Real Madrid lure enough to keep Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale
Real Madrid's history and heritage gives the club an advantage when it comes to keeping their players happy. As shown recently by signing a number of their stars up to lucrative long-term contracts, Real do not have to break the bank or go into financial danger to keep their squad together -- the lure of the Bernabeu is enough.
Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale, along with Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and Lucas Vazquez, have all signed new deals at the Bernabeu, despite many receiving better offers elsewhere.
Paris Saint-Germain reportedly offered Ronaldo a pay rise, Manchester United would have matched Bale's salary demands, while Kroos and Modric could have jumped up from their middle ranks on the Madrid pay-scale had they joined cash-rich Premier League outfits.
But none of them wanted to leave Spain and Columbia Business School expert Steven Mandis, who has written a book on Real Madrid's cultural pull called "The Real Madrid Way", says he knows why.
"At the centre of the club is the values and passion of the community," Mandis told ESPN FC. "It all starts there. Surrounding the community values and expectations is a sustainable economic-sport model. The shared ethos, expectations and values of the Real Madrid community dictate the operations, behaviour and mission of every aspect of the club."
Mandis claims this community feeling, linked back to the club's 1950s glory years with Santiago Bernabeu and Alfredo Di Stefano, gives today's team a unique advantage against their competitors in terms of global fan numbers and revenues.
"Data analytics and marketing strategies and football tactics can all be copied," he says.
"So what is the one element that can provide a competitive advantage? The answer is a distinctive culture and values that attracts a passionate and loyal community. It is impossible to tell where the fan's identity and life as a Madridista and the club's identity and purpose start and stop. This is one of the end results of the Real Madrid Way."
Fans of other clubs may roll their eyes when president Florentino Perez talks at length about "values" and "heritage" as he did recently at Ronaldo's new contract signing. However, Mandis argues that it's not just fans, but also the players who buy into this feeling of Madrid as special and unique.
Ronaldo spoke about Madrid's valued history when he signed his new deal, while Bale said he had fought hard to stay as playing at the Bernabeu was the "pinnacle" for any player.
Mandis insists the Madrid model, where superstars are eager to stay even on lower salaries, is evident elsewhere.
"The incredibly successful San Antonio Spurs basketball players make personal financial sacrifices [like Tim Duncan] so the team can afford other good players with similar values," he says. "Talented people bought into the company's culture and values, and were willing to take less money. People who say you need to pay the highest for talent should think more about creating a culture, values and mission to help attract and retain that talent."
UEFA's European Club Association recommend a wages-to-turnover ratio of 70 percent. Madrid's ratio reached 90 percent during Perez's first term, but has dropped over time and is now below 50 percent -- one of the lowest in Europe.
This has been achieved by capping the wages paid to stars they want to keep, like Sergio Ramos or Ronaldo, and letting others deemed less important go elsewhere.
And it was striking that, despite being the world's richest club, Madrid came in 19th (spending an average per week of £97,951) in the recently published Global Sports Salaries Survey, well behind peers Manchester United (£110,962), Barcelona (£108,636) and Manchester City (£104,290).
"Treating the players as equal is also important -- although this can cause some players to leave," Mandis says.
"If a great player wants more money, the club needs to look at that relative to the team and other players. Giving the player more or creating an exception can create a series of chain reactions that negatively impacts the greater good. So tough decisions need to be made, which some fans and the media may question."
Mandis' book also details how Perez -- also head of construction giants ACS -- learned the value of mixing external executive talent with "culture carriers," who come up through the ranks. This practice is also used at his football club, where graduates of its La Fabrica academy -- including the recently renewed Vazquez -- help expensive foreign signings understand what it means to play for Madrid.
"Florentino and his management team believe that on the pitch the club needs a core group of academy graduates," he says. "They help ensure the community's values and expectations which they grew up with are a constant presence."
Ronaldo still earns huge wages and has publicly demeaned some lesser-paid teammates, while the acrimonious departure of long-serving captain Iker Casillas in summer 2015 did not seem to fit with community values.
But, generally speaking, The Real Madrid Way has worked very well recently. The last three seasons have brought record financial results along with two Champions League trophies. And there is no sign yet of the team which delivered such historic success breaking up.
Dermot Corrigan is a Madrid-based football writer who covers La Liga and the Spain national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @dermotmcorrigan