I'm With The Team: A Day On Real Madrid

Ufford Real

What's it like to pretend to be a pro soccer player? Our intrepid blogger signed a one-day contract with Real Madrid, then bothered Jose Mourinho and Iker Casillas about movies.

I sit in front of my locker, look into the cameras, and reach for every cliche I know. "We just gotta take it one match at a time," I say. "You practice like you play, and you play like you practice." A crowd of onlookers held at bay by a tensa-barrier and security guards snaps photos of me, dressed in a fresh Real Madrid kit and matching warm-ups. I've just signed a one-day contract with one of the best teams in soccer. "It is what it is."

There are, of course, limits to this contract. Most notably (and probably best for all parties involved), I will not be allowed to play in that evening's match against AC Milan in Yankee Stadium as part of the World Football Challenge, a series of exhibition matches on U.S. soil. But I get the uniform and the temporary locker and a chance to sit down with Jose Mourinho, widely regarded as one of the best managers in soccer history, and Iker Casillas, captain of Real and Spain's stalwart in goal during the country's unprecedented streak in major international competitions. Some highlights not featured in the video above:

  • Mourinho sees himself eventually coaching a national side, but not until the end of his career. He likes the ability to train with his team every day.
  • Casillas understands English fairly well, but doesn't speak it comfortably. What is the appropriate look to have on your face when you have no idea what your interview subject is saying? The camera is rolling. I aim for "pensive."
  • My only Spanish? "Lo siento no habla Espanol" and "¿Cuando es su boda?" Casillas is recently engaged to TV host Sara Carbonero, who is worth a Google image search if you're unfamiliar with her work. I told him that the best thing a man can possibly do after getting engaged is leave the country for a prolonged tour of another continent.
  • As a member of Real for more than a decade, Casillas has played with some of the best players in the game's history. The best he's ever seen? "Thinedine Thidane." Catalan accents are adorable!
  • I ask Casillas who would play him in a movie -- a GOOD movie, I say, not Goal 2. He laughs and says, "A movie about Real Madrid would be really good," then launches into a lengthy response. Mourinho: "No movie." Okay then.
Yankee Stadium with a soccer field is like seeing your art teacher on a date: Miss Oglethorpe is perfectly recognizable, but why is she smiling and wearing nice clothes? The pitch extends lengthwise from left field to the first base line; anywhere above field level, you can clearly identify the infield by the lighter shade of the temporary sod laid down.

Though the exhibition is little more than a preseason tune-up, the level of play doesn't indicate it -- at least on Real's side. AC Milan looked slow to challenge in the midfield, and the team clearly misses the playmaking abilities of Thiago Silva and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Nevertheless, Milan took a 1-1 tie into halftime.

And then Cristiano Ronaldo happened. The preening striker, who received a louder ovation in Yankee Stadium than Mariano Rivera (he flipped the coin pre-game), broke loose for a pair of goals early in the second half to open the flood gates. They looked much the same: a through ball to a streaking Ronaldo, a perfect first touch, an expert strike past the helpless keeper. He left to a standing ovation in the 80th minute, but Real wasn't done, putting two more balls in the net over the final ten minutes for a 5-1 victory.

I spent the game wandering from the field ("Wow! I'm on the field!") to the press box ("Wow! This is awful!") to the grandstand, which at Yankee Stadium is just a few feet shy of the ionosphere ("Wow! The beer really hits you at altitude!"). My one-day contract with Real didn't get me in the game, but the jersey bought me entry to the fan base. After the climb to section 427, I found our seats occupied by a multinational coalition of Real supporters. "Excuse me," I said, pointing to our tickets, "you're in our seats."

"It's all right, mon," the Caribbean man said, moving over. "You're with Real."

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