As a new season of top flight Spanish football returns with LaLiga, Eduardo Alonso looks at the usual front runners for the title – against the backdrop of a new financial world order for Football
222.222 million euros. Unless you spent your summer underwater, you know that’s the amount PSG paid FC Barcelona to sign Neymar Jr. An insane record-breaking signing that smashed and doubled what Manchester United paid last season to Juventus for Paul Pogba. In a few years time we are likely to look back and consider this summer’s transfer window as a turning point for European football.
Without any major international tournaments – the Women’s Euro Championships went largely unnoticed unfortunately – football fanatics turned their full attention to calciomercato; that is transfer market news, rumors of new signings and players moving from one club to another. We are living times in which the anticipation of events are as crucial as the experiences’ themselves. We see it every day in entertainment. Movie trailers and teasers provoke an unthinkable amount of buzz and when music festivals announce their lineups in a year-long hype. The emotion of anticipation, building up the hype is an old marketing trick. Nothing plays better with the psychology of anticipation than football transfer rumors.
football fanatics turned their full attention to calciomercato; that is transfer market news, rumors of new signings and players moving from one club to another.
Neymar’s transfer is particularly significant for LaLiga and Spanish clubs. It shows how Spanish teams are losing economic power to the Premier League and Qatari multi-billionaires. Both FC Barcelona and Real Madrid sold important players this summer. Neither of them because they wanted to or needed the money. Neymar and Álvaro Morata abandoned their respective clubs in search of bigger fame, glory and fatter paycheck (and in Morata’s case, you can throw in the prospect of more playing time). Atletico de Madrid’s Antoine Griezmann nearly followed suit. Only FIFA’s sanction on Atlético – the club is banned from signing new players this transfer window – avoided Griezmann’s rumoured move to Manchester United. It’ll be surprising if he remains at the club next year.
The Spanish clubs are not the only one’s losing talent, but they also face troubles when trying to sign new players. Barça’s efforts to attract PSG’s midfielder Marco Verratti and Arsenal’s right back Hector Bellerín were futile. Your money is not enough. Likewise, Real Madrid are on the verge of losing out on the bidding war to sign Monaco’s wonder Kylian Mbappé. The 18-year old forward is reportedly set to move to PSG in another record-breaking transfer fee. Real Madrid cannot compete with the money that supports PSG. A new football world-order is on the horizon.
Two teams, one title
Still, Real Madrid and Barcelona will continue to dominate the Spanish First Division without difficulties. Realistically, they are the only candidates to win LaLiga. Between the two of them, Real Madrid and FC Barcelona have won 31 of the last 40 league titles.
Three years ago, Atlético, fueled by coach Diego Simeone’s persistence, snatched the title, but it’s hard to think they’ll pull it off again. The squad is a year older and with no new players until January, it remains to be see if the team can keep up with the same competitive level. Simeone’s relentless can only get so far.
The other clubs are not doing much better. Jorge Sampaoli is probably a football genius, but last season he failed in his stint as coach at Seville – after a disappointing elimination at the hands of Leicester City in the Champions League. Argentina wanted him as the next coach and he could not say no to the challenge of making Leo Messi a World Cup champion next year. Will he succeed? In the meantime, another Argentine, Eduardo Berizzo will be in charge and tasked with reinventing Seville once again.
With no money in the bank, Valencia travel through nowhereland in their years-long- reconstruction. Marcelino García Toral is taking the hot seat as the new head coach. He could bring stability to the club with a project based on quick passing and movement. The question is if he will have enough good players for his master plan.
El Clásico: save the date
When I was a kid, there was no so-called El Clásico. Real Madrid vs FC Barcelona games were simply derbies. I don’t exactly know when the rebranding to El Clásico started, but this worked internationally and helped the expansion of the rivalry – one of the consequences of global modern football, I presume. This year El Clasico will take place on the 20th December in Madrid and 6th May in Barcelona. The latter will be the penultimate game of the season, so it could well turn out to be a final or a training match dependant on if the title is already decided by then. Save the date, nevertheless!
When I was a kid, there was no so-called El Clásico. Real Madrid vs FC Barcelona games were simply derbies.
