The Herald (Harare)

Zimbabwe: Galacticos' Showtime

Madrid, Spain — SPANISH giants Real Madrid could make an historic tour of this country, for a one-off date against the Warriors, if negotiations between the club and Zimbabwe Tourism Authority officials, which started here on Saturday, bear fruit.

The blockbuster football club, which was founded in 1902 and turned 110 years last year, is the most successful team in the history of the European Cup, with nine titles, and has won the Spanish league title on 32 occasions.

Real Madrid were named the richest football club in the world, in terms of annual revenue, after the massive institution generated 512,6 million euros last year.

They are ranked the second most valuable club in the world, after English giants Manchester United, with the Spanish team worth about 1,8 billion euros. The two giants meet in a heavyweight Champions League second round tie this month.

There is a very good chance that Zimbabwe could play host to Real Madrid, during the European football season break in July, after ZTA officials and representatives of the club opened talks here on Saturday.

ZTA chief executive, Karikoga Kaseke, met representatives of Real Madrid for about an hour, on Saturday afternoon, in the preliminary negotiations that could see the galacticos coming to Zimbabwe for a tour.

The meeting was held at the Zimbabwe stand at the FIRTUR International Travel and Tourism Exposition.

Kaseke and his Real Madrid counterparts agreed to immediately establish a technical team to work on the logistics of thrashing a deal that would see Real coming to play a match at the National Sports Stadium.

"The negotiations are constructive. Zimbabwe is a good country and we are interested in bringing our first team to Zimbabwe but we need to engage further on the technicalities," a spokesman for the Real Madrid representatives said through an interpreter.

"It has to be off-season, during our break between June and July."

The negotiations came three days after the Zimbabwean delegation to the FIRTUR, led by Tourism and Hospitality Industry Minister, Walter Mzembi, watched the El Classico Copa del Rey match between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona at the Santiago Bernabue Stadium on Wednesday night. The heavyweight contest ended in a 1-1 draw.

Speaking after the meeting, Kaseke said they had insisted on Real Madrid bringing a full-strength team to Zimbabwe for the tour.

"I have emphasised that we need a full strength Real Madrid with Cristiano Ronaldo, nothing less," said Kaseke,

"We are, therefore, going ahead with technical aspects as per agreement.

"Remember, we brought Brazil in 2010 and there is nothing that can stop us from bringing Real Madrid."

The invitation to bring Real Madrid to play in Zimbabwe comes under the ZTA Perception Management and Celebrity Host Programme.

The programme has been used in the past to bring Brazil and international music superstars like Shakira, Akon and Sean Paul, among others.

The ZTA programme has helped change perceptions on Zimbabwe, especially in Europe, where the media and politicians have always wanted to paint the country as an unsafe tourist destination.

Real Madrid's arrival in Zimbabwe, in the event everything goes according to plan, could be a major event that could draw interest from beyond the country's borders with the presence of the Spanish side likely to generate spectator in South Africa, Zambia, Botswana, Namibia and Mozambique.

Coach Jose Mourinho, who could be on his way out of the club if he fails to win the Champions League in the wake of a poor campaign in defence of their league title and a breakdown of his relationship with some key players, is a major drawcard on his own.

Mourinho has an army of fans throughout the world after charming the football family with his coaching brilliance, which has seen him win league titles in Portugal, England, Italy and Spain and the Champions League with Porto and Inter Milan.

The Portuguese master tactician, however, is a controversial man who thrives in challenging authority and has ruffled some feathers in Madrid by dropping Spanish World Cup-winning skipper, Iker Casillas, to the bench this season.

Mourinho's countryman, Ronaldo, the world's most expensive footballer, is also a global attraction on his own.

The Portuguese flyer, who left Manchester United to join Real Madrid in a record-breaking deal, has for years fought an intense battle with Argentine superstar, Lionel Messi, for the right to be called the best player in the world. Ronaldo has an army of female admirers, who simply like him for his dashing looks, and an equally huge army of male fans, who love him for being such a fine footballer.

Three years ago, Ronaldo and his Portuguese national team were in South Africa where they took part in the Fifa 2010 World Cup.

Real Madrid also have other stars, who have millions of fans around the world, and they include German midfielder Mesut Ozil, Frenchman Karim Benzema and Argentine forward Angel di Maria.

Ghanaian international midfielder, Michael Essien, also plays for Real Madrid and has a good following, among local fans, who idolise him for his exploits at English side Chelsea.

Should the ZTA pull off their one and bring Real Madrid to town, it would be their second major coup, in three years, after they brought Brazil to Harare, against all the odds, for a tie against the Warriors in the countdown to the 2010 World Cup show.

Real Madrid have a big following in this country, just as they do across the world, and they regularly boast to be the biggest football club in the world, something that Manchester United also lay a claim on.

The Spanish giants have won three world club titles, two Uefa Cups, one Uefa Super Cup and have been hosts to a battery of some of the finest players to play the game - Alfredo di Stefano, Puskas, Ronaldo (Brazil), Luis Figo and Zinedine Zidane.

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