimed Brazil would win 20 World Cups before Spain ever won one, for Spanish soccer doesn't compare to that of Brazil. Campos also accused Spanish midfielder, and fan favorite, Jose Maria Guti of feigning injury to avoid the Barcelona clash. Robinho's agent, Wagner Ribeiro, did his share of boat-rocking when he claimed, following a demoralizing defeat to Lyon back in September, that many of Madrid's players were not good enough to play in Brazil's second division. Incidentally, Ribeiro also questioned Iker Casillas' credentials to be Real's starting goalkeeper, ensuring nobody in Spain would take anything he said too seriously ever again.

Eventually, Madrid's fans couldn't take it anymore. Tired of being treated like second-class citizens in their own country, they staged a revolt. The chants of "Fuera" aimed at Luxemburgo in his last couple of home games, could also have applied to the entire Brazilian clan. The message was clear: We want our team back! Perez was left little choice but to pull the plug on his latest project after just four months. And it might not end with Luxemburgo. Roberto Carlos has already expressed his desire to return to Brazil after the season, and the club will be happy to accommodate him. Word is the hugely disappointing Baptista may be used as a pawn to land a replacement. And don't be surprised if Cicinho is loaned out before ever stepping foot in the Bernabeu.

Perez is certainly not without blame. He knew what he was potentially getting himself into. It has become commonplace in today's game for foreign coaches to stock the roster of a club with their own countrymen. Arsene Wenger has certainly not been shy about bringing French players to Arsenal, while Rafa Benitez has transformed Liverpool into the Spanish Armada. But Luxemburgo's situation was different.

While Europe's top domestic leagues have long become the ultimate melting pots, perhaps no country has compromised its national identity quite like Spain. While Italy and England still feature a blend, with homegrown talents flourishing every week, La Liga has become virtually dominated by foreigners. They generate all the headlines, and earn all the accolades.

Such is the reason why Spaniards are fiercely loyal to Raul, for so long their one shining light, and so expectant of Atletico Madrid's Fernando Torres. My time in Spain also coincided with Ronaldinho's coronation as winner of the Ballon d'Or. A common refrain in the newspapers and radio shows was that if Xavi were named Xavinho, he would have garnered far more consideration. Likewise, if Raul were Brazilian, his trophy case would include multiple golden balls.

The Spanish are not exactly gripped by World Cup fever, either. They've become accustomed to disappointment at the international level. This is a nation that derives its self-esteem from the success of its clubs. The last coach to tread over this relationship was Dutchman Louis Van Gaal, who spent his reign in Barcelona coloring the Catalans orange. Despite consecutive league titles in his first two seasons, Van Gaal left in disgrace.

Real Madrid's problems are bigger than Luxemburgo, but one thing is for sure. This Brazilian experiment did not do anybody any good. Spanish players were left to further question their role at the club, the popularity of Brazilian players at the Spanish capital took a dip and the reputation of Brazilian coaches in Europe was certainly not enhanced. In the final analysis, Luxemburgo was simply too arrogant to learn from the past. But others can certainly learn from Luxemburgo. The job description is Spain is not all that complicated. All they ask is that you build a team Spaniards can be proud of.

David Mosse is an assistant editor for ESPN Insider. He can be reached at mosse_david@yahoo.com