¡AY, CARAMBA! Scorchio. The much hyped battle of the Bernabéu supremo’s sidekicks was a feisty affair.
Honours were even as Aitor Karanka and Paul Clement, both former assistants to Real Madrid managers went head-to-head and their teams went toe-to-toe and Derby grabbed a late leveller in a 1-1 draw.
It was an eagerly anticipated encounter as the second tier proxies for Jose Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti shaped-up against each other, promotion rivals but also cyphers for shadows of big egos elsewhere.
It was one of the narratives touted in the Championship trailers, a must-see managerial showdown heavy with sub-text. And round one was fantastic fare.
Blocked: Ince’s free-kick got past the wall but Dimi saved superbly
It was an absorbing close fought draw, a tense and at times tetchy game that was tactically on a knife-edge and in the balance until the death, a game that was intense and exciting played with spirit and energy and between two very good sides.
While the game was billed as the season’s first big six pointer and the atmosphere was intense from the off. Derby pressed high and hustled Boro and forced mistakes and some poor first touches in a frantic first 15 minutes piled the pressure on the visitors.
Boro dug deep and battled with determination with Ben Gibson making a couple of cracking high risk tackles in the box to block Ince and Martin while Dimi made two great saves from a Ince free-kick and a Martin header. It looked like job done until two minutes from time when Bent flicked on a cross and Russell fired home. It was a sickener but when the dust settles and the tempers settle a point at Derby will be seen as a good one.
And to be fair, while the tides swept from end to end and Boro had a major foothold after Kike scored the opener – his sixth in five games including pre-season – the intensity of the game and atmosphere in the ground never dipped for a second.
And tempers bubbled on the pitch as tackles flew in and a flurry of yellow cards before the break punctuated a tempestuous contest. You know things are getting heated when Grant Leadbitter is gesturing his team to “calm down”
It was the usual emotionally draining, nervous affair we have come to expect from Boro. Stomachs were in knots. Or mine was anyway. But then we have been so permanently wound up for what feels like a year of slow twisting and when we all finally relax and our guts unravel we will take off like a host of cartoon helicopters.
But Aitor looked relaxed and composed in what appeared to be a tactically chosen tracksuit. It sent out strong signals that this game was no big deal. He’d come casual. In fact he spent most of the game strolling around the technical area nonchalently whistling while Clement looked stiff and formal in his suit six yards away.
Smart. Casual. Aitor chills in the technical area as the game heats up.
Neither man sat down for the entire 98 minutes in a symbolic joust of body language – and it was only in the last 10 minutes that Clement became animated – but you can bet that under the surface both were totally wired and totally engaged with every single incident and tactical tweak as it unfolded. It was fascinating to watch them. And the game. And it will be intriguing to see how that particular battle pans out over the season.
The pair have more in common than just being recruited from the Real dug-out. Having spoken to the Derby press corps about the immediate if under-stated impact Clement has had on Derby a lot of familiar themes emerged.
They are both studious coaching technocrats who micro-manage the whole club from the bright lights and the shop window to the smallest aspect of the back room set-up. hey both have a composed, scientific, analytic approach and rarely boil over on the touchline or use volume and gesticulation as a substitute for clear instructions to adopt pre-prepared tactics.
And in their every day dealing with staff, press, sponsors and the public they are respectful, measured and articulate in behaviour while expecting high standards or professionalism.
Their Madrid mentors are very different characters and their football ethos is different too, but the culture at the club is instilled in everyone no matter where they are on the footballing spectrum.
Both opted to start their club careers as No 1s in a lower league – but with well resourced clubs – after taking the scenic route.
Paul Clement may not have been a big name player but he has pedigree. His dad Dave was a QPR and England defender while brother Neil played for year at West Brom. He played in non-league football with Bansteads Albion and Corthinian Casuals then after taking up coaching worked his way up through Chelsea’s Academy to become a first team coach. He certainly caugh tthe eye of some big hitters at the clubs and when Ancelotti left Stamford Bridge he took Clement with him, first to Paris St Germain then to Real.
Karanka also took the scenic route, opting not to jump straight into the dug-out with La Liga sides in favour of learning the ropes properly, starting at the the Spanish FA national set-up where he worked his way up the youth groups before being head-hunted by Mourinho at Madrid on the recommendation of Figo and Zidane.
Like Karanka, Clement aims to reorganise not just the team but the entire club. He brought with him from Madrid a trusted posse of analysts, conditioning and tactical coaches and set about transforming the rhythms and routines of training and matchday preparation.
He also demands tactical intelligence from his players and has spent pre-season trying out shapes and systems in friendlies to see what his squad are capable of and what the best fit formation is. It may take a while for him to settle but he has a good squad and they will evolve into one of the Championship big hitters without doubt.
And there have been other changes at Derby too: a new chairman and new suits behind the scenes as well as a complete new dug-out and seven new players. The Rams reporters say it feels like the beginning of a revolution at the club and are cautiously optimistic.
That echoes the feeling at the Riverside when Aitor swept in with his all encompassing “philosophy and methodology.”
Boro and Derby have built up quite a spiky rivalry in recent seasons with our visits there having a big night-time atmosphere and games being high stakes edgy. Fans now see each other’s club as the major competition and a benchmark, for squad depth and spending, league position and results. There is respect but a fierce competition.
This personal dug-out duel will add fuel to that.