From the publishers of THE HINDU
VOL.32 :: NO.32 :: Aug. 08, 2009
Fans of football management video games know the feeling well. Having signed the two star playmakers you’ve coveted for the last three seasons, you rub your hands gleefully, imagining the poetry you will unleash upon the virtual football world through the twin talents of Diego Pele and Ferenc Di Stefano, only to find as season 2023-24 unravels that the two cannot stand each other. Played in the same team, they get in each other’s way; bench one, he hands in a t ransfer request.
Substitute flesh-and-blood footballers for the numbered circles of Football Manager 2009, you have a situation that could potentially envelop two European clubs engaged in gung-ho transfer activity of a scale never seen before — Real Madrid and Manchester City.
If the Diego Pele-Ferenc di Stefano situation seems intriguing, consider this: Kaka, Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, Raul, Higuain, Alvaro Negredo, Klaas Jan Huntelaar, Rafael van der Vaart, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben, Royston Drenthe — enough names to fill a football team, if you decide you can do without defenders, defensive midfielders and a goalkeeper.
Ahead of the 2009-10 Spanish football season, therefore, Real Madrid coach Manuel Pellegrini — who took Villarreal to the Champions League semifinals in 2006-07 — suffers the twin headaches of achieving tactical balance and managing a collection of egos that dwarfs anything seen before in football.
Director of Football Jorge Valdano, meanwhile, races against time and the closure of the summer transfer window on August 15 to complete more signings — Liverpool midfielder Xabi Alonso is almost in the bag — and to offload players deemed surplus to requirements. Of the nine players reportedly on the transfer list, only two — defender Gabriel Heinze and striker Javier Saviola — have so far been sold. An overloaded player roster will burden the wage structure and unbalance the books of any club, especially one presided by Florentino Perez, whose Grand Canyon-sized pockets are matched by an acute case of shopaholism.
In putting together his second Galactico project, Perez’s three biggest signings so far — Kaka, Ronaldo and Benzema — have together cost 166 million pounds, a sum that has thrown the entire transfer market off-kilter. The kind of money Real Madrid is prepared to pay for a Galactico has inflated the price clubs demand for their marquee names.
Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson discovered this when he had to pull out of the race to sign French international striker Karim Benzema, for whom Real Madrid eventually paid French club Lyon 30 million pounds.
“I can only placate the fans in one way and that’s by not being stupid,” he said about the transfer. “We have that wonderful sum of money from Real Madrid (80 million pounds for the Ronaldo transfer) but there’s no way we are going to throw it away by putting an extra zero on the end of transfer fees when I didn’t think it was value ... We went in for Benzema but, as far as we were concerned, the price tag was beyond his value. If other clubs want to go to that level, that’s entirely their business.”
In this climate, only one other club in the world can match Real Madrid’s spending. Ever since its takeover last September by the Abu Dhabi Group, Manchester City has assumed the identity of football’s Don Corleone, repeatedly drawling the words, “We’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse.”
Putting aside rejections from Kaka, Dimitar Berbatov and more recently John Terry, City has assembled a meaty-looking squad, with the signings this summer of Roque Santa Cruz, Gareth Barry, Kolo Toure, Emmanuel Adebayor and the cheeky whisking away of Carlos Tevez from its rival across town. All are proven Premiership performers.
Yet City, like Real Madrid, faces a surfeit of attacking players — new boys Santa Cruz, Tevez and Adebayor will jostle for attacking slots with incumbents Robinho, Benjani, Craig Bellamy, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Martin Petrov and the talented attacking midfielder Stephen Ireland.
At some point in the season, therefore, manager Mark Hughes may find himself fighting the uncharitable hope that a couple of his strikers get injured and give him temporary respite. The biggest transfer move in Europe outside Madrid and Manchester so far is the swap deal that sees Samuel Eto’o and a briefcase bulging with an estimated 37.6 million pounds move from Barcelona to Inter Milan in exchange for the outrageously gifted Swede Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Meanwhile, Juventus has freshened its ageing squad with two Brazilians — playmaker Diego, who scored 20 goals for German club Werder Bremen last season, and midfielder Felipe Melo, who impressed in a deep-lying role for his national team in the Confederations Cup.
Otherwise, the uneven spread of transfer activity has ensured that most clubs have so far been restricted to making not-quite-household-name purchases, like that of ex-Ajax defender Thomas Vermaelen’s move to Arsenal, or, in the case of Manchester United, signing Michael Owen on a free transfer. However, the August 31 transfer deadline is still, in wheeler-dealer terms, a long time away.
Till then, the names that will swirl in rumour-fuelled Brownian Motion include the Valencia duo of David Villa and David Silva, Bayern Munich winger Franck Ribery, AC Milan midfielder Andrea Pirlo, Bordeaux striker Marouane Chamakh, and Real Madrid’s transfer-listed Dutch contingent of Van Nistelrooy, Van der Vaart, Robben, Sneijder, Drenthe and Huntelaar. Watch this space.
Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal) Manchester United to Real Madrid, £80 million
Kaka (Brazil) AC Milan to Real Madrid, £56 million
Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Sweden) Inter Milan to Barcelona, part exchange (Samuel Eto’o of Cameroon, + £37.6 million — estimated)
Karim Benzema (France) Lyon to Real Madrid, £30 million
Carlos Tevez (Argentina) Media Sports Entertainment (rights holder; end of loan period at Manchester United) to Manchester City, 25.5 million
Emmanuel Adebayor (Togo) Arsenal to Manchester City, £25 million
Yuri Zhirkov (Russia) CSKA Moscow to Chelsea, £18 million
Michael Owen (England) Newcastle United (end of contract period) to Manchester United, free transfer
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