Manchester United pre-season: Real Madrid’s amazing array of riches

The Champions League winners have compiled another giddying parade of galacticos that will be the envy of Manchester United who they play tonight

Detroit

“Now we play Real Madrid and it is nice to play against such teams, so you can show you are at least equal,” said the Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal yesterday.

However, the options available to the Spanish side prove that today’s game in Michigan is really not a meeting of comparable squads.

A predicted 109,000 crowd will be a record for a football game in the United States and the biggest to watch United since 120,000 saw their European Cup semi-final at the Bernabeu in 1957.

Van Gaal has complained of a preponderance of No 10s in his inheritance, giving his squad an imbalance, but the Real squad which trained yesterday in the heat of the Michigan Stadium, appropriately known as the “Big House”, was giddying to behold. The Nos 7 to 11 in the newly constituted Galacticos read: Cristiano Ronaldo, £24m new signing Toni Kroos, Karim Benzema, £71m new signing James Rodriquez and Gareth Bale.

While Kroos was a player Van Gaal categorically did not want at United, who had undertaken the due diligence work because of David Moyes’ enthusiasm for him, the juggling needed by Carlo Ancelotti is the greater of the two experienced managers by some distance.

The Real Madrid we see will line up as a 4-2-3-1, if the prevailing view of supporters reflects the Italian’s. That would have Benzema in the attacking role, with Bale, James and Ronaldo in the second line, ahead of Kroos and Luka Modric back in midfield. That plays to the strength of James – best deployed as a No 10. It also leaves a number of substantial players – Xabi Alonso, Angel Di Maria, Isco and Sami Khedira – struggling to play.

The Argentine Di Maria is the most extraordinary omission, considering his contribution to the club’s fabled European Cup decima last season, and Ancelotti is understood to be resigned to losing him. The Italian has put up with a lot from interfering presidents over the years – at Milan he let Silvio Berlusconi sit in on his team talk before the 2003 Champions League final against Juventus – but it will hurt him to have to let Di Maria go.

President Florentino Perez’s desire to brush away remnants of the Jose Mourinho era has something to do with Di Maria’s exile, but there is also a feeling that the less-than-photogenic El Fideo (The Noodle), as they call him, does not shift shirts. Manchester United are interested by Di Maria’s availability, though, they think he will go to Paris Saint-Germain.

Of the other unloved stars, Ancelotti will endeavour to play Alonso as and when he can, Khedira may wait for a year and run his contract down, while the 22-year-old Isco’s future looks uncertain. Perhaps he should have gone from Malaga to Manchester City with Manuel Pellegrini when he had the chance last summer.

It is an incredible array of talent and illustrates the divide which has to be bridged by United – a club whose transfer record is still £37.1m, who have struggled to get the established superstars of European football through the door and whose owners have this week announced that they are undertaking another share issue to raise $150 million (£89m) for themselves.

Meanwhile, the Spanish media is absorbed by the lack of out-and-out No 9s at the Bernabeu, Benzema aside. Agent Jorge Mendes, who has delivered Rodriquez, is now trying to get Radamel Falcao in from Monaco. The arrival of Costa Rica goalkeeper Keylor Navas has been delayed until the side can offload either Diego Lopez or Iker Casillas.

Real can afford to do all of this and still comply with Financial Fair Play because of their incredible earning power. They topped the Deloitte Football League for a ninth consecutive season in January with total revenue of €518.9m (£413.9m.). They and Barcelona share the stranglehold on La Liga TV rights, unlike the more equitable English division. They move players on to raise cash for new ones and often push for transfer fee payments in instalments. The amortisation of transfer fees over the length of a player’s contract also makes transfer outlay less significant than it looks.

The Spanish club are aggressively seeking a cut in United’s healthy global income, too. They have been banging the commercial drum hard here in the United States these past two weeks, with La Liga’s president Javier Tebas in a supporting role. Tebas, in California when United arrived to play LA Galaxy last week, has been on a mission to bridge the financial gap between the Premier League and his own division by targeting the US and Asia.

He didn’t seem entirely to be joking when he declared, in the context of Luis Suarez following Bale from England to Spain: “We are not going to stop. We want the best 500 players.”

The USA’s huge Hispanic population makes it a key market for both club and league. Real’s ambition was checked yesterday when a Spanish court temporarily stopped the club’s plans to remodel the Bernabeu in response to the concerns of an environmental group. The Madrid city government had granted permission for the expansion, though the European Union is investigating the legality of a property swap between club and government. It has also been examining for a year whether Real, Barcelona and five other Spanish clubs received illegal state aid, as The Independent has revealed.

But the development did not look like a substantial impediment to the club. There is a sense that this group of galacticos have been more intelligently assembled than that put together by Perez and then sporting director Jorge Valdano in 2003 – the high tide mark of the club’s first galatico era. Then, Real bought players at top dollar simply because that gave them an aura. Perez passed up a £7m 21-year-old Sao Paulo player called Kaka and hired him for £40m four years later.

The balance of the squad was also subsidiary to the galaxy of stars. David Beckham and Luis Figo were masters of the same position and because there was no holding midfielder among the central four of Beckham, Figo, Zinedine Zidane and Guti, Beckham ended up playing in central midfield. When Perez returned in 2009 the club signed holding midfielders – Alonso and Modric – as well as Ronaldo, Benzema and Kaka.

As he prepared to face United, Bale talked of a club with “more hunger than ever” as they bid to retain the Champions League and win six trophies, including the Super Cup at Cardiff’s Millenium Stadium in 10 days.

“It was a massive change for me last year but in time I have become very comfortable here,” Bale said. “Now I want to improve in every aspect.”

Ancelotti’s tactical options include a 4-4-2, with Rodriquez at the top and Alonso at the base of a midfield diamond  and Modric and Kroos either side, delivering Bale and Ronaldo up front at the expense of Benzema. He will struggle to keep his stars happy, while United still struggle to sign any. Madrid look like a side in a vastly superior space.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones