Real Madrid yet to emerge from Cristiano Ronaldo and Zidane’s shadows: McManaman
Kolkata : When Steve McManaman, winner of two Champions League gongs and as many La Liga titles, mentions it would be difficult for Real Madrid three times during the conversation, you know how deep he thinks the crisis is this term. Quality reinforcements need to be got but the possibility of being cup-tied in the Champions League means big players joining in the January transfer window is very rare, he said.
“It is easy to say they should get Neymar or (Kylian) Mbappe, or (Eden) Hazard or Harry Kane but they are not available. The best players across the best teams in Europe are all taken and the more Real Madrid struggle, the less attractive the option is,” said the midfielder who made 94 appearances for Real between 1999 and 2003.
“To be honest, I think Real Madrid have been fortunate that Barcelona haven’t been playing very well either,” said McManaman, here for a screening of Sunday’s Clasico arranged by La Liga.
The reasons for Real’s season being ‘more than a little strange’ are many but foremost is the inability to deal with two departures, he said. “The shadow of Cristiano (Ronaldo) and Zinedine Zidane leaving…they have not been able to replace them. They have to find somebody who can score a goal a game like Cristiano. I know it is impossible to do that but what you can do is bring in somebody who has quality.”
Investing in young players — a tectonic shift from the Galacticos’ era — and integrating them with the experience of Luka Modric, Marcelo, Sergio Ramos, Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema had Real Madrid doing well but McManaman said, “there comes a point when the team starts to come down because the majority of the players are getting on the other side of 30. That time is now.”
Unrest at Real, which completed a hattrick of Champions League titles earlier this year, with rumours about players wanting to leave isn’t helping. “Whether it is Modric wanting to go to Inter Milan or Marcelo being linked to Juventus, there is a lot of talk coming out of Real Madrid and, normally, everybody wants to stay there until they retire.”
The early surge of Espanyol, Alaves, Sevilla, Valladolid and Levante and Valencia getting into the Champions League does question if not debunk the idea that La Liga is about two or three teams. Going into Sunday’s matches only three points separated the first seven teams. “La Liga is a lot more competitive than it has been,” said McManaman.
A big growth in revenue — a Deloitte report put La Liga’s earnings at 2.9 billion euros in 2016-17, boosted by a 20% growth in sale of television rights which followed a 26% hike in the previous season, making it the second richest football league in the world removing Bundesliga which held that position for over a decade — has helped clubs invest in players, said McManaman.
But revenue of 5.3 billion euros makes the Premiership 86% larger than Spain’s top tier, according to the report. And that could be an important reason why McManaman said Manchester City and Liverpool are the biggest clubs in Europe at the moment.
“The record of La Liga clubs is a lot better in European football but the Premiership is now certainly starting to catch up. Particularly this year. I think it could be their turn in the cycle of being successful in Europe. I think the strongest teams in Europe now are Liverpool and City. Barca are doing okay, they invested well in the summer but are really waiting for them to click,” he said.