Today is one of those rare occasions when the Sports papers in Barcelona and Madrid are actually in agreement with one another: both Marca and Mundo Deportivo claim that Rafa Benitez is being tapped up as the next manager of FC Barcelona, while everyone agrees that it's curtains for Ronaldinho…
The Barcelona sports daily El Mundo Deportivo leads with a front page photo of Benitez and the revelation that the Liverpool boss is Joan Laporta's preferred replacement for Frank Rijkaard should the Dutchman leave Barcelona this summer as expected.
The Barcelona board are reportedly divided over who should succeed Rijkaard in the Camp Nou dugout, with Vice-presidents Marc Ingla and Ferran Soriano both said to favour the appointment of the former Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho. However, the Portuguese coach would be an unpopular choice for many among the Barcelona camp because of his less than exhilarating brand of football and his outspoken nature. Johan Cruyff's high profile opposition to the potential recruitment of Mourinho adds credence to the claim that it is Laporta who stands in the way of the 'Special One' becoming manager of FC Barcelona in the summer. Quite simply, if Johan Cruyff feels that Mourinho is completely unsuitable for the role, then you can be pretty sure that Laporta feels that way too.
Consequently, MD are claiming that Laporta has made contact with Benitez via a third party , FIFA agent Manuel García Quilón, with whom the Liverpool manager has a working relationship, to establish the viability of Rafa's possible recruitment. MD claims that the response has been positive and that a deal could be worked out with Liverpool.
MD claims that Mourinho remains the favourite to succeed Rijkaard, but that Laporta is said to have achieved his objective of lining up an alternative that would perhaps satisfy the numerous opponents to Mourinho amongst the Catalan press.
It is the latest revelation in what has seen a bizarre rewriting of recent history in the Barcelona sports papers who have slowly warmed to the idea that Mourinho just might be the solution. It probably has a lot to do with the fact that, according to recent polls, their readership are quite taken with the idea of seeing Jose return to the club where he once worked as an assistant to Bobby Robson.
Consequently, papers like MD and SPORT have been gradually rehabilitating Mourinho's image in the Catalan press as the only man who can whip Barcelona's underperforming stars in to shape, restore discipline and get the team playing with some pride again. It all makes a major turnaround since the days when, as coach of Chelsea, Mourinho was pilloried in the same papers as being a purveyor of 'Anti-football' who's ultra-defensive spoiling tactics and controversial manner were the antithesis of the 'Barça way'.
Mourinho's total metamorphosis from antichrist to saviour and proof, if ever it were needed, of these sports papers' loose grip on reality - and La Liga Review would love to hear what you think - is the claim in MD that: "Most curious of all is that Benitez is a coach who prefers a brand of football far more defensive and much less spectacular than Mourinho."
La Liga Review thinks that quite mad - what do you think? Take part in our poll
Just as disconcerting is the fact that the sports papers in Barcelona and Madrid seem to agree on just about everything today. Marca also runs with the story that Benitez is Laporta's preferred choice, claiming that Rafa has turned down an offer from Bayern Munich in order to fulfill his ambition of taking over at the Camp Nou. However the Madrid based paper leads with the demise of Ronaldinho. The claims that the Barcelona hierarchy have finally had enough of Ronnie and blame the player's fondness for partying the night away as the reason behind his dramatic loss of form.
Marca states that "The Barcelona board have full knowledge of the nocturnal escapades of Ronaldinho. He is not in the right physical condition to train with a professional football team because his partying is incessant. There is conclusive proof of this and numerous witnesses. He is of no use to Barcelona."
Back in Catalunya, and SPORT agrees: bringing us the verdict of a special board meeting convened yesterday to discuss what should be done with the Brazilian Pete Doherty. The paper claims that Barcelona have decided that they must get rid of him - the problem is they don't know how. At least Ronaldinho is in esteemed company: What is it with these Latin American stars like Romario, Ronaldo and Maradona and their inability to resist the temptations of the Mediterranean city? (Kluivert didn't even have the excuse of being a Latino and he couldn't resist getting stuck in).
SPORT writes: "Over the last three years the club have turned down dizzying offers from Chelsea and Milan. The reality is that today things are different: realistically who would make a big offer for the Brazilian forward? If one were to be made, then Barcelona's choice would be simple". SPORT continues, that if no offer is forthcoming then the club would even consider releasing him for free; Barcelona would have to pay Ronaldinho 16 million euros between now and when his contract runs out in June 2010 and SPORT claims that the board feel that they could save themselves that money by letting him go for nothing, as they did with Rivaldo. The paper claims that the Barcelona board reason that they have recouped what they paid PSG for Ronaldinho in 2003 and that his performances over the first three years more than off set that expenditure.
Meanwhile, as all of this has been going on, life on planet AS continues as normal and the Madrid based sports comic decides to ignore all of the above and remind everyone that there is, in fact, an international match taking place this evening between Spain and Italy. Seeing as it's AS, what can only be an attempt to wind up the Catalans rather than praising Barcelona, the paper informs us that :" With 117 international players, no other club has provided more for the Spanish national team than FC Barcelona. The Catalan club had given more players to Spain than any other in history - closely followed by Real Madrid with 113 players."
AS is still fuming over the news that a Barcelona under 10's side failed to honour the Spanish national anthem a couple of days ago but it is unlikely that it's publication of the above statistic will convince the Catalans to change channels from their favourite soap opera to watch their players out on loan with someone else's national team this evening. The Madrid based paper gets even more irate with Joan Laporta who is quoted as claiming "There is no divorce between Barcelona and Ronaldinho" and "Barcelona is in Catalunya, which is a country in between France and Spain."