Wednesday, March 25, 2009

View from the kop to the bottom

Posted by A Spaniard in the works,Bangalore
Warning: Long post.

It is time Real took a step to being counted in Europe. It has been alarming to see the team which boasts itself as the owner of the competition stumble at the first knockout hurdle like a well choreographed move every year. It is, therefore, our immediate concern to come up with policy decisions that will ensure the welfare of our beloved club. By means of this article, I hope to shift attention to some of the issues that I had mentioned in an earlier post.

Show me the money.
Real have been sitting on the top of the money league for quite some time now and it is a nice sight to see that we do have the muscle power to compete with the deepest pockets in the game ( and But really, one has to sift through the piles of accounting files to see what creates the biggest waves and what does not. One look at the money leagues and the income levels with what the clubs operate every year becomes clear. Transfer spending is of the order of maybe one tenth of this figure- 50 million pounds in a wholly extravagant case. That is the biggest chunk of how money is spent. Player wages is of course an issue, but in the case of Real which has shifted from the Galactico system, we don't have the astronomical wage bill that we had five years back. So, transfer fees and player wages are the largest expenditures. How about incomes? Players sales is something that we are not good at (more on that later). That leaves us with two more sources- Prize money from competitions is one of them. Winning the UCL would typically make us richer by 20 million pounds. Five for winning the Liga. So... that's what it is coming to. Prize money is literally chicken feed when we spend a crazy sum of money every year. Did someone say gate recepits? That is a decent sum, but on a good European night against marquee oppposition, we stand to make about 3 million pounds on a matchnight. But that might happen two times a season. The answer my friends, as many of you might have guessed, is TV rights. That is the single largest deal. It puts sponsorship deals into the shade. For example, I remember a huge sum being quoted as Real's deal for the next five years or so ( Something in the neighbourhood of a billion). For people who are interested in the kind of money involved in the English Premier League, here is a good read:

This is how teams in England have been able to close the gap with the rest of the continent. They have courted sugar daddies from outside (Called selling their soul in the continent) and more importantly, thrived because of the language which made their foray into the Asian market easier. TV rights are sold in a group mentality. It is extremely perception based and often intangible and difficult to gauge as to why something is worth so much. When something is doing very well, everybody wants a slice of it. The Premier league was a bold step by the English almost twenty years back and almost nobody remembers it today. Dennis Begkamp was the first real international superstar who called England home. The power of perception is another story altogether, which will be discussed in more detail some other time.

Why so serious?
It is particularly disheartening to see how we have degenerated from being Ringmasters/ The Joker to a cheap clown whose pants are pulled down in a trapeze act in the yearly transfer circus. First of all, I am at odds with our transfer policy. While I admire Perez for having grand vision in getting the world's best players to play for our clubs and then end up making more money by merchandising, I cannot but think aloud whether that was the system that brought us our downfall. For one, we bought players for astrononmical sums at the height of their powers only to see that they were on a slippery slope two years later- we were stuck with (pardon the phrase) a load of White elephants. Don't get me wrong. I do want only the best players playing for Real. But, I am selfish too. I want those players to be discovered here- that is, I want their best phase of their careers to be spent at Real. The galactico policy, unfortunately did not ensure that. Ever wonder if we had bought Cristiano Ronaldo after the 2006 World cup? We would have benefitted the most by getting more goals by paying lesser money. We make a habit of buying stars. We have to be the temple of talent- people must be discovered and celebrated here. Right now, we come across like a pampered kid at the supermarket- crying to daddy for the most expensive and fancy toy in the aisle. If I have to put our transfer shenanigans figuratively and literally, this picture should sum it up the best.
(Note: the heights of the fingers indicate the market value and the ability of the footballer with time).

These are the five stages that we have been showing with almost everybody:
1) Little finger- The player shows some promise with some second rung club, but we are quick to ignore the poor fella as a piece of piss.
2) Ring finger- A couple of seasons later, the lad has made it big. We start openly courting the player.
3) Middle finger- We buy him at the maximum ability and market price after showing the middle finger to the selling club.
4) Forefinger- We watch many performances and then start pointing fingers at him when his form starts dipping.
5) Thumb- We have kept the (now clearly fat and unfit) player way beyond the sell by date. We torment him, then sell him at a ridiculous price and the poor fellow has to pack his bags and hitchhike a ride out of the club.

