Monday 22 January 2018

Real exit shows sense in stability

Bernabeu's revolving door policy has cost the famous club dear, writes Paul Wilson

Football has no price. So screamed Spain's El Pais newspaper after Real Madrid's €260m revamp failed to improve their dismal six-year record of going out of the Champions League at the first knock-out stage. "Titles are not bought, they are won."

Those words must be music to the ears of Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger, Cristiano Ronaldo-haters around the world and anyone else who believes schadenfreude at Real Madrid's expense is not only justified but part of the natural order of things. Unfortunately they are just words, there is no profound truth in them. Real Madrid may have come to resemble the rich kid in the cake shop who hogs all the treats and then is sick on the way home, but everyone else is in the cake shop, too. You have to drop a long way down the divisions in modern football to find the metaphorical equivalent of street urchins pressing their noses against the window.

Manchester United, for example, did not produce Wayne Rooney, and neither did they buy him with buttons. He cost £26m, about £4m less than Rio Ferdinand, but that was a lot of money six years ago and plenty of Everton fans are still unhappy about the way United made their wealth and status count.

Similarly Sporting Lisbon supporters, while fully accepting that Ronaldo, like Rooney, developed and prospered on a bigger stage, were less than delighted about a player who had rocketed through their youth ranks being spirited away after only 25 senior games. There's no point complaining about it, though, it's just how football works.

In their book Soccernomics, European football analysts Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski calculate that 92 per cent of football success is due to money.

That's why Everton don't win anything, despite being excellent, and why Bill Kenwright had the begging bowl out again last week. Had Everton been able to hang on to Rooney they might have been able to win something, earn some extra money to build a team around their star player, and perhaps replace Liverpool in the Champions League and never look back, but in real life they couldn't hang on to Rooney, or even to Joleon Lescott.

Football definitely has a price, and it is that of the highest bidder. Titles can certainly be bought, as well, unless the success spikes of Chelsea and Blackburn in the past couple of decades can be put down to the wildest coincidence. It is worth adding that titles cannot be bought like cream cakes, you need a certain amount of patience and the ability to find and back the right manager, though ultimately putting a Kenny Dalglish or a Jose Mourinho on the payroll conforms to the Kuper-Szymanski theory. If you have enough money to buy the best you should eventually be able to hurt the rest.

That was undoubtedly Florentino Perez's philosophy when he relaunched his Galactico project on his return to power in Madrid, only to find it falling to pieces even more quickly than the first time round. Despite all the will in the world and a good deal of money, it seems Real Madrid cannot buy titles. Not European ones at any rate. They must be doing something wrong.

'Adios Pellegrini' is the current rallying cry in Spain. Real Madrid were a disgrace, so the manager will have to go. Yet when Real Madrid are not a disgrace, the manager usually still has to go. Manchester United have had the same manager for the past 24 years. In that

time, Real Madrid have had 24 managers. Not 24 different ones, granted. Leo Beenhakker, John Toshack, Fabio Capello and Vicente del Bosque have all been there more than once in that period, yet it has to be significant that while United (and to a lesser extent Arsenal) have reached unprecedented heights through managerial stability.

Nothing more need be said, really, except perhaps that some of the departing managers, Beenhakker, Toshack, Capello and Del Bosque among them, left after winning La Liga. Del Bosque in his last period in charge, picked up two league titles, two Spanish Cups and won the Champions League twice, yet still had to make way for Carlos Queiroz.

The former United assistant stayed one season and is now in charge of Portugal, while Del Bosque is coach of Spain. Capello is taking England to the World Cup, Toshack is staying at home with Wales, and Beenhakker is back in Holland as technical director at Feyenoord, but only after periods in charge of Holland, Saudi Arabia, Trinidad & Tobago at the last World Cup and then Poland. It is fair to say there is enormous managerial experience and ability within the aforementioned group, yet hardly any of it was properly tapped by Real Madrid.

Del Bosque might be an exception, yet even though he has had the job three times the best manager Real have had in recent seasons had his feet under the table for under four years. That's like Arsenal thanking Wenger for all he had done and saying goodbye to him 10 years ago. The politics surrounding the presidential system appear mostly to blame for Real going through good coaches at such a wasteful rate, and it is no coincidence that settled managers such as Wenger and Ferguson have developed an antipathy to the way Real go about their business. Madrid may have more luck with edgier Iberians such as Mourinho or Rafa Benitez. Neither is fancied to stick around indefinitely with his present club, and both are on the Real radar.

It would not be the greatest surprise to see one or the other at the Bernabeu next season. If Real stay true to form, the other one can be expected to turn up a season or two later.

Sunday Independent

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