By Jim Wirth
After years of success in Brazil, Vanderlei Luxemburgo finally made the move across the Atlantic in December to become Real Madrid CF's third coach of the 2004/05 season. And prior to the weekend's 2-0 home defeat by Athletic Club Bilbao, the 53-year-old coach boasted a 100 per cent record.
Madrid had not dropped a point since the winter break ended with an unexpected 2-1 victory in a six-minute fragment of a game against Real Sociedad de Fútbol. The match had been postponed earlier in the season after a bomb threat prompted the Santiago Bernabéu to be cleared with the score at 1-1.
"The key to what has happened to us this year is the six minutes remaining of the Real match," said Luxemburgo in an exclusive interview for the official UEFA Champions League television show. "I insisted it was important to start well, to win and create a positive dynamic.
"I would have been happy with anything except a defeat," he added, as he remembered the Zinedine Zidane penalty that clinched the game. "It was important to win because it would create a feeling that we could beat anybody under any circumstances."
Such an indomitable spirit will come in handy tonight as Madrid take on Juventus FC in what is rightly regarded as one of the most exciting ties of the UEFA Champions League first knockout round. And Luxemburgo is certainly looking forward to his debut in the competition.
"I want to win every competition I am involved in," said the former Brazil coach, who won five leagues titles as a manager in his homeland. "However, I understand that the Champions League has got a special kind of glamour. Everybody talks about it all season."
He is far from overawed about taking on the world's most formidable club tournament. "I am aware that the Champions League is the most important competition played in this continent but I know how to handle it as I have been in similar situations [in South America]."
Certainly, his players seem to be more ready to compete at the highest level. Disregarding the result against Athletic, they have been steadily improving since Luxemburgo's arrival, something the coach attributes to a little calmness and a lot of hard work.
"The positive run in the league is down to a bit of calm in the locker room, and maybe a bit of luck," he said. "On second thoughts, I don't believe much in luck, I believe in work. If you work hard, you earn luck."
Work-rate is Luxemburgo's coaching obsession, his gold standard of excellence. "The more you give, the more you get," he said. "You have to feel you have done the most you can do. Nobody can be happy with giving 30 per cent. Win or lose, work is what gives you satisfaction."
Thus, if Madrid are to win the Champions League this week they will do so through determination as well as dazzling skill. As Luxemburgo said: "
We have to get it into our heads that we can still win everything." They will, in effect, be a big club that battles like a small one.
"That is why football is a wonderful thing, because the small teams can beat the big ones," said the coach. "You do not win things with a big name or an illustrious history. To win you have train hard and apply what you have learned." Madrid, it seems, are learning fast.
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