Change may be eternal, but it doesn’t always come along in a trickle.
A decade of waiting for those glory years long gone by can be a trying time, especially for Real Madrid. Suddenly, however, great times seem to be on the anvil yet again. This is a club on the ascendancy, if the signs weren’t already evident enough. Real Madrid has all the makings of another extraordinary team, along the lines of its earlier avatars. If it all goes according to plan, changing tides could soon sweep away years of gloom, and bring forth a new Castilian renaissance.
You might be tempted to see this change of fortunes as drive by two Portuguese men with a mind of their own and monumental egos – Mourinho and Ronaldo. But in all fairness, Real Madrid seem to have quite a few other aces up their sleeves – that remain content to let good ol’ Cristiano and Jose take the spotlight.
The 2010-2011 season saw the youngest Madrid squad assembled in the last decade. Fifteen players were under 25 and only two players were over 30 years of age. To add to that, the addition of Nuri Sahin ( aged 22 ) and Jose Callejon (aged 23), two tremendous young prospects will reduce the average age further. No longer content with building a Galactico’s squad centered around golden oldies past their prime (à la Beckham, Ronaldo), Real Madrid president Fiorentino Perez has built this team with a decade in mind.
Critics of Madrid’s perceived strategy of being buyers as opposed to being creators, will find it hard to refute this season’s successes. The current bunch in La Fábrica, Madrid’s youth academy is quite special, winning 8 out of a possible 13 trophies this season. As many as 10 Canteranos were rewarded with a debut in the first squad at different stages in the competition. That is a lot, when compared to rivals like Barcelona where coach Pep Guardiola has often been criticized for not giving his junior squads enough representation. Also, 12 other La Fábrica products were loaned out to different clubs in La Liga with an easy buy-back clause, providing them invaluable experience with premier teams in the competition. The return of Jose Callejon from Espanyol as a much improved and complete player is proof of the success of this model.
Unlike the Madrid teams of the past, this season’s team has had an air of invincibility about its defense. Mourinho’s excellent tactics and some outstanding talent in the form of Pepe, Marcelo, Ricardo Carvalho and Sergio Ramos managed to create play-actors even out of Barcelona. Ever since the league became a 20 team affair, it is the first time that the Galacticos have gone 2 consecutive seasons conceding less than 35 goals. There’s more to come – Callejon’s already in and there is rumored interest over Inter’s Maicon and Benefica’s Fabio Conterao. Can there be a better backline in all of Europe?
No other player has captured world football’s imagination in the last two decades more than Zinedine Zidane. In fact, he is the only person in the Madrid with a career more glittering than that of Mourinho himself. Not only is his presence a source of inspiration for all, he is a sound strategist and in many ways an architect of the second Galacticos. Some of his choices such as Benzema and Kaka may not have justified their billing yet, but the fact remains that the man who scored the winner in Madrid’s last conquest of Europe (2002) has had an undeniably positive influence in Mourinho’s scheme of things. The Portuguese manager recently got Zizou appointed the Sporting Director, thus giving him a direct squad-based role. Throw in news of Zidane’s 15 year old son Enzo making a few heads turn at La Fabrica, and you might be forgiven for expecting a Zizou encore.
We’ve all witnessed Barca’s Iniesta-Xavi-Busquets-Messi combo dominate football over the late 2000’s. But despite their heroics, with Xavi on the wrong side of 30, the dream could soon unravel. Now, sample this: Ozil – Di Maria – Nuri Sahin – Ronaldo. As much as we loved watching Kaka play in his prime, there is no place for him in this lineup. Of these 4, the standout last season was Ozil running circles around most defenses in Europe before ending up breaking Luis Figo’s record for most assists in his very first season. Di Maria justified his billing although he clearly has a lot more to offer. Sahin, TheHardTackle’s surprise midfield player of the year is another hugely anticipated buy and his combination with Ozil at the centre is something everyone is looking forward to. Which leaves us with Ronaldo.
When he isn’t being hexed by Paris Hilton, Cristiano impressed everyone with his 53 goals and his talismanic role in the club. It takes someone special to outscore Lionel Messi in the same league, and it’s not hard to see why Manchester City might just be willing to buy him for 150 million pounds.
Madrid always manage to attract the best talent. Manchester United supporters scowl on hearing how the Spanish giants seem to see the English champions as their feeder club. Why do most ambitious players across Europe (except maybe, the Catalans) aspire to play for this club some day? The rich legacy the club has been blessed with, but then Liverpool and Juventus have their legacies and they’re not as sought after.
It has to be a combination of two things: ambition and money. How they receive those enviable finances is a study in advertising. Except for Manchester United, there is no other club that can showcase itself around the world like Madrid can. Real Madrid is possibly one of the best marketed sporting organizations on the planet – the New York Yankees of football.
Few clubs manages to generate as much revenue so as to offset their massive expenditures. Urban legend dictates that Madrid recouped their expenses on Ronaldo’s purchase merely by selling his jerseys. Social Networking, Mobile groups, player endorsements etc and other mass communication avenues have been bled dry by Los Blancos. Their Facebook page, with over 15 million members, is interactive enough in the way that it allows fans to upload pictures associated with their experience watching matches. Most top players are frequent on Twitter and Facebook and provide behind the scenes insight to a greater extent than those of other clubs. The club has an enduring aura about it that attracts itself to the average fan. Madrid are clearly intent on winning the battle for hearts and minds.
Fans tend to associate with clubs who play an entertaining brand of football. Arsenal and Barcelona stand out, because win or Lose, they play their unique brand of attacking football. Madrid was associated with a certain flair while Figo and Zidane ruled the roost. But that identity had deserted the club somewhere down the line. The good news is that in the last two seasons, that approach has seen a resurgence of sorts, a free flowing style of football giving players enough opportunity to express themselves. You may encounter the odd change in style, as when Mourinho was criticized for playing too defensively against Barcelona, a strategy which was nevertheless quite successful. But the overall vision of the team remains in line with the culture and history of Real Madrid as a club, which is scoring goals, goals and more goals. The results so far are encouraging to say the least. Two consecutive seasons in which the team has scored over 100 goals, has never before been achieved by a team in any league in world football. Not only is it a sign of things to come, it is also quite unmistakeably a sign of intent.
A warning, if you will.
– Sulaiman Yousuf