After a battling 0-0 draw with Levante, Racing picked up their first point in La Liga on Saturday. Off the pitch attention remains on renegade owner Ahsan Ali Syed who courts controversy at every turn, and confronted with crippling debts Cuper faces perhaps his greatest challenge of all in La Liga in attempting to stabilise Racing this season.
When leaving Racing for Sevilla, outgoing Coach Marcelino laid the blame at the door of Ali Syed. After guiding los Verdiblancos to 12th place in La Liga last year, a belligerent Marcelino claimed: “He deceived us all.” In his place arrived Cuper who, for the third successive time, will have to battle against the spectre of relegation from the Primera Liga: first at Real Mallorca, where he narrowly avoided the drop but was ultimately unable to stem the tide, opting to leave in February 2006, then to another club on a downward spiral – Real Betis – where, following a poor series of results, he was sacked after a mere four months in charge.
Yet it was not always like this for the one-time Inter Coach. He first joined Mallorca in 1997 where he led the club to third place in La Liga and a place in the European Cup Winners Cup Final, where they narrowly lost out to Lazio. Cuper owed much of his success to a robust defence which boasted the best record in La Liga, with the man he replaces at El Sardinero, Marcelino, at the heart of the back-line.
Cuper’s achievements caught the eye of Valencia President Pedro Cortes who brought him to the club in the summer of 1999. The Argentinean again built from the back – maintaining the best defensive record in Spain for a further two seasons – as Valencia reached two successive Champions League finals. His burgeoning reputation saw him leave Spain for the San Siro, and while his ability in Europe shone through as Inter reached the Champions League semi-finals, that was as good as it got for the Argentine disciplinarian.
Now at Racing, Cuper, famed for his strict management and demanding training methods, is expected to build from within to improve the existing squad. Out have gone loan signings Markus Rosenberg, Henrique and Giovani Dos Santos as well as long-serving right-back Pablo Pinillos. The departure of Mehdi Lacen, meanwhile, prompted speculation of a move for an anchor to bolster the midfield and Cuper conceded that it is an area of the pitch which would have benefited from strengthening during the transfer window.
With the squad already weakened, Cuper has crucially managed to hang on to first-choice goalkeeper To