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15th Jun 2019

Real Madrid are showing Manchester United what a serious football club looks like

Wayne Farry

real madrid

With the right people in charge, a squad overhaul need not take six years

Eden Hazard, Luka Jovic, Ferland Mendy – what do all of these names have in common? Well, despite the fact that they are all extremely talented young men, none of them were Real Madrid players before June. Now, all of them are.

Hazard was unveiled as a Madrid player in front of 50,000 supporters (or protestors, it’s really hard to tell these days) at the Santiago Bernabeu last week after a move from Chelsea which could end up costing his team £150 million.

Jovic’s own unveiling came just days before, as the 21-year-old was rewarded for a season of excellence with Bundesliga side Eintracht Frankfurt to secure a £54m move to LaLiga’s super villains.

These are the two stand out signings of Madrid’s summer so far, signings which have come after a season of torture for the club’s famously patient fans, in which the club finished third and failed to progress past the Champions League round of 16.

Ferland Mendy, a 24-year-old left-back who will join from Olympique Lyonnais once the transfer window opens – it hasn’t even fucking opened yet, bear that in mind – for a fee of £47m.

Two other players will join the club this summer – Rodrygo, a Brazilian striker whose move to the club was confirmed last summer, and Eder Militao, a Brazilian centre-back and right-back whose move from Porto was signed and sealed in March.

These words are not just to say to you, ‘Wow, look at how many players Real Madrid have signed’.

Real Madrid are a massive team with extensive resources. They sign lots of players all of the time. In fact, it’s probably what they’re best known for, more so than winning actual trophies.

No, these words are written purely to show you what a club can achieve when it is serious about revamping its squad and returning itself to the pinnacle of football.

Real Madrid are currently experiencing their first summer in four years in which they are not reigning Champions League winners. They have finished outside of LaLiga’s top two for the second season in a row, having won the title three years ago.

This lull – and their performances and the tumult in the dugout last season has been that of a lull, however chaotic – has prompted the club’s hierarchy to undertake a root and branch overhaul of their team.

They have looked at the problem areas, the areas that require increased depth, and strengthened them. Only the central midfield position could do with reinforcement now, but in the space of a month Madrid have changed trajectory from a club in crisis to a club which will be expected to challenge for both the league and the Champions League again next season.

It is this conviction, this speed of action and strength of purpose that reminds us of what Real Madrid are: a truly top football club, one which will not allow itself to wallow for any longer than it is forced to.

It is also this conviction which forces us to look at another club who were once like Real Madrid: Manchester United.

Manchester United finished the 2018/19 season in sixth place in the Premier League, the third time in the past four seasons that they have finished outside of the top four. It was also the fourth time since Alex Ferguson left the club in 2013 that the club finished fifth or lower in the Premier League.

This summer, like most if not all of the past five, has begun with supporters, former players and pundits dissecting the corpse of the club’s past season, and hypothetising on what – if anything – can be done to return this club back to what many consider its rightful place in the upper echelons of European football.

This summer, like the past five, has seen the club linked with the vast majority of quality footballers on the market and, like during the past five summers, the club appears utterly out of its depth.

So far they have signed Daniel James from Swansea City, a no doubt talented player, but one who was most recently linked with moves to Leeds United and Brighton & Hove Albion. A cynic would say these clubs are now competing more closely in the transfer market with Manchester United than United are with the likes of Real Madrid.

The problem areas that exist at Manchester United – central defence, left-back, right-back and central midfield – are the exact same problem areas that existed when Alex Ferguson left the club in 2013. The club will cite the lack of Champions League football as a factor in not attracting or signing players this summer, but even when European Cup football has been on offer the club has been unable to address its key issues in recent years.

Fans meanwhile will state that United’s problems run much deeper than Madrid’s and have done so for years. But this is only the case because the club has allowed its problems to fester and multiply. Madrid, and clubs of its size, don’t allow this to happen.

Of course United have signed players, but not as part of any discernible strategy, more as some sort of obligation from the board to sign someone and, in the case of Paul Pogba, the desire to sign one of the most marketable players in the world.

By all accounts, Pogba is now Zinedine Zidane’s number one target at the Santiago Bernabeu, or Florentino Perez’. Regardless of which of these men is pushing the move, it looks increasingly likely that it will happen.

Should he move, he will likely succeed, and that is not because Madrid is any less chaotic a club than Manchester United. If anything, Madrid are Europe’s premier drama merchants.

But he will succeed because, unlike Manchester United, Real Madrid know that it requires more than one player to elevate the level of a football team. Paul Pogba on his own cannot win the league and Champions League for Real Madrid, but Pogba alongside Hazard, Jovic, Rodrygo, Militao and Mendy just might.

It took Madrid a couple of months to figure this out and do something about, and they’ll reap the rewards next season.

Manchester United are yet to do so, and it will cost them for years, and possibly decades, to come.