When I wrote, under a cloud of euphoria, about Real Madrid’s triumph in the 2006-7 La Liga, I warned against resting on their laurels (something that Los Merengues do like few other teams), and predicted that wholesale changes would be necessary if the club were to keep up with their rivals during the coming season.
Since that wonderful evening, Barcelona have added four excellent players (Eric Abidal, Gabi Milito Yaya Toure and Thierry Henry), prompting comparisons with the dream team of the early 90s (another Dutchman in charge, another frightening forward quartet, for Pep Guardiola read Iniesta or Xavi), and leading this last to remark that he felt that this was the strongest Barça squad to have ever existed.
Barça are not the only team to have added to their ranks; Villareal, Sevilla (expect their title challenge to be even stronger next season, so long as Alves is not sold..), Atlético Madrid, Valencia and Real Zaragoza have all added quality and numbers to the squads, with the signings of Juan Mata (one of the few veritable bright sparks in the Real Madrid Cantera) and Arizmendi significant for Valencia, whilst Zaragoza have made several notable coups, including Paredes, Oliveira, Ayala and Matuzalem. How does Real Madrid’s transfer activity compare to that of their adversaries?
On Wednesday I read the news that in my eyes ushered in a new era in the modern history of Real Madrid C.F. No, this has nothing to do with Golden Balls, Mr David Beckham, last of the galácticos (and, I might add, some years ago, last of the Mohicans). The crucial development of which I speak concerns an entirely different group; a group of players so patently out-of-place in the Real Madrid squad, such a gulf away from the famous galácticos, that I have baptised them the erráticos.
The news about which I am talking is the deal agreed between Real Madrid and Real Zaragoza taking Francisco Pavón to Zaragoza; Pavón joins fellow deadweight erráticos such as Raul Bravo, Alberto MejÃa (a good player, I would concede, but never Real Madrid class), Pablo GarcÃa and Diego López (again, I am forced to aver that López is a very good goalkeeper, but never good enough to challenge Iker Casillas), in leaving Los Vikingos for lesser clubs.
With the slag having been siphoned off and Real’s coffers being in excellent condition, it is incumbent upon Bernt Schuster to replace those who have been found wanting with talented and enthusiastic newcomers. However, the only really notable signings this summer have been Pepe, Metzelder and Saviola; the former two will be responsible for shoring up a defence that, although not terrible, often looked leaky (particularly after the sad departure of Helguera), whilst the latter will offer further attacking variety.
Good as these three may be, they are hardly on the same quality as the blaugrana additions, especially considering Metselder’s dodgy injury record. The collapse of the deal for Christian Chivu could certainly come back to haunt Schuster and Calderón, as the Romanian is certainly a player of the calibre necessary for such an important club.
Whilst rumours abound regarding Reyes, Robben and Drenthe (the Dutchmen being infinitely better players, in my opinion), and whilst Marca continue to fabricate to their heart’s delight (Iniesta to Real Madrid??), I continue to be worried by the lack of reliable transfer speculation surrounding the club.
Whom exactly can Real sign to improve their dwindling squad? A significant worry must be the midfield area, where Real have just four recognised professionals, along with the exciting youngster, Esteban Granero: Diarra, Emerson (who will see less playing time this coming season, if he does not depart for pastures new), Gago and Guti; it is also inescapably conspicuous that all four are central midfielders.
If we examine the current Real Madrid squad (listed below for consultation purposes), the following possible first team permutations emerge, with a huge amount of diversity available up front, where I feel that Robinho in particular is likely to come of age in the coming season. However, all of the possible selections reveal a massive imbalance in the side, particularly in terms of wide defenders and midfielders.
Marcelo Cannavaro Pepe Cicinho
Van Nistelrooy Robinho
Marcelo Pepe/Cannavaro/Ramos Cicinho (attack)/Salgado (defense)
(select 2) (select 1)
Diarra Guti Gago
Van Nistelrooy Robinho
I see only bit part roles for Cassano (if not sold), Emerson, Metzelder and Soldado.
Which players do you think Schuster ought to bring in to add verve and balance to the squad? How would you arrange the current players to get the best out of them personally and tactically?
My opinion is that at least two wide midfielders need to be signed, one for each side, as well as another right-sided midfielder. Real are well stocked at right-back, but another left full-back is a prerequisite; Marcelo, if not loaned out again, cannot be expected to perform at a consistently high level in his first full season at the club, especially given his age. Another creative presence in midfield is also a requirement, as Guti is now ageing, and tends to disappear from games. Up front, there seem to be a multitude of options, though the sale of Mata continues to be a mystery to me.
Finally, I wanted to do a bit of sermonizing.
Season after season I see Manchester United, Arsenal, Spurs, Liverpool and Chelsea use their worldwide scouting services to pick out the best of the young talent. However, not only do Real Madrid seem incapable of producing world class talent at the moment (Casillas is the last excellent player to come from the youth team, even if, like Utd, the lower leagues of Spanish football are full of ex-madridistas), a charge which cannot be levelled at Barcelona, but Real’s scouting service seem to have the blinkers on.
I cannot remember the last time Real signed a low-profile exciting youngster (a la Pekhart, Sahar, Fabregas, Mérida, Rossi etc.). Marcelo, Gago and HiguaÃn are the closest thing to scouted youngsters in the Real squad, except that Los Merengues shelled out over 6 million euros on the first, and over 20 million euros on the next two combined. What is the reason for this?
All comments welcome.