Abu Dhabi: Beyond the matches, there’s plenty to talk about behind the scenes at this week’s Fifa Club World Cup in Al Ain and Abu Dhabi. Don’t be surprised if the following topics arise in conversation at press conferences or find a mention in a journalist’s copy for that little bit of extra context. Here are the five things we’ve got on our radar before the quarter-finals got under way on Saturday:
Tapping up Palacios
Real Madrid have had plenty of time to get a closer look at some of River Plate’s players recently. Not only was the Copa Libertadores final between River and Boca Juniors played at Real’s stadium last Sunday, but the two sides could now also meet in next Saturday’s Fifa Club World Cup final in Abu Dhabi. Prominent in conversation will be River’s Argentine midfielder Exequiel Palacios, who is now tipped to join Real in the January transfer window. With Barcelona, Manchester City and Paris Saint Germain all in pursuit of the player, Real stand best placed for secret talks in Abu Dhabi.
An unlikely reunion
If Al Ain do the unthinkable and meet Real Madrid in a dream final, it would secure the unlikeliest of reunions between Real’s Ballon D’Or winning midfielder Luka Modric and Al Ain coach Zoran Mamic. Mamic played for and managed Modric’s former club Dinamo Zagreb at a time when his brother Zdravko Mamic was director. Both brothers were found guilty by Croatian courts this year of siphoning funds from the club and evading taxes. They are appealing. Modric’s transfer from Zagreb to Tottenham was key to the trial and even he was charged with perjury. That charge was dropped.
Solari’s full circle
Real Madrid coach Santiago Solari started his career with Argentina’s River Plate back in 1996, where he won the first three titles of his playing career. Wouldn’t it be poetic if he could now win the first title of his managerial career in the Club World Cup against his old team with Real? Full circles can come back to bite you as well though, so it would also be equally ironic if River were to deny him, going from the team that gave him his playing career to the one that curtailed his managerial career, in one foul swoop.
Gallardo’s last hurrah
River Plate coach Marcelo Gallardo may say he’s got a contract with the club until 2021, but we all know that if he denies Real Madrid from winning the Fifa Club World Cup this week, Europe will come calling. After winning his second Copa Libertadores last week, he’s already being tipped to join other Argentinian coaches in Europe, like Real’s Santiago Solari, Tottenham’s Mauricio Pochettino and Atletico Madrid’s Diego Simeone. If he quickly adds this to his cabinet as well, he will undoubtedly become the hottest prospect in management at a time when teams will be looking to make winter changes.
Everyone’s already predicting a heavily predictable Real Madrid — River Plate final, but they are ignoring the fact that Real might still have to face Kashima Antlers in Wednesday’s semi-final first. Kashima were of course the side that almost upset the giants in the 2016 final, when Cristiano Ronaldo had to bail out Real with two extra-time goals to win 4-2. Ronaldo’s not there anymore though, having left for Juventus over the summer, and nothing would deepen the crisis in Madrid more than a semi-final defeat to the Japanese. Questions would again crop up about why Real didn’t find an adequate replacement for Ronaldo.