Real Madrid have long been the club of the galacticos. Under president Florentino Perez, the club pursued a transfer policy of signing the world’s best players, almost regardless of the cost, leading to the arrivals of the likes of Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo and David Beckham.
To an extent, that remained over the next decade, with the likes of Kaka and Cristiano Ronaldo following suit, before making a comeback with the additions of Gareth Bale and James Rodriguez. Not all of those signings worked, with the likes of Kaka and Rodriguez particularly disappointing, whilst many quarters of Madrid feel that the jury is still out on Bale.
That led to a surprising change in policy, with a gradual change of approach implemented. It started in late 2014 with the symbolic signing of Marco Asensio indicating the start of a new approach, with the bright young Mallorca talent signed for under €4 million ahead of rivals Barcelona.
Since then, it is a policy which has stuck and come to the fore this summer with two high profile additions. 19-year-old Theo Hernandez joined from city rivals Atletico Madrid, despite never having played a game for them, in a £25 million deal, whilst another £15 million was spent on 20-year-old Dani Ceballos from Real Betis.
Hernandez impressed whilst on loan at Alaves last season, scoring a memorable goal against Barcelona in the Copa del Rey final. Working under now Southampton boss Mauricio Pellegrino, Hernandez established himself as a quality La Liga left-back who would not be content to wait for Filipe Luis to decline at Atletico.
Ceballos was the star of Spain’s under 21 side as they enjoyed an ultimately disappointing European Championships as they missed out to Germany in the final, though he was lauded as one of the stars of the tournament. Now, he’s earned a move to Real Madrid with a €500 million buy-out clause and a six year contract.
These additions are indications of how Florentino Perez and his team have shifted their vision, no longer moving for the huge names and building a team of superstars, rather building on the most talented youngsters that Spain and Europe has to offer.
There’s no doubting that an aspect of the galactico policy remains. Strongly linked with Paul Pogba last season, and believed to be chasing the likes of Eden Hazard, Kylian M’Bappe and David de Gea at different times this summer, Perez still can’t shake his desire to spend big on a marquee signing.
Still though, the change in policy shows how Madrid are getting ahead of the crowd with their approach. Whilst Barcelona are being forced to spend big money on retaining their star men like Lionel Messi and Neymar, and invest their transfer budget to add depth to a shallow squad, Madrid are building for the future.
Last season showed how Zinedine Zidane’s squad was the strongest in Europe as a result. It is fair to say that their starting eleven was not the best on the continent, it probably wasn’t even the best in Spain, but their squad, with the likes of Alvaro Morata, Isco, James Rodriguez, Marco Asensio, Pepe and others on the bench, was by far the strongest.
Critics claim that such success won’t last forever, with the likes of Morata strongly linked with a move away and Rodriguez already having moved on in search of regular football. With this next generation of signings coming through though, the club have ready made replacements.
The perfect example is Pepe. The Portuguese international was holding the club to ransom over a new contract, with talks failing to progress, and he was allowed to leave, eventually signing for Besiktas. He has now been replaced by Jesus Vallejo, a 20-year-old signed for €6 million back in 2015 and loaned back to former club Real Zaragoza and then impressed many during a loan spell in the Bundesliga at Eintracht Frankfurt last season.
Elsewhere, whilst James Rodriguez has been roundly criticised as a failure, there is a ready made replacement in Marco Asensio. A player who cost 15 times less, Asensio at times even kept the Colombian out of the side last season.
Such long term planning is crucial and is what too many big clubs are clearly lacking. Around the world, Barcelona have only just replaced Dani Alves with Nelson Semedo 12 months too late, Chelsea are desperately looking around for someone to replace the outgoing Diego Costa whilst Juventus are now panicking looking into replacements for Leonardo Bonucci.
The policy may not work out every time, but so far it has proven to be a huge success. Continue this kind of domination of Spanish and European football and Zidane’s side could soon be mentioned in the same breath as the likes of Guardiola’s great Barcelona side of only a few years ago.
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