Because Real Madrid is the model club of football

Florentino Pérez had a satisfied smile on his face, and with good reason. He had just seen Spain and Brazil share a thrilling freewheeling draw in the stadium that he himself reconfirmed at great cost. Now, Pérez, the all-powerful president of Real Madrid, has found himself in a whitewashed tunnel, presented—completely randomly, of course—with his favorite kind of photo opportunity.

On one side was Vinícius Júnior, Real Madrid's flag bearer and main event, dutifully introducing the man who pays his salary to his Brazilian teammates. A little further in the corridor, he was quick to bow, Rodrygo, another employee of Pérez.

But Pérez's attention was on Endrick, the promising 17-year-old who will complete his long-awaited move to the Santiago Bernabéu this summer. To say the two shared a conversation would be an exaggeration: in the footage of their brief encounter, Endrick doesn't appear to speak. After a handshake, Pérez only says one line, but it's perfect. “We're waiting for you here,” he said.

Real Madrid have been signing Endrick for some time: the club announced that they had reached an agreement to sign him from Palmeiras three days before the 2022 World Cup final. According to FIFA rules, he would remain in Brazil, with the club turning him into most coveted prospect in world football, until he turns 18 in July.

This type of long-term planning seems a little out of step with Real Madrid's traditional modus operandi. The club identifies itself, correctly, as a titan and, under Pérez's leadership in particular, prides itself on living the values ​​associated with the classic definition of that term: impetuous, impulsive, irascible.

It fires managers who fail to win the Champions League, signs players on the back of a stellar World Cup and airs a regular program on its in-house TV channel that has been interpreted as a pre-emptive attempt to influence and/or intimidate referees . Real Madrid has always been the kind of place that eats its own children.

All this remains inherent in the fibers of the club. For the past three years, Pérez has not only helped create a Super League that was supposed to reshape world soccer to his tastes, but he has championed it on a flashy late-night talk show — a bit like going on “Judge Judy” to they announce the abolition of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council – and then continue to promote it even after it has been slaughtered by, well, almost everyone else.

But there is no doubt that there is something different about the current incarnation of Real Madrid. The club has always considered itself the biggest, most powerful, most fascinating and most famous team not only in football, but in sport in general. Now it is possible to argue that it should also be considered the best run.

His slightly absurd record in the Champions League confirms this. In the last ten years he has won the club's most expensive tournament five times. If Carlo Ancelotti's side fall to Manchester City in the next two weeks, it will be only the third time since 2010 that Real Madrid have failed to reach at least the semi-finals of Europe's top competition.

A better indicator, however, is what will happen this summer. In addition to Endrick, already consecrated as the best player of the new generation of football, Real Madrid should (finally) sign Kylian Mbappé, the current strongman. They should also be joined by Alphonso Davies, left back for Bayern Munich and Canada.

All three deals show how Real Madrid now expertly navigate the transfer market. Endrick is another strongman of Juni Calafat, the club's head of recruitment, who has long had the task of bringing the best prospects from around the world – and from South America in particular – to Madrid.

Mbappé has been a patient case study, with Real Madrid time and again seducing the player and taking their time, slowly and carefully positioning themselves as their only realistic route out of Paris St.-Germain, waiting for the economic conditions were right to sign a contract. player currently employed by a club that is in effect an arm of a nation state.

Davies is also a masterpiece of patience: Real Madrid will offer Bayern Munich the choice of losing him for a fee this summer, or for free when his contract expires in 2025. Bayern will resent it, obviously. But he is familiar enough with this kind of strong method that he can, in private, applaud even a little.

It wouldn't be the first club to admire, if begrudgingly, how well Real Madrid has adapted to a financial landscape that, as the Super League project demonstrated, seemed to have shifted against Europe's old aristocrats.

Real Madrid, for example, doesn't have the money to force Premier League teams to sell players, and so they signed Antonio Rüdiger from Chelsea on a free transfer. It maintains a remarkably productive youth system – according to analytics firm CIES, 97 of its graduates play professionally in Europe – but it has also moved quickly to gobble up players such as Eduardo Camavinga, Jude Bellingham and Aurelién Tchouaméni before they fall into England's clutches.

