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Mourinho, Milan and Rooney's 'move to Madrid'

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Phil Minshull | 10:17 UK time, Tuesday, 19 October 2010

The two most successful teams in European club history go head-to-head in the Champions League this week.

And both Real Madrid, who have won the European Cup and Champions League nine times, and AC Milan, who have seven triumphs to their name, go into Tuesday's game at the Santiago Bernabeu in good form domestically.

Jose Mourinho's men are unbeaten and top of La Liga, boasting both the best scoring and defensive records after finding the net 16 times and conceding only three goals.

The 6-1 thrashing of Deportivo La Coruna two weeks ago was followed up by a 4-1 win at a hapless Malaga side on Saturday, results that have certainly helped Real put behind them their rather uncertain start to the season.

Drab goalless draws at Mallorca and Levante hardly acted as a showcase for the new talents signed in the summer but Real's strikers have clearly rediscovered the art of finding the net since then.

Mesut Ozil and Angel Di Maria have certainly proven their worth as summer signings, even if the Argentine took a little longer than his German team-mate to find his feet.

For me, the key to Real's rise to the top of the table has actually been their back four.

Gonzalo Higuain in action for Real Madrid against MalagaGonzalo Higuain scored twice in the weekend win over Malaga - photo: Reuters

Sergio Ramos, who is expected be fit to face Milan after missing the Malaga game with a slight right knee problem, is one of the few members of Spain's World Cup-winning team not to suffer from a hangover after their triumph in South Africa, while Marcelo is becoming a world-class left back.

In the centre of defence, Pepe and fellow Portuguese international Ricardo Carvalho are now habitually eliminating any danger after a slightly uncertain first few games.

However, Milan will be the first serious test for Real this season.

As for Milan, they suffered a shock 2-0 loss at Cesena on the opening day but since then have gone undefeated and risen to second in Serie A, two points behind Lazio.

Like Real, Milan did not always look convincing in their early games but were impressive in their 3-1 win over Chievo on Saturday, with two goals in the first 30 minutes from Pato effectively wrapping up the game.

I am still very sceptical about how people will view Milan's signing of Zlatan Ibrahimovic when we get to May but he was good against Chievo and helped set up both of Pato's goals, although he was unfortunate to be credited with an own goal from a deflection.

If Pato and Ibrahimovic can combine as well against Real and Gianluca Zambrotta and Alessandro Nesta can contain Gonzalo Higuain and Cristiano Ronaldo, perhaps Milan can repeat their 3-2 win of last season in the Bernabeu, when Pato also got a brace.

Real are never far away from transfer speculation and Tuesday's game was given added intrigue by Wayne Rooney's reported unwilingness to sign a new deal with Manchester United.

The perspective from this end of Europe is that Rooney is unlikely to be following in the footsteps of those other United players to have left Old Trafford for the Bernabeu.

Real director general Jorge Valdano gave a diplomatic answer to all the Rooney speculation when he appeared on Spanish local TV station Telemadrid on Monday.

"We have two wonderful players (Ronaldo and Higuain) up front and they showed last season that they are able to score 60 goals. Di Maria and Ozil will help. The question is who is removed for Rooney?"

Interestingly, Valdano did not mention Real striker Karim Benzema, who is expected to leave either during the January transfer window or, at the very latest, next summer.

Other so-called sources at Real have also been quick to provide their own rationale to various Spanish media to dampen speculation about a possible move for Rooney.

He is out of form at the moment (although that is something he can recover), unfit (again, that is something that can be resolved and he is only 24) and too expensive (although Real Madrid certainly have the money if they really wanted to sign him). But the most telling negative against him is apparently the public exposure of his private life.

Real president Florentino Perez knows that his current squad is unlikely to be comprised solely of angelic pious creatures but he prefers his players to keep their personal activities out of the papers.

AC MiIan striker Robinho in action against Chievo.Robinho bagged his first Rossoneri goal at the weekend against Chievo - photo: Reuters

Nevertheless, anyone with a decent memory will remember that Perez and members of his 'team' have a habit of being economic with the truth.

Remember his famous response to a direct question posed by a BBC radio reporter about whether he would sign David Beckham? "Never, never, never," Perez uttered on 29 April, 2003, only six weeks before a deal was formally agreed.

However, on this occasion, it looks like a very good bet that Rooney will end up elsewhere, although Valdano kept the door to the Bernabeu slightly ajar for two good, but self-serving, reasons.

Firstly, to ensure that any of Europe's other top clubs - but especially if Barcelona are in the market for Rooney - will have to pay a good price for him.

Secondly, in the unlikely event that Rooney becomes a bargain basement buy towards the end of his contract in 2012, Perez could yet be tempted to sign the England striker.

On a different note, I was in Belgrade at the weekend for the European Athletics Awards Gala, during which the conversation quickly turned to the abandoned Euro 2012 qualifier between Italy and Serbia last week.

Every single Serbian I talked to was dismayed by the events in Genoa and unhesitatingly condemned the hooligans, aware of the stain that had been left on their country's international and sporting reputation.

It seems certain - and appropriate - that Uefa take some sanctions against Serbia but, since this blog gives me the opportunity to make some personal observations and comments, I would ask Europe's governing body to make it a measured response.

The ultimate sanction is for Serbia to be kicked out of Euro 2012 and possibly even banned from future tournaments. Personally, I would favour replaying the game and deducting two or three points.

Banning Serbia would not achieve anything, in my opinion, as it would penalise Serbia's international footballers, who were clearly not to blame, as well as handicapping Estonia, who beat Serbia 3-1 just days before, as all previous results would be nullified.

A ban would also punish Serbia's decent football fans, despite the country's lurid reputation for football violence.

I do not think giving Italy a 3-0 win by default is the answer either. This, in my opinion, would be unfair to Slovenia, Estonia, Northern Ireland and the Faroe Islands. A 3-0 default victory could give Italy an undeserved advantage in a closely contested group.

Nor am I in favour of the game being replayed behind closed doors. That would, in turn, be unfair to Italian fans, although there would have to be increased security for any replay that is accessible to the public.

I am not in favour of Serbia being forced to play their home games behind closed doors either. Serbia's next home match is scheduled to take place on 25 March against Northern Ireland. Five months should be enough time for the Serbian government and football authorities to ensure that the game goes off without incident.

There will certainly be a lot of interest in this match. The Serbian authorities have made some clear statements about drastically reducing the hooligan element attending games in their country and their actions will be held up to scrutiny when Nigel Worthington's men arrive in an attempt to emulate their Estonian counterparts.

I would especially welcome well-reasoned thoughts about the issue of possible sanctions against Serbia in the space below but please do not make the moderators' lives a misery and please keep the responses related to football.

Other questions on European football to: I don't need your full address but please put the town/city and country where you come from. As this week is a very long blog, I've held over this section.


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