The story appears on

Page A16

February 24, 2021

GET this page in PDF

Free for subscribers

View shopping cart

Related News

Home » Sports » Soccer

Madrid clubs carry Spain hopes

“Sign him up Florentino,” Real Madrid’s fans wrote on Twitter before Zinedine Zidane was asked if he sent a message to the club’s president Florentino Perez.

Kylian Mbappe had just destroyed Barcelona at Camp Nou and 24 hours later Erling Haaland did the same to Sevilla at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan.

By the time Real Sociedad trailed 0-4 on Thursday evening to Manchester United, the feeling in Spain became clear: La Liga was in freefall.

Later that night, Granada beat Napoli and Villarreal saw off Salzburg in a competition, it should be remembered, that was only six months ago won by Sevilla, for the fourth time in seven years.

In fact, a Spanish team has won the Europa League seven times out of the last 11. Three of those titles belong to Atletico Madrid, which was taking on Chelsea in the UEFA Champions League yesterday, after knocking out English champion Liverpool last season.

Real faces Atalanta, hoping to prevent a third year without winning the UCL, after winning all of the previous three.

“Spanish teams are still strong, it’s just a moment,” said Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman last week. “You can’t draw conclusions.”

If there is a need for perspective — that the speed of the fall is in part due to the heights previously reached — Spain’s dominance in Europe has also been receding for some time.

It perhaps began when Barcelona lost to AS Roma in 2018, continued with the exits of Neymar and Cristiano Ronaldo, before becoming entrenched, as financial impotence has prevented a revival.

Certainly for Barcelona and Real, hesitation in refreshing their squads has been punished to the full, the coronavirus pandemic enforcing a year without spending when they arguably needed to spend most.

Real’s youngsters are yet to blossom, while Barcelona has watched an historic era grow old, leave or retire. Atletico continues to rebuild after its own cluster of iconic departures. Sevilla has endured but Valencia is in a mess.

For most of this century, it has been a question of when not if a generational talent moves to Spain but now there are no guarantees.

Mbappe has long been linked with Zidane but, as Lionel Messi has shown, the best players define themselves by UCL victories and who could say confidently Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City will not own more of those over the coming years than Barcelona and Real?

Ronaldo and Neymar left, before Messi tried to and still might. Last summer, City pinched Spain’s most exciting young talent, Ferran Torres, while Atletico was powerless to prevent Thomas Partey even joining Arsenal.

And while Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho fronted La Liga’s peak at the end of the last decade, the most charismatic, modern coaches — Juergen Klopp, Mauricio Pochettino, Thomas Tuchel, Julian Nagelsmann — have plied their trade almost entirely elsewhere ever since.

Along with Guardiola, they have driven the shift towards a more physical, vertical, high-pressing style, that seems to have left Spanish teams behind.

“Barca always has been a team that has gone for lots of players for their technical qualities and not many for their physical qualities,” said Koeman on Saturday.

Beneath it all lies a financial reality, that Spain’s clubs, including the top two, are no longer among the most generous payers of transfer fees or wages.

Despite La Liga’s attempts to internationalize, foreign investors have still flocked not to Spain but to England, lured by the most lucrative television contracts and biggest audiences across the globe.

As Barcelona and Real shut up shop last summer, Chelsea and City spent freely, their billionaire owners offering protection from a pandemic that was paralyzing clubs almost everywhere else.

La Liga president Javier Tebas said the English Premier League’s transfer activity was “excessive” yet while Spain’s more stringent controls on spending may pay dividends in the future, in the present they are also restrictive.


Copyright © 1999- Shanghai Daily. All rights reserved.Preferably viewed with Internet Explorer 8 or newer browsers.

沪公网安备 31010602000204号

Email this to your friend