EYE ON LA LIGA : Madrid to miss Pepe Real bad

Defence is Real Madrid’s major weakness even at full strength but now without Portuguese defender Pepe for rest of the season; their defensive dilemma won’t be any easier whatsoever. The hard tackling towering defender tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, which will put out of action for six months, which subsequently rules him out the 2010 World Cup in South Africa for which Portugal managed to qualify thanks to a play-off victory against Bosnia-Herzegovina last month.

Defence is Real Madrid’s major weakness even at full strength but now without Portuguese defender Pepe for rest of the season; their defensive dilemma won’t be any easier whatsoever.

The hard tackling towering defender tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, which will put out of action for six months, which subsequently rules him out the 2010 World Cup in South Africa for which Portugal managed to qualify thanks to a play-off victory against Bosnia-Herzegovina last month.

The 26-year-old center-back suffered the devastating injury in last Saturday’s match against Valencia and was stretchered off the pitch in tears. It wasn’t a good image even for ant-Real Madrid.

The injury to the defender overshadowed Madrid’s impressive 3-2 win over fierce rivals, minus the superstars Kaka and Cristiano Ronaldo.

News agencies reported how Madrid hierarchy went into a frenzy and called an emergency meeting immediately after news broke that the Portuguese would be out for the rest of the season.

Pepe has become such a vital component not just in the Madrid defense but also in the entire team that the board weren’t even panicking that much when Cristiano Ronaldo picked up his infamous ankle injury.

Madrid have a number of option to consider in Pepe’s position but whoever replaces him won’t be Pepe and until the Portugal international returns to fitness, his absence will be severely felt.

Among the available option include Sergio Ramos or Alvaro Arbeloa, who are both fullbacks. Ezequiel Garay is also another one. But if the situation demands, Florentino Perez could open the checkbook again to sign a direct replacement during next month’s transfer period.

The later appears to be the most logical course of action than moving a fullback to centre back.

Although money is often no problem in the extravagant part of the Spanish capital, Perez may not simply splash the cash to buy just anyone if he doesn’t deem the valuation to be suitable.

And also, unlike in the summer window, he will not have the weeks and months to negotiate the way he likes to do with his buys.

World Player of the Year shortlist proves point

Barcelona star Lionel Messi has the chance to add the Fifa World Player of the Year award to his Ballon d’Or prize for being Europe’s best player.

The 22-year-old, who would be the first Argentine to win the award, has been shortlisted alongside his Barcelona team-mates Xavi and Andres Iniesta.

Last year’s winner Cristiano Ronaldo and his Real Madrid co-star Kaka complete the nominations.

Messi, Xavi and Iniesta formed the creative nucleus of the Barcelona team, which won the treble of Champions League, domestic league and cup last season.

The Argentine forward beat Ronaldo to the European Footballer of the Year award by a massive margin – 473 points to 233.

Now he is the firm favourite to land the Fifa award after coming second to Kaka in 2007 and Ronaldo in 2008.

Two weeks ago, I wrote in these pages indication why I believe the Spanish La Liga is the best football league in the world and like I urged, not very many agreed with me but the mere fact that the five finalist on the shortlist of the Fifa Player of the Year Award all play in Spain goes along way to explain my argument.

England stars Steven Gerrard, Wayne Rooney, Frank Lampard and John Terry all failed to make the shortlist despite being included in an original pool of 23 contenders and my could be far too long before the Premier League produces a Fifa World Player of the Year. Watch this space.

nku78@yahoo.com

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