For a club of Real Madrid's stature, we need to have majority of the players close to the peak of their careers. So, in this case, we need to buy players at phase 2 and sell them at phase 4. But a consequence of the Galactico policy meant that we bought players at 28 and then were not able to sell them for a reasonable sum when their abilities went down the hill. Look at how we sold Ronaldo, Carlos and Figo. Did they have the farewell they deserved? We have problems in dealing with the "autumn" phases of players. In other words, we are not a selling club. We are a buying club. On the other hand, we are not a good buying club as well! When was the last time we got a serious bargain on a deal? In the recent past, only RVN counts as a good return on investment. Let us have a look at the last three signings that we made- Lass, Huntelaar and Van der Vaart, all of whom were panic signings. This does not augur well for a club which prides itself as one of the best (If not the best) in the world. On the other hand, here is a look at the kind of players whom we were linked to in the past few years, but we did not end up buying them.(Warning: There are obviously other players whom we were linked to and did not end up doing well, so this list is not representative, but only done to prove a point):

1) Xabi Alonso- was almost done deal. He is a fixture in the Liverpool side now. We miss a player of his type in away games.
2) Zlatan Ibrahimovic- We had two chances to get him- at the time Juve got him for 11 million pounds and then when he moved to Inter, both times on a small fee considering his talent.
3)Cristiano Ronaldo- I am stirring a hornet's nest here. The best time to buy him would have been immediately after the 2006 World cup.
4) Frank Ribery- We missed him at the time Bayern got him. In 2007.
5) Ronaldinho- He was a big star at the 2002 world cup, but we did not go for him. The cruel irony in this player's transfer was that both him and Beckham were linked to us and Barcelona. Both clubs wanted Beckham. Barcelona had to settle for Gaucho. We went on a downward spiral since. Was it a case of the ugly duckling turning into the beautiful swan later on?
6) David Villa- The time to buy him was when he moved to Valencia from Zaragoza. Now, he is 27 and we run the risk of repeating our mistakes by overpaying for him.

The bottom line is that we are not necessarily the number one destination for some of football's top talents anymore.

I hope I am driving the point here. Perhaps our buying attitude is best summed at the line the old woman utters in this iconic scene from the eighties ( Wait for the line at the very end! We try to chase stars when we they have a couple of headline making seasons. Truth be told, we must actually kick ourselves as to why we had not signed them in the first place so that they could have taken us to greater things in our club. Of course, I have the advantage of hindsight and hence there is no glory in the armchair critic role that I am playing!

Which clubs transfer policy do I idolize in that case? I have three in my mind. They don't necessarily compete with us at our level, but what they have achieved is commendable- Sevilla, Arsenal and Lyon.

Sevilla and Lyon are similar clubs- most of the week in week out players are people who they have bought in an extremely shrewd manner- bargain buys. They end up playing hardball when they sell them to bigger clubs- Dani Alves, Kanoute, Poulsen, Baptista, Essien, Diarra, Malouda. Arsenal is a different matter altogether. It is a club which I worship for their transfer policy. Arsene Wenger's penchant for young lads is probably as much as Micheal Jackson's (Supposed to be a joke. No offence meant to the fans). Along with that Wenger also got some bargain buys like Sol Campbell, Toure, Vieira and others. What is to be learnt from Wenger is his estimate of what a particular player can offer to the club- how much a player still has in reserve. Wenger has sold every player at the right time, that is, after extracting everything from them. It is the rule rather than the exception. I would go on to say never buy from Arsenal! It is no sheer coincidence that Sol Campbell, Vieira, Henry, Pires, Hleb and others have never managed to hit the same level. This is exactly where the Galactico policy envisioned by Perez has failed. It is not a long term strategy and it is highly unlikely that we would remain lucky in terms of big name signings. It makes better finanacial sense to diversify risk- to buy three players for lesser sums of money compared to one signing for an amount that would sell the club's kidney and end up not being able to flush out the waste at a later stage. It is this policy that has hurt us when the stars are no longer being able to perform at the level we want them to. The ability to estimate reserve capacity is something that we must learn from Arsenal.
The point to be noted is that we must learn to bargain like Lyon and Sevilla and to estimate talent and ability like Arsenal.

