One could be forgiven for attributing Real Madrid’s great performances this season to the usual suspects like Carlo Ancelotti, Karim Benzema and Vinicus Jr., but the real protagonist of the Spanish capital club’s success story is a man who continues to work his magic in the shadows everywhere he goes…..
Written By Onyeka Daniel
Real Madrid made it to the final of this year’s UEFA Champions League, getting the better of English Premier League side, Manchester City in extra time as they came from a goal down to win 3-1, 6-5 on aggregate, after losing the first leg at the Etihad stadium 4-3. One thing that has helped the Los Blancos is the level of energy they seem to exhibit in the closing stages of matches and also in extra time, making it seem like they have been reserving most of their energy for that particular phase of the match. In the second leg of their round of 16 tie against PSG at the Santiago Bernabeu, after conceding a goal and it seemed like they would be knocked out by the Parisians, the team from the Spanish capital dug deep as they scored three second half goals (61st, 76th and 78th minutes). It was sparked off by an error from Italian goalkeeper, Giorgio Donnarumma, who folded under pressure as Real Madrid continued to press them. The goal from the error sparked the comeback that has now become the hallmark of the all white team from Spain in Europe this season.
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In the Quarter-final, they were paired against Chelsea. Real Madrid won the first leg at the Stamford Bridge, 3-1 with another superb performance from Karim Benzema who scored his second hat-trick in as many games in the tournament after putting three past PSG. In the second leg, it looked like they would let the advantage slip after the Blues had raced to a three goal lead to turn the game around and they even had a goal chalked off by VAR as they turned on the pressure, but it took a moment of magic from Luka Modric, whose exquisite pass provided the assist for Rodrygo Goes to score and take the game to extra time. Like a tireless marathon runner, the Real Madrid team did plenty of running and pressing and they deservedly got a goal in extra-time, scored by Benzema in the 96th minute which they held on to in order to see out their opponent.
This win then set them up against Manchester City, another English Premier League side, a much more difficult opponent than their last one, with many bookies favoring the Citizens to progress to the final ahead of the Los Blancos. They deservedly won the first leg at the Etihad stadium 4-3 and it was an end to end affair, possibly due to the fact that the away goal rule had been scrapped from the tournament. The Spanish side knew that they had a lot of work to do in order to get the better of their opponent in the return fixture. At the Santiago Bernabeu, Manchester City scored in the 73rd minute and it looked like Real Madrid had finally met their match but again, they dug deep to score two goals in the space of two minutes (90 and 91 minutes) to take the game into extra time, a familiar territory for them, where the ever reliable Benzema scored in the 95th minute and they held on for another famous win. When the success story of this season is being written, the likes of Ancelotti, Benzema, Vinicius Jr and Rodrygo Goes will surely get a mention but there is another man that deserves mentioning even if he’s not really as popular as the aforementioned names.
One man who deserves a lot of credit for the impressive run by the Los Blancos this season is their fitness coach, Antonio Pintus. It is the incredible work that he has done on the team that is now yielding great results now. Pintus was born on the 26th of September, 1962 in Torino. He was first appointed as Real Madrid’s conditioning coach in 2016 when Zinedine Zidane was the manager. He had a successful first term at the club, and he continued even after Zidane’s departure in 2018. He had a great bond with the players, and he got to work with fitness freaks like Cristiano Ronaldo, who was called a ‘psychopath’ by Pintus for his unreal work ethic.
He has worked in different clubs across Europe including Juventus, West Ham, Sunderland and Marseille, and 21 trophies has been won in that span. He also worked at Chelsea and it was reported that the Chelsea players used to liken him to a sadist when he worked there due to his strict methods. At the end of the day though, he achieved results and kept his players fit. Pintus is a highly disciplined and dedicated coach and he demands the same dedication from his players in training. He is strict with his approach and expects the players to quickly get used to his methods and understand the importance of keeping fit. In order to fully appreciate the work done by Pintus, we need to take a look at his last two previous jobs.
He left Real Madrid in the summer of 2019, to join Antonio Conte at Inter Milan. Some reports claimed that he left due to Zinedine Zidane’s return, who was said to be unhappy with Pintus staying at the club even after the Frenchman’s first departure. Gregory Dupont was appointed as Real Madrid’s fitness coach in the same summer after the Italian’s exit. In the seasons Dupont worked at the Santiago Bernabeu, there were a combined total of 114 injuries, which is at least 25% more than the number of injuries suffered by Real’s Spanish rivals, Atletico Madrid and Barcelona. The frequent injuries to important players such as Eden Hazard, Dani Carvajal, Sergio Ramos, Fede Valverde, and many more players made life difficult for the manager Zinedine Zidane, as he never had the chance to work with the complete squad at his disposal.
It can also be said that this led to the eventual sack of Zidane for the second time. Pintus, meanwhile joined Italian side, Inter Milan to work alongside Antonio Conte. He was highly successful with the Nerazzurri and received plenty of praise for his work which culminated in the team winning the Scudetto last season. The highlight of that season was when they went on an amazing run of form towards the end of the season and pulled clear from the other contenders, putting in some tireless displays, to cruise to their first league title in many years. Sounds familiar right?
When Conte left his job, Pintus also left and Real Madrid quickly took advantage as he was announced as one of Carlo Ancelotti’s coaching crew when the Italian was appointed coach of the Los Blancos at the start of this season. Under Pintus, Real Madrid have had less than half of the injuries of last season despite being two thirds of their way through the season. The plan was that Real Madrid would arrive at the final part of the season at peak fitness, just like it was seen with the title winning Inter Milan side of last season. Just three injuries have struck Madrid since November – Benzema and Carvajal both picked up knocks, while Gareth Bale is still out of action and this can be attributed to the great work done by their fitness coach, Antonio Pintus.
Perhaps, the biggest indicator to the level of impact he’s had on the team can be seen after Real Madrid had defeated Manchester City to progress to the final of the UCL (their games against Chelsea and Manchester City was decided in extra-time) and during the teams celebration, Luka Modric was seen screaming the name of the Italian and was also seen, kissing his bald head in wild jubilation. The Croatian, who at 36 is in the best form of his career, wanted to pay tribute to the man who, together with Carlo Ancelotti had been able to steer the team towards what should be termed a successful season if they should go on to win the UEFA Champions League trophy alongside the La Liga title that has already been won with four games to spare.
In contrast, the stuttering form shown by Inter Milan this season, especially at the latter stage of their season which has seen them fail to catch up and overtake their neighbors, AC Milan at the top of Italian League is another sign of the incredible work done by Pintus on the team last season. Former Real Madrid striker Fernando Morientes had this to say about Pintus, In an interview with MARCA: “He’s like an uncle. Nice, kind, but a bit of a bastard. My competitive weight was 83 kilos and Pintus made me go down to 79 kilos in three weeks when I was in Monaco. I have never been as hungry as I was with him.”
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