Champions of Spain and Europe. The world’s most successful club. The world’s second richest club. Real Madrid have had some extraordinary dynasties over the years, but their position in 2017 has arguably never been stronger.
In a decade that started with the Pep Guardiola-led brilliance of great rivals Barcelona, Los Merengues have forced their way back into this Spanish arm-wrestle through astute management, commercial success off the pitch and a peaking generation of outstanding footballers.
As manager, Zinedine Zidane has overseen unprecedented results in the last 18 months. Having cut his teeth in charge of Castilla, the club’s B side, he is also well positioned to bring through the best youngsters from La Fábrica, the youth academy, in so doing helping to secure the long-term future of the club.
The Real production line has suffered in recent years from comparisons with the famed La Masia, Barcelona’s equivalent talent factory. However, a number of players, such as Dani Carvajal, Nacho and Casemiro amongst others, the latter having been managed by Zidane at Castilla, have progressed to the first team in recent seasons, performing key roles and driving the side’s march to multiple trophies.
A former graduate of the system, Paco Pavon (he of the famous ‘Zidanes y Pavones’ motto from the Galacticos era) recently gave an insight into how these players are programmed to function:
“In other academies, the most important thing is the process, not the result. But here at Real, the most important thing is winning,” he told Bleacher Report.
This laser focus on developing mentally strong winners appears to be bearing fruit.
The team’s success has also allowed Cristiano Ronaldo to push ahead in his personal mission to be recognised as the world’s best player ahead of Lionel Messi. Realising that statistics alone wouldn’t get him there – as remarkable and consistent as they have been – he has let Zidane rest him for the benefit of the team, and has been more acquiescent to his mere mortal teammates in the pursuit of collective glory.
As both these totems morph into new roles dictated by age – Ronaldo increasingly a penalty box killer and Messi moving back to become more of a playmaker – the former could tip the statistical balance in his favour for good, albeit goals not being the sole barometer of performance.
It remains to be seen whether Ronaldo’s recent histrionics over the allegations of fraud are founded on a legitimate desire to leave Real and Spain, or if they are another ploy to extract a bumper contract to match Messi’s, with beIN Sports’ Tancredi Palmeri suspecting the latter. Should he move however, it is clear that he would almost certainly not find the same quality of teammate and system elsewhere that has allowed him to reach the levels he has of late.
So or Cristiano is getting a raise from Real Madrid, or he is going to PSG
— Tancredi Palmeri (@tancredipalmeri) June 22, 2017
There are those who see Real’s dominance as less an organic success story and more a result of undue influence at the summit of the Spanish game.
But conspiracy theories aside and as next season rolls around, it will be fascinating to see how Barcelona begin their new cycle under Ernesto Valverde and how Real’s city rivals Atlético cope with their stadium move and transfer embargo.
Unencumbered by any of these constraints and likely to be bolstered by new arrivals, Los Blancos will be looking to set their stall out early for another season of silverware and success.
Rob Hemingway, Pundit Arena