Despite criticism, Real Madrid will continue signing big stars
Sunday's shock 4-2 defeat at Real Sociedad set alarm bells ringing for many at and around Real Madrid, and lead to renewed questioning of the transfer policy of Blancos president Florentino Perez.
Without the departed Xabi Alonso and Angel Di Maria, the Madrid midfield completely lacked balance, while new galacticos James Rodriguez and Toni Kroos were totally overrun as a 2-0 lead was blown in the most embarrassing of circumstances.
That defeat at Anoeta added to disquiet building during recent weeks among Blancos fans and pundits. There were whistles at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu for the team during the lucky 2-0 win over newly promoted Cordoba in their La Liga opener, and brickbats in the media after the limp 2-1 aggregate loss of the Spanish Supercopa to Atletico Madrid the previous week.
Just 100 days after Iker Casillas lifted the long-awaited Decima Champions League trophy in Lisbon, many were asking why the best Madrid team in more than a decade had been immediately dismantled by its president.
"Why did Alonso and Di Maria leave?" AS editor Alfredo Relano wrote Monday morning.
"Because of Florentino Perez's compulsive passion for making big and loud signings, in this instance Toni Kroos and James Rodríguez. But because money is not infinite, Di Maria was sold for a huge fee and Alonso also, for less money but an amount that still soothed the outlays a little.
"Sami Khedira had been earmarked for the exit door, but he resisted. In their places, two wonderful new players, but with the team's machinery broken down; too many violinists without the desire to roll their sleeves up in defence."
Relano's argument hit home with many Madrid fans, but was not too unexpected, as the AS editorial line has been very critical of Florentino's transfer policies for quite a while now. It was more surprising though for Cristiano Ronaldo to come out the next day and make many of the same points.
"I have my very clear opinion, but I must calculate and I cannot always say what I think because tomorrow I will be on the front of the papers and I do not want that," Ronaldo said.
"But if I was in charge, maybe I would not do things like that. Everyone has their opinion and is free to say what they think. If the president thinks that the best thing for the team is to sign these players and let go those who left, then we have to respect and support his decision."
Those comments ensured that Ronaldo -- despite his protests -- did make the front of the next morning's papers. It was also not the first time that he had publicly disagreed with Perez over transfer policy.
A year ago, when it was widely reported that the club was trying to sell Di Maria to fund the 100 million euro purchase of Gareth Bale, Ronaldo also voiced his concerns, while the Argentina international publicly thanked his teammate for fighting behind the scenes to keep him at the club.
In the end Di Maria got to stay one more year, with Mesut Ozil instead being sacrificed to balance the books at the Bernabeu. That was important because despite the spendthrift "galacticos" image, the club's finances are actually a big concern for Perez. He often talks of himself as a romantic football fan, wanting to have the best players in the world on show at the Bernabeu, but is also proud of his financial stewardship of the club, which he claims to have twice saved from economic ruin by coming in as president.
"It is now nine consecutive years of revenue growth, and our figures are the highest in the global sports industry," a beaming Perez said at last September's club AGM while announcing a record annual turnover of 520.9 million euros.
"There is no club, not in football or any other specialty, which can reach this figure. Even Forbes magazine has laid down before us."
Reports that put Madrid's debts at more than 500 million euros are used by critics -- such as Relano -- to question the club's health.
But construction magnate Perez claims the club's ratio assets to liabilities is actually normal for a business of such size, and it is true that however it is done, Madrid are able to compete right at the top end of the market despite not having a super-rich owner. UEFA's financial fair play regulations have troubled Manchester City, Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain, but Madrid's ability to generate its own revenues keeps it safe from any punishment on this front.
Generating these revenues means the need to move on players like Ozil last year and Di Maria this summer, while also building and maintaining the club's "brand" by signing new stars who generate publicity to attract more commercial partners in different markets each year.
Ronaldo, 29, has presumably noticed that Perez's past two galacticos -- Bale and James -- both play in his position and are four and six years younger respectively. The Portugal captain's long-running knee injury is now a real concern for the future, and Perez can argue that his new, younger, almost as high-profile signings have secured the club's health on and off the pitch.
This, of course, provides headaches for coach Carlo Ancelotti, but that will not have been a huge preoccupation for Perez. As a good company man, Ancelotti does not often complain in public about decisions made over his head, but even he has made murmurs of discontent in recent weeks.
The Italian clearly wanted to keep Di Maria, and admitted to his shock at Alonso's departure. Diego Torres of El Pais wrote on Monday that Madrid's players have even discussed this week whether they might have a new coach before Christmas.
But then Ancelotti likely would have been fired anyway had Sergio Ramos not headed the late equaliser in May's Champions League final. But Ramos did equalise, Madrid went on to win La Decima, and Perez's legacy at the club was secured.
The only real power at the Bernabeu is unlikely now to have lost much sleep over Relano's editorial, or Ronaldo's comments, or even Sunday's defeat at Real Sociedad, which, after all, is just one early-season game. There was similar outrage when Ozil was sold last summer, but nobody now says Bale was not a good signing. Even Di Maria, so unhappy 12 months ago, was man of the match in Lisbon.
Madrid are likely to announce more record financial results at this autumn's AGM, and the club having more or less broken even on transfers this summer. So although for many both inside and outside the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu Madrid's transfer policy makes little sense, Perez is likely to be delighted with his work this summer.