Madrid, Money & Greatness
So Real Madrid have completed today’s 30 million pound move for an Alonso, and a Xabi one one at that. I believe this brings their total summer expenditures to all of the Euros and every pound, and you know what? I’m really ok with this. I recognize that the done thing is to write 2000 words about how distortion of the transfer market will destroy the sport, but fuck it- it’s Real Madrid. One of their roles in this sport is to do audacious, insane bullshit like this just to answer the question of what would happen if someone signed 5 billions Euros worth of high-profile diva midfielders who all demand the ball and rarely tackle, and then turned them loose in a media cauldron with some of the most demanding fans in the world who will require a blood sacrifice of one of them for every day the team’s not topping the table. And after reading article after article after ARTICLE pertaining to Arsenal about the fantastic virtues of fiscal prudence and how the true meaning of football is a healthy balance sheet, it’s almost cheering to see a club out there which so manifestly doesn’t give a shit about immediate profit, or public opinion outside the Bernabeu, or reason, or tactics, or common human decency. A team which just says: “fuck, there’s some money left. That can’t be right. Who else can we buy who’s not a defender? Ribery? Drogba? …Batman?” A team which is already setting up the Iker Casillas & Raul vs. Cronaldo & Kaka death match. A team which is going to try to win every game 4-3. A team which looks at the New York Yankees and thinks: a good business model, but why half-ass it?
If you’re a long-standing La Liga watcher, and a Barcelona/Athletico Madrid/Valencia/Sevilla etc. supporter, I can understand why you’d be pissed off about this. I’m not. I follow the English league and to a lesser extent the German league, but I tell you what- this year I’m watching the Spanish league too and I’m going out of my way to catch Madrid, because whether Madrid have assembled the greatest team ever or (as is far, far more likely) the greatest high-profile flop since the last pack of Florentino’s Galacticos, there’s simply no way this can’t be entertaining. The first time Ronaldo puts a free kick into orbit and Wesley Sneijder gives him the hairy eyeball; the first time Raul boofs a perfect chance created by Kaka; the first time Xabi Alonso realizes he’s on the bench because he’s the 5th option; the first time someone notices Arjen Robben hasn’t actually tried for the last 3 weeks, and has in fact taken to doing the crossword during matches; the first time in mid-February that everyone realizes Rafael van der Vaart is still on the roster; the first time Iker Casillas sees 40 shots in a game; the first time everyone realizes that Benzino is horribly overrated as a striker; these and a thousand other moments which we all know are coming are just delicious to anticipate. I feel like I should work on my Spanish just so I can follow how insane Marca is going to be.
And you know what’s worse? Maybe it’s being a New Yorker, maybe it’s my rabid hatred of Farcealona and their witless international supporters (Catalans who support them, great; overeducated dorm room Marxists pretending to slum it- no), but a huge part of me really hopes Madrid can pull this off. If they win La Liga by like 30 points, Frankfurt stay up, and the Champions League final is Arsenal over Madrid, it may be the most satisfying season I’ve had in any sport since…either Rangers 1993, or the Giants in their Super Bowl years. And you know what? If you’re one of those people who claims to love beautiful football (by which most people mean attacking football), you should probably join me- because if this thing actually works, it’s going to be one of the most mesmerizing and memorable athletic achievements of modern times. Madrid have to come forward and have to blow people’s doors off to win; they have no plan B, no 4-5-1 to play it safe, no capacity to slow it down and grind out ugly but safe wins against the low-level sides. If they’re winning 1-0 they need to get it to 2-0 and if it’s 2-0 they need 3-0 to be safe, because they are going to get scored on a whole bunch. It’s going to be a whole season of end-to-end stuff, the Madrid attack coming on like a summer downpour and disappearing just as quickly when every decent side counter-attacks against them, over and over for the full 90. Every week could be the game of the year.
Furthermore, with legitimately over 250 million Euros spent this summer and so many world-class players in the side, they have left themselves with zero excuses for not achieving success at every level. The reputations of everyone involved with this insane enterprise are on the line, and in a way I admire the courage of that. Obviously money is the major driving force here for the players but it’s not as if Ronaldo was making nothing at Man U or Kaka was going broke at Milan, and yet they both chose to come to this pressure-cooker situation at the biggest club in the world to try and play with each other, knowing that they’ll be the first two people to be criticized if it all goes sour. There was pressure on Madrid’s bosses to chase down Barcelona of course, but if Madrid had spent half of what they actually did this summer- 125 million Euros, for God’s sake- it would have been considered a lavish outlay and more than enough to satisfy fan pressure and business concerns. This isn’t the last Florentino Perez era; there’s not nearly the same push on to try and expand the club’s worldwide profile, nor is there the cushion of the Galacticos experiment not having been tried before. That they chose to do more when they didn’t have to, to put pressure on themselves and take the chance to be all-time great and not merely good enough, or else fail and be a debt-ridden laughing stock, deserves a little bit of respect. In a sport built on spontaneity and trying things out to see if they’ll work, the biggest gambler and experimenter of them all is Madrid’s president.
Fans of every sport talk all the time about money, and how it shouldn’t just be about money, and wouldn’t it be great if teams would just try to win and not care about money; well, Madrid are that team or as close as we’re going to see to it in this world, even if their reasons and motives are justifiably suspect. They get their funds through shady means, their club history is fraught with unsavory connections, they use their financial clout to crush competition; but they also take the chance on turning out something amazing, something we’ll all tell our children about the way prior generations told us about Di Stefano and Puskas. It’s in their DNA; they can’t help but be true to their nature. And the fact of the matter is that this sport would be much more boring without Madrid being Madrid- their quest to dwarf even routine greatness is the biggest and best and most intriguing story of the coming season, and it beats the hell out of wondering if Manchester City can half-ass the same strategy all the way to the towering heights of 4th place. Bring on the circus; I’m ready for a show.
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