The result is a club that, almost unique among the continent's great old teams, can look to the future with gusto. Barcelona has mortgaged many tomorrows to pay for yesterday's sins. Bayern Munich are about to hire their fourth manager in three years. Juventus is still reeling from the mass resignation of its board of directors in 2022 amid allegations of accounting fraud.

Real Madrid, however, next season should be able to count on a midfield made up of Camavinga, Tchouaméni and Bellingham, and on an attack line made up of Rodrygo, Vinícius and Endrick. Nobody knows where Federico Valverde will fit in. It certainly doesn't appear that the club's fate depends on whatever Mbappé decides to do.

It may, in many ways, remain an old-fashioned club, run like a personal fiefdom by an all-powerful president. It doesn't pretend to be as data-driven, as overtly modern, as Manchester City, Liverpool or Brighton, and it certainly doesn't at any point feel the need to tell anyone how clever it is.

But it is difficult to escape the impression that, of all football's traditional elites, Real Madrid is the one in least need of a Super League today. It is true that this is not the reality that Florentino Pérez hoped to occupy in the spring of 2024. He wanted it to change, irrevocably, to adapt to his club of him. The opposite, however, seems to have worked just as well. It has its own modern stadium. It has its own cluster of stars. The world remains, as it always has been, very welcome to Real Madrid.

The end, for Emma Hayes, is in sight. Next weekend, Chelsea face Manchester United in the FA Cup semi-final. A few days later, a Champions League semi-final with Barcelona is on the cards. There are five games left in the English Women's Super League; if Chelsea wins them all, Hayes could leave for her new job, as coach of the United States, with a championship farewell.

One, two or three of these trophies would be a fitting way for Hayes, the WSL's greatest ever coach, to say goodbye to a league he has done much to build. In recent weeks, however, the 47-year-old Hayes' farewell tour has taken on a decidedly, but unexpectedly, controversial edge.

First, he suggested that, from the coach's perspective, it may not be ideal for teammates to be romantic partners. He quickly backed away from those comments after they appeared to fuel resentment both inside and outside his team.

Then, last week, he shoved Jonas Eidevall, his Arsenal counterpart, and then accused him of showing “masculine aggression” by tackling a Chelsea player during the Blues' defeat in the Women's League Cup final. There, a retraction – or even a clarification – seems less imminent, something that might be explained by the fact that Hayes isn't the first coach to find Eidevall's touchline behavior a little abrasive.

Hayes is habitually frank. He is eloquent and fearless in equal measure. This is, in part, what has allowed her to develop a profile beyond women's football. In recent weeks, however, she has shown an openness that borders on direct shooting. The prevailing impression of her is that she doesn't want to leave England without making some things clear.

Interestingly, this week, the idea of ​​a luxury tax is being floated by some Premier League teams as a more attractive alternative to all these infernal points deductions. Well, in any case, things are like this: what is really happening is that some clubs in the league are trying to find an effective method to abolish financial regulation.

This is an increasingly popular position, because the Premier League has allowed the idea that cost controls are somehow “unfair” to spread. It is, however, false.

Those clubs that want to allow the transfer market to run wild don't want to level the playing field. Instead, they want to take an unpopular elite and replace it with another. The main difference, of course, would be that this new one includes and favors them. Nobody thinks about collective fairness in the slightest.

However, the idea is out there, so let's debunk it. A luxury tax has benefits in American sports. It wouldn't work in England, partly because there is no salary cap, and partly because some teams are owned by nation states, making the idea of ​​a financial penalty rather ridiculous. They would pay and go on their way, putting other clubs with their backs to the wall as they do.

If you want a truly 'fair' Premier League, you need more financial regulation, not reduction. And, as discussed earlier, if you want to take inspiration from the United States, the best place to start would be with a commissioner, complete with tenure and powers, who can enforce those rules in real time.

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