x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Losses and gains of playing in Spain

There are two types of crisis in Spain. The global economic one has hit the country so hard that The Economist last week had a 14-page special entitled "Spain - The party's over". The other is at Real Madrid.

Real Madrid go through managers like normal people go through cereal packets and Bernd Shuster could be the next in line.
Real Madrid go through managers like normal people go through cereal packets and Bernd Shuster could be the next in line.

There are two types of crisis in Spain. The global economic one has hit the country so hard that The Economist last week had a 14-page special entitled "Spain - The party's over". The other is at Real Madrid, where the internal mechanisms of the world's most successful football club are being picked over by a voracious football media which constitutes four national sports (nee football) newspapers and scores of regional alternatives.

On one level, it's difficult to see why Real Madrid are in crisis. Had they beaten Valladolid last Saturday, they would have returned to the top of the Primera Liga as Pep Guardiola's magnificent Barca side won their ninth game in succession on Sunday. Madrid's towering Estadio Bernabeu is full to its 80,000 capacity for every home game; they are the Spanish champions and even with injuries boast a squad of world-class players.

On another level, there is a crisis, because Madrid's glorious past means the weight of expectation is such that finishing second in the league and only being Champions League finalists would constitute failure. Before Chelsea fans make comparisons, Madrid are a different beast. In England, there is envy that the big Spanish clubs are owned by their members, that no directors make financial gain and that democratic elections are held every four years.

Clubs are immune from foreign ownership and debts are usually secured on generous terms by local banking institutions. Yet democracy brings problems. Elections create instability, tension and political factions. Real Madrid are an institution, but they are a dysfunctional one devoid of continuity. Club staff, from players and coaches to technical directors, are always looking over their shoulders to decipher who it's best to side with.

It seems implausible, but fans voted out a president in 2002 when they'd just won the Champions League. That's when Florentino Perez arrived on a promise to bring the finest players in the world to the Bernabeu, starting with Luis Figo, the best player of Barca, the hated enemy. Perez also brought Ronaldo, Beckham plus Zidane; yet they were less than spectacular when it came to winning trophies. The current "crisis" centres around whether coach Bernd Shuster will lose his job, but if he does, which top level manager would move to Madrid when there's club elections next year?

Madrid go through managers like normal people go through cereal packets. And given the scant regard which Madrid have shown to players who have served them well - like Michael Owen - it's only their gilded reputation for history and glamour which ensures they remain a magnet for players like Cristiano Ronaldo. Ronaldo enjoys stability at Old Trafford; yet at the Bernabeu the sporting director Pedra Mijatovic, the man with responsibility for new players, doesn't get on with the coach who has to play those players.

Barca's structure is barely different. Maybe that's what drives both clubs, or maybe it's far more prosaic. For as long as Madrid are doing better than Barca or vice-versa, one's happy and the other feels like they're in a crisis. Even if they're not. amitten@thenational.ae