Our decomposition due to team composition
The Liga and UCL have certain rules that we have to abide with and hence attribute our success/ failure based on them. The extremely popular orkut community has a couple of links to what the team composition should be. The Liga allows registration of 25 players for a year, but only 3 non EU nationals are allowed to play on a match day. In the case of UCL squad registration of 25, a minimum of
4 players trained by the club- Raul, Guti, Dani Pajero, DLR, Miguel Torres
4 players trained by Spanish clubs- Salgado, Ramos. Extra players from first list can fit in here. Total of 8 players.
One look at this list reveals that we have hardly any quality to show in terms of endorsing players from the club/ country. That has been beautifully described in article on how we must rely on domestic powers. So, one third of our squad is not upto the mark when we register them for UCL. It is going to be even worse in the future as Raul and Guti will retire. For years now, we have neglected home made food.

What should be other criteria while signing players? Age is very important. Worldover, the age at which players are peaking in various sports has gone down by two or three years. Traditionally, it was thought that the best years of a footballer's life were between 26-30. That figure has gone down due to increasing the pace of the game. Now, the game is ruled by people on the other side of 25. The schedule is also extremely punishing for a footballer. A top level footballer has to play around 60 to 70 games for both club and country level. Squad rotation is absolutely necessary. Lets us remember the last time when a person performed for both club and country with equal elan? Have a look at EURO 2008 and you will find that none of the club stars showed up at the continental competition. This is a dangerous trend and FIFA has to look into that. The same thing happened at 2002 and 2006 with Zidane and Ronaldinho. They had minimal impact due to a crowded club calendar. We also need to buy in a phased manner so that the overall quality is more or less the same. That is the way Manchester United operates. Having a nucleus with similarly aged players is dangerous- they end up peaking at the same time- Los Galacticos, AC Milan recently, followed by a slump. Thankfully, we have a good age distribution. We need to have two players for each position- ideally separated by age as one can be the starter and the other a substitute based on how they grow old together. Just like Higuain and RVN when both are fit.

How do we stack up now?
A world class team which has to compete for many trophies has to have these many players, based on the variety of tactics we can play atleast:
3 Goalkeepers- We are well covered. We need to replace Dudek if he leaves.
8 Defenders- Two in each position. A couple of utility men. Left back is shaky. Cannavaro has to be replaced also.
3 Defensive midfielders- Well covered.
3 Central midfielders- We need them to step up to the level.
3 Wide players- We have one. Ideally, we need people who can play on either wing.
5 Forwards- RVN and Raul are getting old. Higuain and KJH are the two long term prospects.

Add the age distribution and our criteria for UCL/ Liga, our headache is complete! Also, we need to differentiate between a long term and short term signing- based on how much we can get back from them. For example RVN was an short term signing. Higuain was long term. The amount of money spent on them should be tied to how much they can contribute.

One swallow does not make a summer
I hope I have made my point clear as to how we are risking too much by buying one superstar for an insane amount of money. Instead, a better transfer strategy in the summer would be better for the club both financially and tactically. After much deliberation, I have come up with a list of players whom I believe we can get. Valencia seems to be a good place to raid. Here are some of the players that interest me:
1) David Villa- It will be a tug of war with other clubs. In any case, he will be competing with Raul for a starting place.
2) Silva- Not necessary in my opinion. We need to play more often with four in midfield.
3)Raul Albiol- Good buy, handy man in defence. Should be gettable.
4) Miguel- Backup for Ramos. Good replacement for Salgado.
5) Joaquin- Short term wide player. Moody though. Has to be a sub most of the time if we get Ribery.

