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Page last updated at 06:16 GMT, Tuesday, 24 February 2009

The curious case of Juande Ramos

Uefa Champions League, First knock-out round, first leg
Venue: Santiago Bernabeu Date: Wednesday, 25 February Kick-off: 1945 GMT
Coverage: Score updates on BBC Radio 5 Live with live text commentary on the BBC Sport website

Juande Ramos
Ramos is flourishing at Real Madrid having been handed a six-month contract to transform the Spanish giants' fortunes

By Russell Barder

Few in England would have agreed with Rafael Benitez's assertion that Juande Ramos was a "great manager" in the wake of his unceremonious departure from Tottenham in October.

Having overseen the worst ever start to a league season at White Hart Lane, Ramos was ridiculed by many as Spurs failed to build on their early promise with a series of inept performances from players seemingly lacking direction.

Two months into the campaign and, having disposed of manager Bernd Schuster, Real Madrid came calling as they looked for someone to rescue a rapidly sinking ship - and rescue it Ramos has.

"Real Madrid were in complete confusion and chaos," Spanish journalist Guilleme Ballague told BBC Sport. "Juande Ramos has become the only stable hand in it."

He joined with Real fifth in La Liga - nine points adrift of leaders Barcelona - but since his one and only defeat away at the Nou Camp, Ramos has guided Madrid to nine straight league victories, culminating in Sunday's 6-1 mauling of Real Betis.

Real Madrid, before Juande got hold of them, were awful - properly awful

Former Liverpool striker Michael Robinson
If the six-month appointment was initially met by a sense of bewilderment - the man himself even admitted his surprise - his reputation in Spain remained undiminished and has been further enhanced by his start at the Bernabeu.

"I think Spurs have lost a huge opportunity to have one of the best managers in the world," added Balague. "He has a prestige in Spain which is much bigger than the one he has left in England and he has a prestige all over the world.

"He was a surprise, but he was available and he had the approval of the key members of the squad of Real Madrid.

"They all knew what he had done at Sevilla, always getting the best out of what was available and always doing it with offensive football.

"In a way it was an easy choice, but certainly a surprising one."

Pre-Ramos, Madrid would have been an attractive proposition for any potential opposition and Liverpool fans could have been forgiven for rubbing their hands in delight when Benitez's side drew them in the last 16 of the Champions League in December.

Real Madrid captain Raul
Ramos has the backing of Madrid's senior players, including captain Raul
However, with Wednesday's first leg looming, a side that once leaked goals for fun has now conceded just two since that defeat to Barca in December.

"I was pretty sure when the draw was made that if things didn't drastically change at Real Madrid, then they would not have had a chance," former Liverpool striker Michael Robinson, now a leading football presenter on Spanish television, told BBC Sport.

"I'm not making Liverpool out to be the greatest team in Europe, because they're not.

"But Real Madrid, before Juande got hold of them, were awful - properly awful.

"Now things have changed.

"Juande Ramos came in and has put some order and structure to the team, making it a team that doesn't let in so many goals and from that platform the side is trying to grow."

A mean defence now has a razor sharp attack to compliment it, as 10 goals in their last two games testifies, and the influence Ramos has had on the players is clear.

Under Schuster, Real "didn't train, they had no strategy, no conversation and no tactics - there was nothing," said Balague. It is a damning indictment of where Real were.

But Ramos and his backroom team have swiftly moved to change that culture with an entirely new approach, including vastly improved training regimes, and it appears to be paying dividends.

First 10 league games at Tottenham
Won: 5; Lost: 3; Drawn: 2
Goals for: 24;Goals against: 15
Win percentage: 50%

Start of 08/09 season at Tottenham
Won: 0; Lost: 5; Drawn: 2
Goals for: 5; Goals against: 10
Win percentage: 0%

First 10 league games at Real Madrid
Won: 9; Lost: 1; Drawn: 0
Goals for: 24; Goals against: 4
Win percentage: 90%

"He has done a series of things to change Real Madrid," continued Balague.

"First, psychologically he looked into what was wrong with the side and realised that people like (Fabio) Cannavaro, (Gabriel) Heinze and Raul - all experienced players - needed an arm around the shoulder and told they are very good.

"Secondly he had to improve the defence and once that was sorted the rest was going to come on its own.

"He also implemented more physical training, almost like a pre-season, with the idea of peaking just about now - you can see the benefits."

Such success in a short amount of time gives credence to those who never doubted Ramos' ability, so why did he fail so spectacularly at Tottenham?

His supporters will point to the north London club re-signing the likes of Jermain Defoe and Robbie Keane, two players Ramos was reluctant to let go during his time in charge, while his detractors will mention the language barrier, resulting in communication problems on and off the pitch.

"There are so many reasons," said Balague. "He identified problems with the team and players that had to be signed, but the people in charge did not always follow his decision.

"The obsession of the club seems to be more the business than improving and becoming a top four club and some players acted behind his back.

"He is also partly to blame because he didn't understand the British football culture which, now looking with hindsight, he realises he probably could have done things a little bit differently."

It remains to be seen whether Ramos will stay beyond his current six-month deal, even if he is successful in bringing some silverware to Madrid.

Elections for the vacant presidency are due to take place in June and a new president is likely to want to bring his own man, although it will be difficult for any candidate to ignore the impact Ramos has made.

However, if he were to leave there would be no shortage of offers for his services and even a reunion with the Premier League may not seem as far fetched as it did a few months ago.

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see also
Real Madrid v Liverpool
23 Feb 09 |  Europe
European football photos
21 Feb 09 |  Europe
Barcelona 2-0 Real Madrid
13 Dec 08 |  Europe
Ramos replaces Schuster at Real
09 Dec 08 |  Europe
Jenas praises former boss Ramos
08 Dec 08 |  Tottenham
Ramos rues Keane & Berbatov exit
28 Oct 08 |  Tottenham
Ramos loses his spurs
27 Oct 08 |  Tottenham
Tottenham sack Ramos for Redknapp
26 Oct 08 |  Tottenham

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