Real Madrid's biggest challenger at the Club World Cup will be a team with a Brazilian coach who says he played better than Cristiano Ronaldo.
European champion Madrid and South American champion Gremio, coached by former Brazil forward Renato Gaucho, are the favorites for the tournament featuring the champions of FIFA's six continental confederations and the host nation's league winner.
Renato Gaucho, a star for several Brazilian clubs in the 1980s and 90s, made headlines across Brazil not long ago after saying that "for sure" he played better than the Portugal star.
"I wanted to see Cristiano Ronaldo playing for the teams that I played in my time, many not paying salaries for three or four straight months, and to be a champion like I was," the brash coach told ESPN Brasil earlier this year. "I wanted to be playing for Real Madrid today, playing once a week, on great fields, and with the teammates that Ronaldo has. I really wanted to see that."
The straight-forward coach said that there is "no doubt that Ronaldo is a great player," but the Madrid star is "not as versatile" as he was when he played.
"Ronaldo has a lot of strength, he doesn't have a lot of technique," said the 55-year-old Renato Gaucho. "This current generation didn't see me play. I guarantee that those who saw me play would have a different opinion (about who was a better player)."
A clever and resourceful forward, Renato Gaucho helped Gremio win the Intercontinental Cup in 1983, which was considered the world club title at the time.
He played more than 40 matches for Brazil, winning the 1989 Copa America and being part of the 1990 World Cup squad in Italy. He was dropped from the 1986 World Cup team for disciplinary reasons.
Renato Gaucho also briefly played for Roma in the late 1980s.
Known for his love of playing foot-volley on Rio de Janeiro beaches, Renato Gaucho also attracted headlines recently when he said that he doesn't have to study soccer to be a good manager.
"Those who need to learn can go study in Europe, those who don't can go to the beach," he said after leading Gremio to the Brazilian Cup title last year. "Those who know football will always know it. Those who don't will have to go study it."
Renato Gaucho, whose actual name is Renato Portaluppi, is trying to become the first Brazilian to win the Copa Libertadores both as a player and as a coach.
Real Madrid will be going for its third Club World Cup title in four seasons, looking to increase the dominance of Spanish teams.
Madrid won the title in 2014 and 2016, while Barcelona was the winner in 2009, 2011 and 2015. The Catalan club also was runner-up in 2006. European clubs have won the competition nine out of the last 10 times.
"We've now got the Club World Cup and it's just as important to us as all the other competitions," Madrid defender Nacho Fernandez said. "We're aiming to win it all and we'll be going all out to do so."
But the seven-team tournament has historically received little attention from the top European clubs and their fans. It comes in the middle of the European season and usually disrupts the teams' schedules.
Madrid will have its league game at Leganes postponed, and its preparation for the much-anticipated 'clasico' against Barcelona on Dec. 23 will likely be affected.
Gremio and Madrid enter the Club World Cup only in the semifinals.
FIFA is considering whether to revamp the tournament and expand it to 24 clubs from June 2021.
This year's competition kicked off Wednesday with UAE league winner Al Jazira defeating Oceania champion Auckland City 1-0.
Al Jazira will play Asian champion Urawa Reds of Japan on Saturday, while CONCACAF champion Pachuca of Mexico and African champion Wydad Casablanca of Morocco will meet in the other second-round match.
The final will be played Dec. 16 in Abu Dhabi.
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