On our last podcast, Rishay said about Real Madrid: “for a Champions League winning side, I think they’re doing too much in the transfer window, this time”. I think he’s right. Hark back for a minute to the summer of 2003, when Real Madrid president Florentino Perez decided to sell Claude Makélelé rather than give him the wage raise he so richly deserved. Real Madrid went on to sign David Beckham, causing Zinedine Zidane to ask “why paint another layer of gold on the Bentley when you are losing the entire engine?” This summer feels similar. I think what we’ll see from Perez are transfer decisions made for the wrong reasons, that play to the gallery, that imbalance the side, that cause tactical problems and that ultimately lead to the sacking of Carlo Ancelotti.
Keylor Navas is a good goalkeeper, but he’s also been in La Liga since 2010, and Real Madrid have never shown an interest in the past. This summer, after an admittedly outstanding World Cup performance for Costa Rica he is flavour of the month, so the notoriously impulsive Perez signed him. This despite already having Diego Lopez and Iker Casillas. Ancelotti does not need three goalkeepers, and now one must be sold. The manager trusts Diego Lopez as his first choice leaving Casillas the obvious candidate to depart. Whoever takes responsibility for selling him, though, will face almost certain backlash from the Real Madrid fans, who will always hold Saint Iker in the highest of regards (short of him moving to Barcelona).
Perez’s second signing is Tony Kroos for €25-30m from Bayern Munich. Kroos is an excellent midfielder…technically gifted, flexible tactically and in terms of his position, and at 24 years old, age is on his side. However, for a squad that already boasts Xabi Alonso, Asier Illarramendi – bought one year ago for €32m – Luka Modric, Sami Khedira, Angel Di Maria and Isco, Kroos was not a necessary purchase. He doesn’t bring with him skills or attributes that are not already present in the squad.
Much like Victoria Beckham and the cast of The Only Way is Essex, Florentino Perez likes to be ‘glam’. He doesn’t like it when other people are more glamorous than him. From Ronaldinho and Beckham to Neymar and Bale, every time Barcelona make a big-name signing, Perez feels he must at least equal it. This summer, Liverpool dangled their line and Barcelona took a €75m nibble on Luis Suarez. Not to be outdone, Perez has made Colombian attacking midfielder James Rodriguez the apple of his eye. An €85m deal to sign him from Monaco is all but wrapped up.
Rodriguez is an undeniably talented player. He has pace, vision, trickery and as demonstrated at the World Cup, a real eye for goal. He’s had these attributes for years, however. They are why Porto bought him from Banfield in 2010, and why Monaco spent an incredible €45m on him just one summer ago. If Perez and Madrid were doing their job properly, they would have signed the kid long ago. Instead, they are buying him because like Keylor Navas, he is flavour of the month after a dazzling performance at the World Cup.
If reports are to be believed, Khedira, Di Maria and Isco are all on the chopping block, which is objectively madness. Khedira does provide something the others don’t, which is pace, tenacity and energy in the centre. Illaramendi and Alonso are similar; slow, technical deep-lying playmakers. In many La Liga games, perhaps Madrid will get away with having one of them next to Modric or Kroos, but in the Champions League or the bigger La Liga fixtures, Madrid need a player with Khedira’s qualities to help protect a shaky back-four.
For much of last season, Angel Di Maria was Real Madrid’s outstanding player, adapting as naturally to a central midfield role as Michael Owen did to punditry as Bale did to his position on the right. Di Maria finished the season as La Liga’s top assist-maker with 17, and was named Man of the Match in the Champions League final. Now, he’s deemed surplus to requirements as Perez makes room in the squad and on the wage bill for his new toy, James Rodriguez.
Finally, Isco. Isco is a young Spanish attacking midfielder of rare quality, and monster potential. We’ve only been able to see it in fits and starts since his ill-fated move from Malaga in 2013, and the reasons for this are two-fold. Tactically, Isco is a pure number ten and so does not easily fit in to Ancelotti’s preferred 4-3-3. Politically, he isn’t a big enough name (a Galactico, if you will) that Perez insist he play, and so for the most part, he hasn’t.
Here’s why Ancelotti will be sacked. James Rodriguez is also a pure number ten. Not quite a striker, not quite a winger, certainly not a central midfielder. Just like Isco, he doesn’t fit in to the 4-3-3 that Ancelotti has decided gets the best out of Bale and Ronaldo. Rodriguez however, is a Galactico. He is Perez’s choice, and after spending 85m on him, Perez will insist he play. This will force Ancelotti to re-jig the system that won him the Champions Leauge last season. Shifting from 4-3-3 to a likely 4-2-3-1 is an attacking move, and one that opens up the side. Without Khedira and with no true ball winner in the side, Madrid may find that they come up short against the better opposition.
We all know what happens to Real Madrid managers that come up short, don’t we?