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Thursday, December 22, 2011
No. 11: Real Madrid returns

By Scott French

Ronaldo
Cristiano Ronaldo was one of many stars Real Madrid brought to SoCal last summer.
Counting down 2011's biggest stories in Southern California soccer ...

Real Madrid made another pilgrimage to L.A., a treat for local soccer fans, of course, if a bit of a headache for the Galaxy.

The Spanish giant is one of the world's most storied clubs, and the presence of big names Cristiano Ronaldo, KakŠ, Iker Casillas, Karim Benzema, Xabi Alonso,† Fabio Coentr„o, Mesut ÷zil, Sami Khedira, Ricardo Carvalho ... it's a dream team, really, with talent matched perhaps only by archrival Barcelona.

The Merengues' biggest star might be manager Jose Mourinho, whose love affair with Southern California has brought so many great sides our way. He annually brings his squad -- Chelsea, then Inter Milan, now Real Madrid -- to Beverly Hills and UCLA for preseason training, and we get a game or two out of it, too.

There's the problem. The Galaxy played Real Madrid last year in front of 89,134 last year at the Rose Bowl. This year's game, a 4-1 Real win at the Coliseum, drew just 56,211 -- a game against Guadalajara in San Diego no doubt siphoning off the crowd. But what's more worrisome to L.A. officials is that Mourinho and Co. consider SoCal a second home, and other global giants have taken notice.

“In the end, to be honest, I can't have Real Madrid coming here every year,” Galaxy president of business operations Tom Payne, whose team also played a summer friendly against Manchester City, said back in May. “I told them that. It means the other guys don't come. They're so … territorial. Like, Man United won't come [to L.A. if Real Madrid does]. That's just the way it works.”

Whether that sways Mourinho is another matter. The man loves The Beverly Hills Hotel, loves the facilities at UCLA, loves the weather and loves the atmosphere. It's perfect.

“Los Angeles has become our home, in terms of preseason,” Mourinho said as he opened Real's July 12-22 camp. “We feel at home.”

The allure? “The training conditions are good,” he said. “The freedom that we have is also good, because in Europe our life is difficult. Socially, it's difficult. Here the players, they feel some freedom. They can walk in the street, they can be together, they can share some time together, not like in Europe, where they close each other in their own room and they cannot communicate.

“At this moment, I think it's important for the players to build team spirit, to let [new] players come into the group. For me, this is an important part of the situation.”

Will there be a three-peat in 2012? Local Manchester United supporters might hope not, but there are worse things than having to watch Real Madrid play every year.