Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Are Real Madrid Destroying the Game?

As HalaMadrid commented on in his last post, there's been a lot of noise about the Real Madrid signings this summer. It's not every day a signing gets "morally vulgar" or "imperialist". What is the basis of this criticism and how much of it is legitimate? Let's go over a few of the main criticisms of the signing.

Criticism #1: Arrogance

It's been said that Real Madrid are showing their arrogance in these signings. Let's just throw this out there: of course they are. Clubs, like people, have egos, and Real Madrid thinks of themselves as the greatest football club in the world. For a club that was voted the most successful in the 20th century by FIFA, this isn't an entirely unreasonable position. But this attitude is certainly arrogant. Just in this space, it's been argued Real Madrid have saved the football summer (by providing more money for transfers, though football would probably still be played just the same in the fall if fewer players changed teams) and have returned hope to La Liga and maybe Spain itself. Yikes.

Recently, Florentino Perez was talking favorably about the potential "Super League" featuring the top European clubs. He argued that the format doesn't benefit the biggest clubs. The Champions League, of course, does nothing but benefit the biggest clubs. Perez said, "We have to agree a new European Super League which guarantees that the best always play the best - something that does not happen in the Champions League." Ah, now the difficulty is clear. The problem with the Champions League is that there are these smaller clubs involved, and sometimes they actually win. The nerve of them! Some might say the opportunity for David to take down Goliath is part of the fun of Champions League. For Perez, the mere presence of that possibility gives a chance to clubs that don't really deserve it, not being of the ilk of Real Madrid. And therefore that possibility should just be eliminated. It doesn't get more arrogant than that. And it should be pointed out that the "best clubs" would get to play each other in Champions League if they could get past the Round of 16. And Liverpool would probably still be one of the "best clubs".

That said, the fact that Real Madrid is arrogant isn't necessarily a reason for criticizing the signings themselves. They were able to raise the most money, and therefore they bought the best players they could, in order to have the best chance to win. People may (will) hate Real Madrid for this, and be envious of their ability to assemble these new galacticos. But that in itself isn't a reason to say that the club should behaving differently.

Criticism #2: As a Means to Victory

Was the previous galactico side a success? The club won the Champions League in 2002, La Liga in 2003, and then went without a major trophy until winning La Liga in 2007. From a marketing standpoint, the club may have been a success, but that previous era could be described as underachieving on the pitch. In 2004 Real Madrid even managed to finish fourth behind Deportivo de La Coruna.

So this side, for all its talent, is not guaranteed success. Success for this club means winning La Liga and Champions League success. What if Real Madrid fails to win any trophies next year? With Barcelona in La Liga and the difficulties of Champions League, it's certainly not out of the question. Will this team be good enough defensively? Will all the egos mesh together? Will the team play as one? The beauty of football is that talent is nothing without determination and a willingness to work together. A selfish team will not succeed in the end.

But again, these are not really reasons to criticize the signings. It's possible that importing the most expensive talent that can be acquired and just throwing it out there on the pitch is not the ideal way to build a team. But if it isn't, it will be Real Madrid that pays the price. If they can get the pieces to mesh together, they will reap the reward. Let the football gods determine whether assembling these parts is a "proper" way to build a side.

Criticism #3: Morality/Vulgarity/Imperialism

My colleague (and Arsene Wenger) are correct on this point. The morality talk makes no sense. Some may think the signings excessive, but that's a question of market value. Could the banks be lending to small businesses instead? They could, but they would anyway if they thought it was profitable. As corporations, they'll behave in the way that they believe will make the largest profit.

Is it unseemly during a global recession to be spending this kind of money? It can certainly appear that way. But really the fact that Real Madrid thinks it might be worth that amount is a testament to the health of the sport, and how much money it makes on the global stage.

Most of this talk is envy, plain and simple. Most of the other clubs saying things like this would acquire these players if they could.

Criticism #4: Fairness/Competitive Balance

This is by far the most valid/interesting criticism. The spending by the big clubs, and Real Madrid does the most spending, is clearly altering the balance of the game. Is this a good thing? I'm honestly not sure. I believe there can be too much dominance by the big clubs, but I also don't necessarily favor total parity. People enjoy titanic clashes. Look at the level of hype that surrounded that Barca-Man U Champions League final.

So to answer the question, no, Real Madrid are not destroying the game. Are they, and the other big clubs, destroying the competitive balance of the game? If so, should there be some way to limit the amount that clubs can spend? This entry having wandered on long enough, those will have to be questions for another day.

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