"Spanishisation" makes way for domination at Real Madrid
In 2009, the year he was re-elected as Real Madrid president in a one-candidate poll, Florentino Perez declared he would seek to inject Spanish blood into the team, to complement the habitual acquisition of some of the world's best and most expensive talent.
It was a populist spot of post-electioneering from the construction magnate: Real were painfully outgunned by Barcelona at the time and the fact that so many of the players at the Camp Nou's disposal were home-grown was a source for considerable irritation at the Bernabeu.
True to his word, Perez added Xabi Alonso, Alvaro Arbeloa, Esteban Granero and Raul Albiol to the headline-grabbing signings of Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Kaka that summer. He could afford to, both materially and in terms of expectation at the club. Real hadn't troubled the latter stages of the Champions League for several seasons and had played second fiddle to the grating orchestra of Pep Guardiola. It was the perfect pitch of Real-politik.
But the goalposts have moved since then. Barcelona endured a listless 2013-14 season that ended without a trophy, even if it did go down to the wire. Real captured the Champions League and defeated the mighty Bayern Munich, under Guardiola, en route to the final. A season earlier the Bundesliga side had brutally torn Barca to shreds at the same stage, adding a little extra schadenfreude to the Bernabeu club's glee.
It was clear that a serious rebuild would take place at the Camp Nou this summer and the early capture of Luis Suarez, despite the lengthy ban he faces, was the first blow in a transfer battle that could eclipse any other between the eternal foes. Real responded by landing Germany midfield maestro Toni Kroos for a bargain 30 million Euros but a bigger fish was always destined to land in Real's net. Enter James Rodriguez, the World Cup 2014 Golden Ball and goal-of-the-tournament winner.
Splashing the cash on the star of the summer's international tournament isn't always a guarantee of a decent return but Rodriguez has proven himself a quality player at both Monaco and Porto and was hardly an unknown on the international stage before his heroics in Brazil.
The whole of Colombia prayed for Radamel Falcao to make a timely recovery -- President Juan Manuel Santos and his wife did so at his hospital bedside, with plenty of cameras on hand -- but it seems unlikely now that the former Atletico goal machine will seal his desired move from Monaco to Madrid this summer; he has been thoroughly usurped by Rodriguez as the current hot property.
But what does the signing of Rodriguez say about Real's transfer policy? Whither the "Spanishisation" of the club heralded by Perez back in 2009?
Simply put, Real Madrid is in the business of global domination and a fresh European triumph appears to have shifted Perez's line of thought again. The goal is clear; having finally recovered the treasured European Cup, Perez is in no mood to relinquish it. The Milan side of the late 1980s, early 90s with Gullit, Van Basten, Rijkaard, Maldini and Baresi in its ranks remains the last one to retain the highest club honour and Perez clearly wants this team, with a few tweaks, to be mentioned in the same revered tones.
Strangely for a club as huge as Real Madrid there seems to be little in the way of an international scouting network in place. Players are brought to the Bernabeu when they have already made a name for themselves elsewhere and for hugely inflated fees. How much would Rodriguez have cost straight from Porto? Or habitual target Sergio Aguero when he was a lad in Argentina?
Again, they were hardly unknowns and clubs such as Porto and Atletico survive by buying cheap and selling big. Real can afford to wait until the finished article has been polished to perfection. The wildly skewed system of television revenue in Spain means that Real and Barcelona will continue to have more clout in the transfer market than their peers, whether they win anything or not. Liga champion Atletico are being picked apart to pay the bills, while trophyless Barcelona are able to write a 75-million Euro check for Suarez.
In Real's case, success simply leads to even more riches and the signings of Kroos and Rodriguez will be largely met with the Champions League pot and subsequent shirt sales. These are statement signings -- whatever you can buy, we can buy bigger. It might not promote a competitive environment -- any notion of Atletico bothering the top two again this season is Alice in Wonderland stuff -- but there is little doubt the thought of Messi, Neymar and Suarez lining up against Ronaldo, Bale, Benzema and Rodriguez at some point next season is good business for the Spanish league.
For Real fans that lustily sing the name of Juanito during home matches or who wear Schalke shirts bearing the name of Raul, the club's shift in transfer policy is the death knell for a re-Spanishisation of the club in the near future. Alvaro Morata has been sold to Juventus, albeit with a sensible buy-back clause; Arbeloa will be little more than a utility man this season and the future of Iker Casillas is bleak. Elsewhere, Isco is likely to be sold during the summer and Asier Illarramendi has failed to earn the trust of Carlo Ancelotti. Jese and Nacho, the Fabrica products, will remain but a centre back and striker should also be on the coach's list of further recruits.
While it is unlikely in the extreme that Perez will attempt to recreate the comically inept "Zidanes and Pavones" experiment of his first tenure, it seems that his purchasing sanctions are going to fall increasingly into line with those of his first stint as president, when Sergio Ramos was the sole Spanish signing of his six-year tenure.
Real fans enjoy success but they enjoy it even more when they can relate to some of the players on the pitch as being one of their own -- the huge cheers that greeted Morata's every substitute appearance last term were often the loudest to pierce the air above the Castellana whatever had gone on before in a match.
Other than a fleeting interest in the now-injured Alvaro Negredo -- a Castilla graduate -- there are few Spanish players on Real's radar this summer. The side won its coveted Decima last season and as long as the trophies continue to flow the club's transfer policy will remain as is.
But as previous incumbents of Ancelotti's role have been raucously reminded, if there is any dip in performance from a player in a position a canterano can occupy, dissenting voices will be raised. The Bernabeu faithful crave home-grown heroes, and the sweet taste of victory is a fleeting one at Real Madrid.