Real deals: Madrid recover summer with show of strength
The summer did not start well for Real Madrid, 13/8 to win La Liga with Coral, on the back of watching Barcelona lift yet another treble and ruthlessly axing La Decima-winning coach Carlo Ancelotti.
On top of that, a troubled transfer saga involving David de Gea, a lack of marquee signings and persistent rumours linking the likes of Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and, specifically, Sergio Ramos to a Bernabeu goodbye, and Los Blancos looked uncharacteristically out of control.
Though, the pendulum of power has swung back towards the Spanish giants, who have made some intriguing decisions with Rafael Benitez at the helm.
However, most importantly, Madrid have made a sweeping statement by shrugging off Manchester United’s interest in Ramos, by finally tying their captain to a new five-year contract.
— Real Madrid C. F. (@realmadrid) August 17, 2015
The Spain centre half could soon be joined in his commitment by Portugal international Pepe, reportedly close to penning a new deal, while his compatriot Fabio Coentrao could also stay put.
Rumours surrounding the apparent unhappiness of Cristiano Ronaldo, Bale and Benzema et al also looks to have been blown out of proportion, so the perception has changed incredibly quickly from circus back to happy camp.
Winning the PR war was important during the off-season and, while Barca are hampered by their transfer ban until winter, Real have been unusually slow to spend.
This could well be the Benitez effect, as the tactician, arriving from Italy, perhaps wanted to take stock of the complicated situation at club headquarters, cautious of causing the kind of fire-sale Real are famed for.
Danilo, before Benitez, was a shrewd signing to create top-drawer competition in defence, though in typical Madrid style could leave one quality player twiddling their thumbs on the bench. Yet, young Spanish starlets Marco Asensio, Jesus Vallejo and Lucas Vazquez have arrived for relative peanuts.
In a notable move, Benitez also brought Brazilian midfield shield Casemiro back to the Bernabeu. So, in a change of tack for the attack-minded club, he looks set to make sure the Spaniards’ spine is shored up.
Under former Liverpool coach Benitez, a former Los Blancos Castilla boy himself, Real are unlikely to find themselves in the same situation as last year, operating without a destroyer in the engine room.
The new Madrid manager may also have saved the Spanish capital club from embarrassingly offloading another top young talent in Casemiro, though Real were more than content to let ex-captain and keeper Iker Casillas somewhat painfully depart for the Dragons.
It was sensible to let the stopper go, while capturing Kiko Casilla from Espanyol has allowed the Bernabeu breathing space and a back-up plan, as Manchester United have proved proud and stubborn in the battle for De Gea.
Real, according to reports, could now play the waiting game and grab De Gea for free next summer, a tactic that will win them few friends but proves they are the kings of the transfer window once again.
In the meantime former Inter Milan boss Benitez is to plunder his old club for prize midfield prodigy Mateo Kovacic. The Croatian schemer’s exit has been confirmed by Roberto Mancini, who stated: “the sale of Kovacic will allow us to add to the team at some point further down the line.”
A truly interesting addition, perhaps the cheaper alternative to Paul Pogba, Kovacic is a player unique in style. Able to operate in a deep playmaker role, or as a box-to-box or attacking midfielder, the talented 21-year-old has a little of everything in his locker.
Shunted around the team while Inter were struggling, it sounds strange to say but the young Blazer may find more opportunity to develop in Spain.
Once the signing officially goes through, Madrid (5/1 to win the Champions League) may not have made the huge waves we are used to seeing in the transfer window, but can consider their quiet and contemplative summer a success.