It’s the summer of 2003. David Beckham has just arrived at Real Madrid for £25 million from Manchester United. The latest in a long line of Florentino Perez’s Galacticos, Beckham would have to start. This meant breaking up a successful squad. Claude Makelele was allowed to leave for Chelsea for £16.8 million, while popular winger Steve McManaman also departed on a free for Manchester City. As if that wasn’t enough, forward Fernando Morientes also departed, for a loan spell at Monaco.
Sound familiar? Swap James Rodriguez for David Beckham and the outgoing players for Xabi Alonso, Angel di Maria and Alvaro Morata and you have a description of this summer’s transfer dealings by the club.
On Friday, Perez was happily announcing that ‘for the third consecutive year, Forbes considers us the most valuable club in the world.’ This is an impressive feat, and Perez has played a massive part in making Madrid the money making giant that it is today. The Los Blancos president is a man who is driven by commercial success, but as he was announcing these financial results to the public he seemed completely oblivious to the fact they have come at the expense of the team.
As it was back in 2003, Real have been significantly weakened by their summer’s transfer business – despite large investment. Rodriguez and Toni Kroos would be welcomed into almost any team in the world, but were there signings really necessary? Madrid only started performing well last season when Isco was dropped and the team reverted to a 4-3-3, rather than the 4-2-3-1 with the young Spaniard behind Benzema. This gave Ronaldo and Bale extra space to exploit, as well as allowing them to come inside on their favoured foot. Rodriguez plays in the same position as Isco, and judging from Real’s first few games of the season, brings the same conundrum as his Spanish counterpart.
Di Maria’s departure came against both the player and manager Carlo Ancelotti’s wish. The Argentine was deemed expendable by Perez, despite his man of the match performance in the Champions League final. His departure was necessary in order to cover the Rodriguez and Kroos transfers, but the way Perez handled his exit rankles. Accusing the player of leaving the club for money, and falsely claiming he had offered di Maria a bumper contract, has seen the normal introverted Argentine brand his old president’s words ‘lies.’ Perez has form for doing this to players (more on that later).
One thing di Maria’s departure has done is cause players to speak out against the Galactico project, in a similiar way Zinedine Zidane did in 2003. When Perez took the decision to sell Makelele and buy Beckham, Zidane commented that ‘why put another layer of gold paint on the Bentley when you are losing the entire engine?’ Perez had criticised Makelele heavily when he left Madrid, leaving Makelele to say that ‘he (Perez) was not interested in me because I was not going to help sell any club shirts.’ It would seem he hit the nail on the head.
It was another Ballon d’or winner’s turn to question Perez this season, with Ronaldo saying that ‘I have strong opinions but I can’t always say what I think. But if it was up to me, I wouldn’t have done so.’ Ronaldo was venting his frustrations at di Maria and Alonso’s departures. Interestingly, Alonso was going to stay at Madrid until Perez took the decision to sell di Maria. Only then, did he ask for a transfer to Bayern Munich. Alonso is an intelligent footballer, and clearly saw what effect Perez’s meddling on the team was having.
One common theme at Madrid under Perez’s stewardship has been that players are sacrificed for the commercial benefits. In effect, the ‘less attractive’ players, such as defensive midfielder Makelele, are sacrificed for players deemed commercially attractive – the Rodriguezs, Beckhams and Ronaldos of this world. This attitude towards transfers has left Ancelotti with a lopsided squad for the forthcoming season. His forward line is arguably weaker than last season, with Karim Benzema and Javier Hernandez his sole options. Hernandez is not an upgrade on Morata, and the fact Morata came through the academy means he will be missed by Real fans. To give him his dues, Perez was wiley enough to insert a buy back clause in his deal.
There is also a distinct lack of centre midfielders. Alonso was replaced by Kroos, a good signing, but the Spaniard’s experience and willingness to lead on the field will be greatly missed. Modric, Khedira and Illarramendi are the other options, meaning there’s a distinct lack of a top class holding midfielder. This may be corrected in January with rumours that Real are interested in Christoph Kramer, but by then the Primera and Champions League may be out of sight.
The rest of the squad seems fairly well balanced, aside from Isco and Rodriguez. Here Real have two players for one attacking midfield role – a role that when used does not allow Bale and Ronaldo to flourish. It seems Real have sold the wrong players, as well as investing in the wrong areas of the team. It will be all too familiar to those who saw the same situation unfold in 2003.
In that season Real had probably one of the best midfields in history – Zidane, Figo, Beckham, Solari and Cambiasso. But when that midfield is playing in front of a centre back pairing of Ivan Helguera and Francisco Pavon you are in trouble. That year Los Blancos finished 4th, and exited the Champions League in the quarter finals.
Perez has repeated the same mistakes he made in his first tenure at the club, namely that of placing commercial interests above sporting ones. Until that attitude changes Real will never enjoyed a sustained period of success as they did in the 1950s, or as their arch rivals Barcelona have in the past decade. If they are to win anything at all this year it will be down to Carlo Ancelotti’s managerial nous, rather than anything Perez has done. Either way, he’ll probably sack the Italian anyway.