Real Madrid: Florentino Perez forgot what worked in the first place

Real Madrid, Florentino Perez (Photo by Eric Alonso/Getty Images)
Real Madrid, Florentino Perez (Photo by Eric Alonso/Getty Images) /

Real Madrid are rapidly approaching a crossroads, accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic’s financial impact on football clubs that are not bankrolled by oligarchs. All the mistakes Florentino Perez has made after Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure to Juventus are coming to a head, and manager Zinedine Zidane is the one left facing the brunt of the criticism – and some of the criticisms are valid.

As it stands, Los Blancos are out of the Copa del Rey and were bounced out of the first round of the Spanish Supercup. They are seven points behind Atletico Madrid in La Liga, with Los Rojiblancos holding a game in hand. Their Champions League hopes are still alive, though they needed to win their final group stage game to qualify for the knockout round. And now Martin Odegaard is about to join Luka Jovic as a loanee this winter.

Perez made the decision to transition to signing the world’s best young players instead of focusing on Galacticos, knowing he could only afford to sign the world’s best BEFORE they reach that level. Football transfers are getting too pricy. The problem is that the club hasn’t given the young players he has signed a chance to grow, and it is important for a manager to know he can afford to lose matches without being fired. Otherwise, how does he have the job security to enable the young players to go through the usual growing pains?

But the interesting thing is that Perez should not have forgotten one key aspect of his squad-building that enabled Real Madrid to reach the heights they did between 2013 and 2018. Yes, they had a few Galacticos leading the attack in Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale, and Cristiano Ronaldo, but the foundation of Real’s squad was built on smart signings.

Real Madrid was built by signings like Varane, Kroos, and Modric

Let’s examine these core players. Raphael Varane is one of the biggest bargains in Real Madrid history. He was signed for about 10 million euros after being identified by Zinedine Zidane at RC Lens. Compare that to center backs like Dayot Upamecano and Jules Kounde, who are young stars but are also “open secrets” who would cost upwards of 50 million euros. You know, the same price as Eder Militao, who continues to be mired in transfer speculation.

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Toni Kroos? Real Madrid bought him when he was an established player at Bayern Munich for under 30 million euros. That price would probably be a lot more if we adjust for the current era, but Real would still probably pay less for him than for Eduardo Camavinga, for example, with the latter being less established.

Casemiro, Luka Modric, Dani Carvajal, Sergio Ramos, and Marcelo were all acquired before they became big stars. They were all affordable signings who were not immediate superstars for Los Blancos. Real had to be patient with them, but they eventually became the best players in the world at their respective positions.

Real Madrid have gone this route before. They have made wise signings of younger players at established clubs in Europe, loaning them out, in the cases of Casemiro and Carvajal, before reaping the rewards. Then, they made sure to nail the players they spent a premium on. Bale, Ronaldo, and Benzema all cost a pretty penny, but they were ascending young talents who were established stars AND had the upside to continue growing.

So why are Los Blancos suddenly deviating from this approach? Why did they spend 160 million euros on Rodrygo Goes, Vinicius Junior, and Luka Jovic, only to barely feature them? Why did they send Martin Odegaard on successful loans and then fail to use him in the first team? Why are there rumors of Militao’s exit when he’s actually playing well?

Perez needs to remember that while he had Galacticos spearheading the attacks of his greatest teams in the last decade, the midfielders and defenders who stabilized the team and made them a weekly winner were not splashy signings. They were quality, young players whom the club believed in and allowed to make mistakes. Remember when fans were calling for Modric’s head after one season? The man eventually won a Ballon d’Or and became the greatest midfielder of his time.

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Real Madrid have to give Zidane their full trust and let him know that it’s OK if the team goes trophyless one year in order to become a juggernaut again. It’s a cycle. Los Blancos cannot sacrifice their future, especially with money tight, by being too afraid to fail in the present when their ceiling is limited. They cannot let the ghost of Cristiano Ronaldo haunt them and cause them to forget how they built a successful Champions League side in the first place.