By Greg Demetriou
Recently voted best defender at the UEFA European Football Awards for the second year running, Roberto Carlos is hoping to make it a perfect ten for Real Madrid CF this year.
The 30-year-old flying full-back has identified the UEFA Champions League as the main target this season for Madrid, who have already lifted the European Champion Clubs' Cup on nine occasions. "The team is together," he told uefa.com. "This could be the year of our tenth European [Champion Clubs'] Cup and that is why we have brought in David Beckham so the team can be even stronger to win this competition."
Before the start of Europe's premier club competition next week, Roberto Carlos has hardly been resting. While his team-mates were involved in UEFA EURO 2004™ qualifying action, he was in Colombia as Brazil began their 2006 FIFA World Cup campaign. Unsurprisingly, he started the move that led to Ronaldo scoring the first goal in a 2-1 success.
International obligations meant he was absent for Madrid's first away match of the new league season on 2 September. He was missed as the champions had to rely on a late goal to draw at Villarreal CF. The Sao Paulo-born defender should return for Madrid's home match against Real Valladolid on Saturday.
However, the main concern is to be ready for Tuesday's Champions League opener at the Santiago Bernabéu against Olympique de Marseille, one of three "dangerous" rivals in Group F along with FC Porto and FK Partizan.
Certainly, his coach Carlos Queiroz will be glad to have him back. Queiroz is still finding his feet after replacing Vicente Del Bosque but Roberto Carlos is happy with the way things are developing. "Things are going fine," he explained. "He is a great man and a great coach. He supports me a lot and I am very happy about it."
No more Hierro
Queiroz's arrival is not the only change as the Madrid dressing room adjusts to life without club captain Fernando Hierro, for so long the team's guiding light.
Roberto Carlos prefers to look to the challenges ahead. "Things don't change at Madrid," he said. "The responsibility, the pressure, it never changes. During the week, we have got to train well. In matches, you have to play well and win." On who will fill the hole left by Hierro, he added: "There are many people who can be the leader of the team. For instance, Raúl [González], Guti, myself, [Luis] Figo, [Zinedine] Zidane, Ronaldo and Beckham. We are all captains."
Yet Roberto Carlos is also aware the team is reliant on young talent. The Villarreal match featured an unlikely defence including Francisco Pavón, Reubén González and Raúl Bravo. Fledgling midfield players Borja Fernández and Antonio Núñez were also given a chance to shine, and the latter did just that by scoring the late equaliser. "The balance is fine," Roberto Carlos said. "
There are no problems and we are gradually getting better."
They will need to be at the top of their game this season. With AC Milan's success in May moving them on to six European titles, Madrid are aware the Italians are closing on their record. "I hope we can win the Champions League," said Roberto Carlos. "We want it." The rest of Europe take note, what this World Cup and three-times European Cup winner wants, he usually gets.
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