By Simon Hart
"What Madrid were missing" ran the headline on the front page of Marca on Monday. And beside it, the clenched-fisted figure of Thomas Gravesen, the €3.5m Danish international, whose debut in the white of Real Madrid CF had come the previous evening.
Gravesen's arrival at the Santiago Bernabéu is considered as the answer to the club's problems in midfield. Since Claude Makelele's departure, Madrid have lacked a steely presence in that central area and the nickname given Gravesen by the Spanish press, 'El Ogro' (the Ogre), reflects the belief that the dynamic Dane will provide just that.
Yet this new moniker is also indicative of the great misconception surrounding Gravesen, whose shaven head and brawny frame belie the fact he is an outstandingly skilful footballer. Too many observers in England saw Gravesen alongside his Everton FC midfield partner Lee Carsley, another man with the look of nightclub bouncer, and assumed they were two of a kind.
But whereas Carsley was the destructive force, Gravesen was the creator-in-chief. Hence the raised eyebrows back on Merseyside at the prospect of him sitting in front of Madrid's defence and breaking up play. One article in the Liverpool Echo carried the cheeky title "Bald truth is, Madrid have got wrong man" but behind it was a legitimate question about how the Merengues will get the best out of the 28-year-old.
Certainly for Everton his best form came this season, playing at the front of a five-man midfield - with licence to attack. In 21 Premiership appearances, he provided four goals and six assists, and even sent in the most crosses. Previously, Gravesen had struggled for consistency at times, occasionally even in the same game - prompting one BBC pundit to name him 'Mr Gemini'.
Yet, as Denmark coach Morten Olsen says, Gravesen was "one of the best passers in the Premier League" and he sees no reason why the change of role should faze him. "We mostly use him as what we call a controlling midfield player in our system," he told uefa.com. "That means he controls our attacking play but also our defensive play."
Olsen agrees that Gravesen's hard-man credentials are overplayed, saying: "He is an honest guy and of course he has to play with aggression but in the Danish national team he has got one red card and he was very, very unlucky. It's good aggression that he has, and I am sure it is the kind of aggression that Real Madrid need too." And it is an aggression that stems more than anything from Gravesen's enthusiasm.
At Everton, Gravesen was Mr Perpetual Motion, his duties extending beyond passing and dribbling to taking throw-ins and set-pieces, lecturing team-mates and even joking with fans. Sometimes simultaneously, it seemed. Olsen said: "
I think one of the strongest qualities is that he loves football. He never looks at the clock during training - he would train for five hours. He loves to train and to play and to talk about football. I think that kind of guy is good for the team and good for the trainer."
'Very good mentality'
Gravesen may lack the profile of a so-called 'Galáctico' - not many self-respecting superstars would turn up at the Bernabéu in their old club's suit, as the Dane did - but Olsen is sure he has what it takes where it counts, out on the pitch. "He has a very good mentality and he is also technically and tactically a very good player, with a very good passing technique."
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