The players from other clubs:
1)Backup keeper- This is in case Dudek leaves. I wanted to sign Cudicini as he must be the most unambitious player of all time. But Spurs stole him. Kameni and Asenjo come to my mind from the Liga. I also have another keeper suggestion in mind with super potential who has been rotting in Getafe. Oscar Ustari.
2) Centre back- None other than Chiellini from Juventus. He can play at left back also which is an added bonus. Extremely solid. Daniel Agger sounds ok too.
3) Right winger- Ribery. No other choice. CR7 will not be worth the money.
4) Utility player- Dario Srna. Super free kick taker and crosser of the ball. Can play at right back and right wing.
5) Young defenders- Three names come to my mind- Cristian Zapata from Udinese, Fabiano Santacroce from Brescia and Mamadou Sakho from PSG.
5) Forwards- Benzema seems like a good long term prospect, but I would rather go for Villa as I feel he will not go to City. It will be easier to land him.
6) Left back- Zhirkov seems to be a crowd favourite. To be honest, I don't have any choice to make here.

In my dream scenario, I would like to get all of them!
But realistically speaking, this is what I hope will happen.
Out- Salgado, Heinze, Cannavaro, Drenthe (loan), Saviola, RVN, Javi Garcia
In- Villa, Ribery, Srna, Chiellini, Ustari, Zapata, Raul Albiol. Replacements from the Valencia list if these are not available.

I hope we have early elections so that we will be able to complete our signings early. It is to our advantage that we have no major competitions this year. It is a regular feature that price inflation happens for a player who has done very well in an international tournament. This year, the Confederations cup will be held, but I don't expect any major excitement due to the low density of top quality players. This tournament is also optional for Copa America and EURO winners. The top teams might also send weakened teams.

Hoping for a good summer,
Hala Madrid!

P.S: RVN might look like a harsh choice. I absolutely admire him as a player. The problem is that he has been getting injured too often of late. Real were interested in keeping him until 2009 but he wanted to sign for one more year. If he can stay injury free for one more year (which I doubt), he still will have a lot to offer. But, keeping him and Raul on the bench will be a major headache. So, we might as well make some money by selling him to Milan (my guess). Again, it is a call that I don't want to take, but if it is my opinion alone and I don't expect many of you to agree with me. In fact, I am hating myself for writing this line!


  1. hey mate...wonderful analysis and a very self explanatory illustration....ur points are really well stated.and it seems to be a trend that we as a club shud get rid of..... the picture in the right place???....

  2. Thats a brilliant piece Vyasa. But the assumptions stated herein can only be achieved if we have the right management at top. If we dont, all this talk of risk management, optimal resource utilization and profit maximization goes for a toss.

    Currently with Perez set to win (i.e. if he contests), I'm not too optimistic of achieving any of these targets. We may only end up making these famed superstar signings, only to wallow back wounded into the transfer market 2 seasons later.

    What our club requires to achieve the goals u pointed out are madridistas with keen sense of business. Lets hope we have someone who fits this bill leading out club from June.

  3. Thanks folks. Again, this is my opinion only of what should be done. I am sorry if it sounds too optimistic, but I feel a club of this stature should have its fundamentals in place! I just hope that is the case.

    I feel the picture is in the right place as the explanation is right below it.
    Hala Madrid!
    A Spaniard in the works.

  4. I agree with some of the transfer goofups we had, however it's entirely not possible for any team to predict all the future stars. Having said that I do agree that we missed the boat specially with Ronaldo when Miguel Portugal our scout suggested the board to buy him before he moved to ManU at 1/10 of the price what we are quoting now...

  5. i just really want benzema but it would take him two years to adapt (thats whay i have noticed about french players adapting to La Liga) and players from the italian league fail cannavaro samuel rule out all the italian players coming in.. villa would be a galactico siging but silva would be perfect however he gets injured way too often and what about if we get benzema hows it going to be for him higuain and KJH as well as raul and any upcoming talent, instead of buying young wh cant we raise some younger talent who will be good enough once given a chance!

  6. Looking at the latest news reports, the 1st aspect of this article: "Show me the money" looks to be well on track. i hope the money is wisely used in the summer transfer window.

  7. Good work mate...

    i am an AC milan fan ... and i exactly know what you are talking about :P