On the surface, there would appear to be little wrong in Madrid. The club, fresh from a 3-1 win against Chelsea in the final of the Guinness International Champions Cup, are preparing for a new Welsh-inspired era of dominance. That will cost the princely sum of £105m. Oh, and they have Cristiano Ronaldo and Champions League-winning coach Carlo Ancelotti. So a new season for Real Madrid and what might it hold?
Despite failing to achieve their obsession of winning Europe’s top club competition since 2002, it has hardly been a barren spell in recent years. Jose Mourinho broke Barcelona’s domestic dominance in the 2011/2012 season and picked up the Copa del Rey the year before. Add to that, La Liga titles in 2003, 2007 and 2008, and it’s been a productive 11 years.
But, rarely is anything smooth for Los Blancos. During his tenure, Mourinho produced an abundance of controversy. In 2011, he poked Tito Vilanova, the then Barca assistant manager, in the eye. Last season, he dropped club legend Iker Casillas and had a reported disagreement with his senior players.
His countryman, Pepe, criticised his management, but worse was to come when Mourinho was jeered by Madrid supporters during the Copa del Rey final defeat to Atletico Madrid.
Nevertheless, with the fiery “Special One” now back at home in London, the simmering player-manager tensions appear to have subsided.
Carlo Ancelotti is formidable. His CV portrays a man who has handled the heavyweight pressure of Silvio Berlusconi at AC Milan, delivering two Champions League triumphs. His first season at Chelsea saw the club clinch the double of Premier League and FA Cup. The sacking a year later was more to do with Roman Abramovich’s impatience rather than Ancelotti’s management. His one full season at Paris Saint-Germain yielded the Ligue 1 title. So, a CV that reads like a who’s who of giant European clubs.
With a stellar coach in the dugout, the pitch isn’t much different. The aforementioned Ronaldo is simply unstoppable. His double against Chelsea was the perfect riposte to Mourinho’s recent comments that the “real Ronaldo” was the former Brazil striker. Factor in 201 goals in 199 appearances, and there’s little doubt that with Ronaldo – the Portuguese one – on the pitch, Madrid are always a threat.
But, it doesn’t stop there. The new recruit Isco is hotly tipped as Europe’s shiniest new star. The attacking midfielder, 21, joined from Malaga for around £23m and complements an already well-stocked midfield. Then there is Asier Illarramendi, a £33m signing from Real Sociedad, Daniel Carvajal from Bayer Leverkusen, and young Brazilian Casemiro.
These new signings have joined an already magnificently gifted squad. Casillas, Raphael Varane, Pepe, Xabi Alonso, Sami Khedira, Mesut Ozil, Angel di Maria, Karim Benzema. Ronaldo, of course. The list is full of internationals, experienced winners.
The problems, then, are not rooted in the current ability on the pitch or, as it stands, trophy ambitions. No, they’re financial. It seems that, after years of being afforded ‘special status’, Madrid could – along with Barca – lose their status as a member-owned club and be forced to become a PLC.
This comes about after a four-year investigation by the European Commission competition office (EC) into allegations of illegal state aid. The club are also under pressure for a land deal with Madrid’s city council in 1996, which is claimed by critics to be state aid.
The allegations stem from a ruling by the Spanish government in 1990, which demanded that all clubs become limited companies, apart from a chosen four. Madrid, Barca, Athletic Bilbao and Osasuna. These clubs remained member-owned, and therefore apparently reaped the benefits of advantages in corporation and property tax, as well as getting not-for-profit status under Spanish law.
According to the Independent, the professional clubs in Spain’s top-two divisions owe about £575m in unpaid tax. However, this figure doesn’t include the tax debts of the four clubs mentioned. So, with an alleged unfair tax advantage over most of La Liga, Spain’s top two have been able to pull away from their rivals, splitting around 50% of La Liga’s television revenue between them for good measure.
It could therefore be argued that the fees that both clubs regularly pay out (Madrid have already spent £68m this summer, while Barca paid over £50m for Neymar) are partly possible because of their tax advantages.
What makes this all the more intriguing is the bid for Gareth Bale. Madrid president, Florentino Perez, has refused to back down in his pursuit of the Welshman, despite Tottenham raising his price to £105m. If successful, it’s likely that Bale’s wages could also reach the £100,000 mark. That’s a huge commitment for Perez.
However, the pressure of the EC investigation could halt this and make him think twice. But, it’s been in the pipeline for four years and in that time Madrid have continued to spend.
There are reports that Bale may not be welcome at the Bernabeu, with a brewing dressing-room backlash. A source is quoted in the Daily Mirror as saying one senior player was “surprised they were willing to pay so much for one player”. Another asked: “What about us?”
Bale may be entitled to ask: “What about me?” Madrid have probably gone too far to turn back now. The player’s head has been turned. He expects the move to happen. But, unlike previous years, there is now a growing EC shadow of discontent hanging over one of the most iconic venues for international events, the Bernabeu.
The legendary venue is well worth a visit, even for the neutral, the atmosphere is always electric. The reputation for hosting the finest football in the world, well earned. There are always a wide range of tickets available and if you haven’t been yet, you really should.