If you told a hardened rugby or cricket aficionado that Real Madrid and Manchester City had spent around £340m between them this Summer, they would tell you the old cliché that football is just about money and big egos as opposed to other sports. Do they have a point?
You might argue that Manchester City’s millions are a good thing for the game as it breaks up the monopoly of the “big four” clubs in the Premier League. However, many fans may not see the point of paying £18m for striker Jo, only to play him 8 times in the league before sending him on loan to a league rival, Everton, for a season and a half. Brazilian playmaker Robinho frequently looked as if he couldn’t be bothered last season, particularly in away matches. From day one, there was a huge responsibility on Robinho’s shoulders due to the sheer size of his name and his ridiculous £160,000 per week contract, he then shockingly enough went 17 games without scoring in the middle of the season.
You would be pleased to know that despite their massive budget, Mark Hughes’ side generally field at least two of their academy products in most matches. The likes of Micah Richards, Stephen Ireland and Nedum Onuoha are all first team regulars. City also had 3 academy products on duty for England u21s as the made the semi-finals of this year’s European u21s Championships in Sweden. These youngsters can only learn from playing with big money signings with experience at the highest level such as Robinho and Emmanuel Adebayor. For the complete neutral, City’s promise for this season is only a good thing. For the last five seasons, Arsenal, Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea have all made up the top four in a various order. The last team to look anywhere near like challenging for the title were Leeds United, who ironically enough are a classic example of how a club can hit freefall from reckless spending. The Yorkshire club have hurtled down the European football ladder, plummeting from Champions’ League semi-finals to League One in just six years due to immense debts culminating in a 10 point deduction in the 2006-2007 season which saw them relegated to their third tier. This was an unforgettable tale of a world beating team of young, English talent crippled by its own success and monetary gains that come with it.
Like the Leeds side of yesterday, today’s Real Madrid side have made waves with astronomical spending. The club owned by Florentino Perez made four out of the five most expensive signings of the summer in world football, and now have a frightening midfield comprising of the likes of Kaka, Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Xabi Alonso. What might make this spending seem more dangerous to purists is the exile of Real Madrid’s darling academy product Raul, who fell out of favour with the Spanish international side, and was not even picked for their squad and they strolled to victory at Euro 2008. Real Madrid had a dire season last term, finishing empty handed as bitter rivals Barcelona beat them 6-2 in the league and scooped the Champions’ League, La Liga and Copa Del Rey. Barcelona have since kept most of the previous squad to add insult to injury to Real Madrid, and have been much quieter this summer, making a few low key signings such as Brazilian prodigies Keirrison and Maxwell as well as a bigger names in Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Dmytro Chygrynski.
Iker Casillas, Guti and Raul are the only academy products in Real Madrid’s squad for this season, and Raul is arguably on his last legs whilst Guti will have be pushed to the fringes by the likes of Kaka. The club owns around 315m Euros so do not put it past the club to make even more marquee signings in January.
It is difficult to see how much big money signings make to results on the pitch at times. Barcelona’s Champions League winning side last season saw a staggering 9 academy products in their matchday 18 for the final. The thing about money is that it defines what a club sees as a success, Fulham stayed up on the last day of the season against Portsmouth in 2007-2008 and then finished in European places for only the second time the next season. This was done without strikers scoring 30 goals a season or big money signings, but they still managed to finish well and beat Manchester United on a shoestring budget. On the other hand, Real Madrid endured a torrid time last season, finishing with no major honours to their name and now face a period of transition with new owners like Manchester City.