CENTURY CITY -- Real Madrid began its preseason work Tuesday morning at UCLA, the first steps, the Merengues hope, toward taking down European champion Barcelona in Spain's La Liga and UEFA's Champions League in the coming season.
They'll be in L.A. until July 22, with games Saturday night against the Galaxy at the Coliseum and next Wednesday against Guadalajara at San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium, before heading to Philadelphia for another match, back to Europe for matches in Germany and England, then off to China for more training and a couple of games.
Superstar manager Jose Mourinho has a serious crush on Southern California: This is the second straight year he's brought Real to L.A., and he previously held preseason camp in Westwood -- with his teams always squired next door in Beverly Hills -- with Chelsea and Inter Milan.
“We are very happy to come, first of all because Los Angeles has become our home, in terms of preseason,” said Mourinho, who won just one of the three desired trophies -- the Copa del Rey, Spain's premier cup competition -- in his first season at Real Madrid. “We feel at home.”
What's the allure?
“The training conditions are good,” he said. “The freedom that we have is also good, because in Europe our life is difficult. Socially, it's difficult. Here the players, they feel some freedom. They can walk in the street, they can be together, they can share some time together, not like in Europe, where they close each other in their own room and they cannot communicate.
“At this moment, I think it's important for the players to build team spirit, to let [new] players come into the group. For me, this is an important part of the situation.”
So are the matches, for which Mourinho, goalkeeper Iker Casillas and forward Cristiano Ronaldo joined Galaxy coach Bruce Arena, forward Landon Donovan and midfielder David Beckham to discuss Tuesday afternoon at Creative Artists Agency. They're part of the World Football Challenge, a series of exhibitions CAA and Major League Soccer, along with Soccer United Marketing, MLS's marketing arm, are producing.
Also part of the 14-match series: the Galaxy's friendly July 24 against England's Manchester City FC.
“It's exactly what you need, it's exactly what you want,” Mourinho said. “I don't like preseason matches to win 10-nil. I don't like preseason matches to have some fun. I like serious matches, and they always give us that [in the U.S.] ... Of course, it's not the priority, but of course everybody wants to win and everybody tries to win every single match, every single tournament.”
The Galaxy are looking forward to taking on one of the world's great clubs -- L.A. surged to a two-goal lead before falling, 3-2, in last year's meeting in front of 89,134 last year at the Rose Bowl -- but they won't pretend it's a meaningful game, even if Beckham, a former Real Madrid star, calls the showdown “really incredible.”
“As exciting as it is,” Donovan said, “our important games are our league games, or [Wednesday's] U.S. Open Cup game [in suburban Seattle], our our [CONCACAF] Champions League games coming [next month and into the fall]. But it's a great opportunity, and we're not Real Madrid, we don't play games like this every week. A lot of our guys will have an incredible experience, and we want to make the most of it. ...
“We play hard, and we want to put on a good show. There's a lot of people that are playing hard-earned money to come watch, and we want to make sure the game is played in the right spirit, that it's competitive, and that it's a good night for everybody, like it was last year.”
Mourinho was pleased to hear this.
“The competition is very, very good,” he said. “What Landon was saying, for me is the pure reality. They play hard, they play strong, but they play fair. They want to win, they don't want to play defensive match, like we have sometimes in Europe at this moment, so everything is fun.”
WORTH NOTING: Donovan had the best line at the news conference, when he was asked with the first question whether these games were a platform to prove that he's still capable of playing in Europe. “I have to say, looking around, I didn't think the first question would be for me.” ... Casillas, on MLS: “It's true, MLS is a league that was born recently, but every time it gets better, more emotional, more support, and it's known worldwide.” ... Beckham, on Mourinho: “He's one of the best managers in the world. To have had the chance to have been coached by him would have been any player's dream, and, of course, my dream as well.” ...
French legend Zinedine Zidane, Real's new sporting director, was on hand. ... The World Football Challenge begins Wednesday night with Manchester United's visit to the New England Revolution (ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes, 5 p.m.). ... All 14 games will be shown on the ESPN or Univision networks. ...
Standings will be kept, with seven of the eight foreign clubs (each playing three matches; only Sporting Lisbon, which plays just once, will not be in the official competition) competing with the MLS conferences. For instance, the results involving the Galaxy (with two games) and Vancouver Whitecaps (with one, Monday vs. Man City) will be pooled for the Western Conference's record; New England, Chicago and D.C. United, each playing once, will form the Eastern Conference mark.