How do Real Madrid do it?
No it’s not a rhetorical question, really how do they do it?
For over 100 days the question was when will Gareth Bale join them in a world record deal from Tottenham.
With the deal finally, mercifully done, we now need to ask a more interesting question. How did they do it? I can’t be the only one to believe that world record transfers should be more plausibly made by clubs with oil money behind them.
This column has previously covered the potential for reality to finally catch up with Real Madrid and Barcelona. Giant forces in world football, surely two of the world’s three biggest clubs, and yet part of a country whose economic problems are well documented. A country where unemployment is close to 30%.
I’ve talked about the difficulties facing La Liga clubs. Selling star players but still failing to balance the books and unable to close the gaping chasm between themselves and the top two. Fans only able to afford tickets if the prices are kept dangerously low, and even then beyond the reach of many.
I’ve talked about the threat coming from the European Union, how they – prompted largely by Germany – have finally had enough of the smoke and mirrors of the finances of Real and Barca. The loans, the tax benefits, the quiet propping up of the Government and authorities that takes place behind the glitz and glamour of a new deal.
And sure enough there is Gareth Bale, smiling (nervously), juggling (awkwardly), waving (hopefully), all $132 million of him. The prize possession of the transfer window. The president’s man.
But the finances make even less sense than they did four years ago when they bought Cristiano Ronaldo. When they bought Kaka. When Zidane arrived in 2001. Figo before him. ALL world record transfers. No other club has made a world record transfer since Hernan Crespo was signed by Lazio in 2000.
Yes the sale of Mezut Osil will have helped. Finally Real selling a player for a big fee – a record $66 million. But imagine having the financial ‘security’ to let Kaka go on a free. Did they get their money’s worth? ($85 million plus four years of paying him).
I am writing this piece in Madrid where I am covering the city’s Olympic bid. When you study the bid forensically it’s well thought out and surprisingly frugal, something that could turn a negative, the country’s finances, into a positive. The IOC could benefit from an Olympics ‘done on the cheap’. Old venues used and smartened up, this is an attempted sprucing up of a city Barcelona 92 style rather than a bottomless pit of money, such as Beijing 2008.
But still there are those here concerned by their city’s bid, and how they will find the money to fund the biggest show on earth. So why don’t more Madridistas ask the same question of their football team?
I wonder if this will be the last time Real Madrid, whether Perez or another President, manage this illusion of having money. Whether this will be their last world record signing.
Remember Ancelotti didn’t ask for Bale. He would have made do with the likes of Ronaldo and Isco – how good is Isco by the way, what a player! But Perez needed to get the top available talent in world football and in that aim he succeeded. Bale’s hat-trick in the San Siro three years back were the first three giant steps on the road to the Bernebau.
It’s naive to think that shirt sales, sponsorship, even the wave of fresh interest across Asia that Bale’s signing generated, translates into the $100 million plus needed to sign him. Tottenham weren’t handed the takings from the till at the club shop – there was a bank involved.
Real’s appeal is their unique status in world football, the European Cups, the Galacticos, the swagger of the men in white in the Bernebeu. That’s why it was Bale’s dream to join. If it was money orientated we’ve misjudged him. But all the history in the world doesn’t stack up to a transfer fee when it’s that large.
The same goes for Barcelona and $75 million Neymar While it might be agreeable to many that he plays for this supporter-run club it still doesn’t add up that Monaco or Paris St Germain, Chelsea or Manchester City didn’t have the financial clout to land him. They have the real money, Barca have the Real money i.e. it doesn’t seem to exist until a player needs to be bought.
UEFA and the EU agree on seemingly unfair tax rules, where the biggest clubs have ‘special treatment’ because of their fan-owned status, and where the level of actual debt the clubs have is never fully disclosed. Debts pretty much ‘disappear’ and yet UEFA and the EU recently released a statement saying “no operator is given special advantages by any layer of the government.”
But will UEFA do anything? I note Platini and co are still not fully convincing on the threat of competition expulsion for clubs who break financial fair play rules. “A very last resort.” Their intentions are good but it could be unworkable in reality and provide opportunities for club lawyers. I don’t know how I’ve managed to keep my raised eyebrow on my face when questioning top UEFA officials (Platini, Infantino and the impressive Karen Espelund) on the issue of FFP. They talk tough but what would it take to tackle a big club properly?
It still might have been advisable for Real to keep their heads down in this particular transfer window and keep the level of attention from Europe’s governors down. Their detractors in Brussels would have needed to have taken their summer holidays on Mars not to see a young Welshman Bale in to the Bernebeu with a $132 million price tag on his back.
But can and will anyone stop Real magically finding outrageous transfer fees? If not the illusion that Spanish clubs actually have money will continue, and maybe Bale won’t be the last of Galacticos.
Lee Wellings is the Sports Correspondent for Al Jazeera English based in London. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Lee on twitter @LeeW_Sport