Sunday 22 April 2018

Irish fixer arranges Real's trip to seaside

Dion Fanning

This evening in the Goldsands Stadium in Bournemouth, Carlo Ancelotti will experience his first game as coach of Real Madrid.

Most people don't expect to see Real Madrid, nine-time winners of the European Cup, in English retirement country on a lazy Sunday evening in July. They don't expect a game against Bournemouth to be Ancelotti's first since replacing Jose Mourinho or to see Zinedine Zidane, his new assistant, and the glittering first team including Cristiano Ronaldo in Dorset.

Then again, not many expected that Ronaldo would make his debut for Madrid against Shamrock Rovers four years ago but the reason Madrid were in Dublin in 2009 is the same reason Madrid will play in Bournemouth tonight.

Five weeks ago, Eamon McLoughlin of Fortitude Sports Management received a call from a club in Spain looking for assistance. The club was Real Madrid and their commercial director was on the phone. "Their game against Galatasaray had gone up in smoke and they needed some help," McLoughlin recalls.

Real Madrid were due to play Galatasaray in their first pre-season friendly but it had fallen through. They needed a club and they needed somebody they could trust to find a club. McLoughlin was the man they called.

McLoughlin had been close to the top Spanish clubs since he was central to the organisation of Barcelona's pre-season in St Andrews in Scotland in 2007 and 2008. The following year, he received a call from a TV executive who asked him if he would be interested in planning Madrid's non-competitive programme in 2009.

Madrid arrived in Ireland in 2009 for 10 days' pre-season work and a friendly against Shamrock Rovers which attracted the world's attention because it was Ronaldo's debut.

Last December, McLoughlin left Platinum One where he had been a director and formed Fortitude Sports, where he continued to represent footballers like Ireland's James McClean.

Madrid stayed in contact and McLoughlin knew what they required in a short space of time. Fortitude is based in Dublin but McLoughlin was in Bristol when Madrid called him and his knowledge of English football led him to Bournemouth, a club he felt would be able to accommodate all of Madrid's demands, including their financial demands. "Madrid said to me, 'You know the script, you know the conditions,'" McLoughlin says.

Bournemouth were happy to be involved, even if the prices the club then announced for tickets disappointed many. The game is a sell-out but the club have been criticised for charging £60 for tickets, denying many the chance to see Madrid play.

By the time the game was announced, McLoughlin had already done the logistical work on the ground, locating the hotel the team will stay in this afternoon and deciding that Bournemouth would be exactly what Madrid needed. Officials from Madrid travelled subsequently to confirm the arrangements but they were happy with everything that was in place.

If Madrid were happy in Ireland four years ago, they do things differently now. "They've changed their model," McLoughlin says. Perhaps a few days in England might have hurried some of Madrid's transfer deals along but if Arsenal want to talk about Gonzalo Higuain or Liverpool need to ensure Luis Suarez doesn't go to another English club, they wouldn't have much time to get a delegation to Bournemouth.

Madrid will fly in and out today, spending the afternoon at the hotel which will be cleared for their short stay before they fly out immediately afterwards, McLoughlin having confirmed that the local airport allows for late-night departures.

Among those expected to play tonight are Madrid's new £34m signing Asier Illarramendi, who has recovered from an injury.

Irish Independent

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