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Real Madrid are building a super team, without the vanity of past regimes

For so long, Real Madrid were known for the recruitment of world football’s top names. The club’s famous Galactico project of the early noughties brought four Ballon d’Or winners to the club in five summers, with David Beckham added for an additional hint of pizazz.

A second wave of Galacticos followed in 2009. The Spaniards broke the world transfer record to sign Kaka from AC Milan, before eclipsing that fee with the purchase of Cristiano Ronaldo from Manchester United. Xabi Alonso and Karim Benzema, two players instrumental to the successes of the following seasons, also arrived through the door.

Real Madrid has long been the destination for world football’s biggest names and, for much of the last two decades, the Spanish side has boasted the finances to make those transfers possible.

 

From 2000 to 2013, the five progressions of the world transfer record had one common theme. Luis Figo, Zinedine Zidane, Kaka, Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale all became the world’s most expensive footballer. All headed to the Bernabeu.

However, European football’s most notorious spenders have had to adapt to the changing landscape of modern football. The dawn of super clubs and state-funded rivals has meant Madrid has had to change, evolve, and reassess their recruitment.

Premium price tags for proven players have become increasingly rare in Spain’s capital, where the disappointment of deals for Eden Hazard and James Rodriguez remains fresh in the memory. Instead, to compete with clubs with bottomless resources, Real have turned to talent on the up, somewhat quietly assembling a squad that looks capable of challenging on all fronts for seasons to come.

Over the last four seasons, Real Madrid rank 31st among clubs in world football for transfer expenditure (€240.5m). Among those above the 14-time European champions include Leeds United and Southampton – now in England’s second tier – Brighton, Rennes, and Saudi side Al-Hilal.

For context, 13 clubs which are in, or were formerly in, the Premier League sit above Real Madrid for transfer spend since 2020/21. Chelsea, meanwhile, have spent almost six times more than Real Madrid across the same period. The latter has also brought in a profit of around €44m.

 

Real Madrid have spent money, but the funds invested have been done so with the long-term in mind. The five players signed on permanent deals involving a transfer fee, since 2020/21, have an average age of 20.2 years old.

Those investments, including the arrival of Jude Bellingham from Borussia Dortmund, have been supplemented by experienced additions on loan or on free transfers, most notably Antonio Rudiger, David Alaba and Joselu.

The result is a squad with both huge talent and promise. Federico Valverde (25), Eder Militao (26), Aurélien Tchouaméni (24), Eduardo Camavinga (21), Rodrygo (23), Vinicius Junior (23) and Bellingham (20) all have room to continue improving. Behind them, Arda Güler (18) and Endrick (17) add to an embarrassment of riches.

With the experienced Carlo Ancelotti at the helm and Thibaut Courtois, Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and Dani Carvajal offering counsel to the crop of superstars-in-waiting, there’s a balance at the Bernabeu that makes a record-extending 15th Champions League crown feasible.

Florentino Perez, the pioneer of the Galactico project, has been behind the change in direction and with the guidance of Juni Calafat he has formed a new plan to ensure Real reign in Europe.

A Galactico addition may still arrive in the summer, with Kylian Mbappe backed to move to Spain to become the face of Real’s latest super team. The France captain is out of contract at the end of the season and perhaps the perfect player to take this team to a new level.

 

It is noteworthy, however, that sources from Spain have suggested that Real Madrid, even given their long-standing desire to sign Mbappe, will not overspend on wages in that pursuit. Mbappe is a generational talent, though financial balance and a harmonious dressing room are even greater prizes.

Vanity has been replaced by logic in the Bernabeu boardroom, sowing the seeds for a successful era. How soon the Spaniards, who value the Champions League above all else, reap the rewards remains to be seen.

Read – Four talking points ahead of the Champions League action

See more – The five teams with the best defensive records in Europe’s top five leagues

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