Happy days for Zinedine Zidane’s Real Madrid. Reigning league champions, this could be the start of Real Madrid becoming a team for the ages. They are already in some respects, after winning three of the last four Champions League titles. But Real Madrid have struggled to dominate the domestic championship, winning only two titles in the last eight years.
Real Madrid bosses were quick to understand the new football financial order. Aware of the increasingly precarious football bubble, Real Madrid have put their efforts and money on securing youthful talent. In recent years, the club’s academy have produced Marco Asensio, Casemiro, Ceballos and Theo for less than what Manchester City recently paid for a goalkeeper. Those players could be the backbone of Los Blancos for years to come. Watch Asensio play any time you want – he is a formidable player.
Conversely, this has been Barcelona’s problem. After the Pep Guardiola era, the club has failed to rejuvenate its playing staff, trusting on Lionel Messi’s magic and the same old tiki-taka. But nothing lasts long in football. Despite the historic comeback against PSG in the Champions League – and winning the domestic Cup – last season was seen as a disappointment. The team played lazy and tired football throughout most of the season. They still managed to fight for the league title until the last day, but were convincingly beaten in the Champions League quarter finals by Juventus.
There are many questions marks surrounding Barcelona this coming season. Under the shock of Neymar’s escape, Barcelona are not showing signs of recovery yet, as the Spanish Supercup showed last week. Ousmane Dembélé could be a promising addition (if he moves from Borussia Dortmund), but at 20 years of age, can he already fill Neymar’s boots? New coach Ernesto Valverde must prove he can lead Barcelona’s reconstruction. He has succeeded at previous clubs, but now his low key approach will be highly scrutinized under the gaze of being at a top club like Barcelona.
There are many questions marks surrounding Barcelona this coming season. Under the shock of Neymar’s escape, Barcelona are not showing signs of recovery yet
But the biggest question mark for Barcelona is Lionel Messi. The World Cup in Russia is just a few months away. It may be his last chance to raise that cup. Will he go missing when games get rough for Barcelona and save some energies for Argentina? The 2013-14 season before the World Cup in Brazil, saw Messi score less goals than any other season before.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s last dance?
The first leg of the Spanish Super cup last Sunday demonstrated both the genius and the monstrous side of Cristiano Ronaldo, for the 20 minutes he stayed on the pitch. Introduced from the bench in the second half, Ronaldo scored a stunning goal, showed off his Herculean body by taking his top off in celebration and got a second yellow card for a possible dive one minute later. Not enough? Before leaving the pitch he pushed the referee. He’s been handed a five-game suspension.
Ronaldo’s relationship with Real Madrid’s fans has never been a honeymoon. Instead, it’s been more like a fruitful business relationship.
Amid rumors of wishing to leave Real Madrid, this upcoming season could be Ronaldo’s last in LaLiga as he enters the twilight of his career. He will be 33 next February. Fans at the Bernabéu might not have enough patience if the season does not start well. Despite the tremendous amount of goals, trophies and records, Ronaldo’s relationship with Real Madrid’s fans has never been a honeymoon. Instead, it’s been more like a fruitful business relationship. He had an epic run in the last Champions League, including two goals in the final. However, during the summer he did not deny the rumors of his wish to leave the club. Many Real Madrid fans suspect that he may have already played his best 50 games for the club, so they consider that this might be the right time to let Ronaldo go and pass the torch on to younger players such as Asensio.
Blue-collar El Clásico and relegation zone
When it comes to the relegation zone, this season brings an old, intense rivalry. Leganés and Getafe, two teams from the working class suburbs of Madrid, will face each other in the top division for the first time ever. Both teams are working with some of the lowest budgets in the league and will struggle to avoid relegation.
A few more teams will join them at the bottom of the table. Deportivo La Coruña, Levante, Las Palmas and newcomers Girona will most likely suffer. As usual, there will be a number of managerial casualties. I predict Deportivo’s Pepe Mel as being one of the first to go.
Real Betis usually flirt with disaster and last year were very close again to relegation. I have a good feeling about this team this year. New coach Quique Setién, did a great job at Las Palmas last season.
The wait is over. Football’s back and the World Cup is on the horizon. It’s eleven months of footy until the 15th July when the World Cup Final takes place. Ain’t Life Grand?
Winners: Real Madrid
Top Scorer: Leo Messi
Relegation: Girona, Deportivo, Levante