Real Madrid: Why the allure of the Bernabeu could be a blessing and a curse this summer

Miguel Delaney
The Independent

For pretty much anyone that’s joined Real Madrid, there’s so much to take in, but there is one moment where players really get it.

“There’s something just magical about going down that tunnel, and then those steep steps,” Michael Owen begins. “There’s about 20 of them, then about five to come back up…”

Up into something of remarkable scale, that appropriately reflects the grandeur of the club.

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“It’s just into that big cauldron. And going out in that solid white kit. Everything about it is always famous. The kit, the name, the history, everything about it. There’s so much glamour about it,” Owen adds.

“But it’s the stadium. It’s right on top of you. I think it remains probably my favourite place to play.”

This is one huge reason why it remains the favourite destination of Paul Pogba, of Christian Eriksen, of Kylian Mbappe, why it was for so long the favourite destination of Eden Hazard.

The imposingly pristine whiteness of the kit, in the impressionable steepness of a stadium that rises so high, are visual symbols of the ambition of the club.

This is why club president Florentino Perez currently feels he can low-ball Pogba and Manchester United. This is why they still feel they can get the top-class midfielder they need at relatively cheap prices compared to some of the prices usually paid.

This is why, despite recent financial complications, they are still among the biggest fish out there.

They still exert a huge market force, maybe the biggest of all.

And that force naturally has an equal but opposite reaction. There are of course the players that need to make way.

Having firestormed the market, they now require a firesale. Players who at one point got the hard sell from Real Madrid now badly need to be sold. The hierarchy needs to balance the books.

That will create a lot of opportunity for other clubs, and thereby maybe one of the most interesting markets since 2009.

That was when Madrid broke the world record twice by signing Kaka and Cristiano Ronaldo – to go with Xabi Alonso, Raul Albiol and Karim Benzema. The flip side was a mass clear-out of players still in their prime like Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Javier Saviola.

This summer has seen the biggest outlay since then, but might involve even bigger outgoings.

Eden Hazard arrives for his first press conference at Real Madrid (Reuters)
Eden Hazard arrives for his first press conference at Real Madrid (Reuters)

Among those looking for a new club are Gareth Bale, James Rodriguez, Mateo Kovacic, Keylor Navas and potentially Luka Modric and Marco Asensio.

There is a lot of business to be done there, and likely very good business.

This is also where the allure of Madrid can actually become a problem for them. Barcelona have found a similar problem.

It can be difficult to get rid of valuable players, on great money, in a great city.

It is why it has been so difficult to offload Gareth Bale. As he and has representatives now rightly believe, why drop down from this unless it’s a properly enticing situation?

The key for some of these players, however, is that they as individuals could instantly make other clubs more enticing.

James is an almost perfect example.

It’s now easy to forget just how good he was at the 2014 World Cup, way beyond that one wonder goal. Anyone could have told him that Real Madrid was the wrong move at that time, given there was no obvious place for him in the team, but – again – the allure proved too strong. It has gradually eroded his form and confidence, to the point he has looked a bit lost.

James Rodriguez is set for the Bernabeu exit (AFP/Getty)
James Rodriguez is set for the Bernabeu exit (AFP/Getty)

His Copa America performance against Argentina for Colombia, however, was a timely reminder of what’s there. And, along those lines, it isn’t too much of an exaggeration to say stars like Robben and Sneijder found themselves in similar situations in 2009.

Against Madrid’s prestigious new signings, they looked a bit… passe, lacking in that allure. They were anything but.

It emphasises how there is great business to be done there; how the right move for James could be transformative – for both player and new club.

It is why Madrid could be such a force in this summer’s market in more than one way, and why there’s real allure there too.

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