European Football

UEFA Champions League Final: The Real deal?

Photo: Danaset CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

THERE IS the danger that the presence of Real Madrid in this year’s UEFA Champions League might have bred a little Real fatigue among neutrals. It is the third time in four years that they have been in the final and they are favourites to win it once more. Admittedly, they are there on merit, but just like when Manchester United were winning multiple titles in England, it merely suggests that wealth and power are everything in football. That’s the world that’s been created.

Nobody would pretend that this current Real side can compare to some of the club’s truly great teams of the past. La Liga title winners they may be, but they’ve conceded more goals than any Spanish champion of the past decade. Conversely, over a century of goals scored indicates they are as attack-minded as any past Real side, although less dependent on the output of Ronaldo than they have been.

But there is a growing feeling that Real are where they are this season because they’ve been able to financially outmuscle the opposition – especially in this year of mixed Barcelona performances. Only this week, a report by KPMG’s Football Benchmark team underlined the sheer power of clubs like Real. Although Juventus represent Italy among the elite, the figures underline the huge difference between Real and their Champions League final opponents, indeed their La Liga rivals (with the exception of Barcelona). On every count, Real are considerably bigger and more resourced than Juve. But when you consider the line-up Juve are going to field versus Real’s likely XI, the cost of both teams is comparable. Furthermore, the net transfers of the two clubs over the past five years differ dramatically, which suggests Juve may be more astute in the market.

Real Madrid   Juventus
EUR 620m Total Revenues* EUR 341m
EUR 228m TV broadcasting revenues* EUR 196m
EUR 263m Commercial revenues* EUR 102m
EUR 129m Matchday revenues* EUR 44m
EUR 419m Wagebill EUR 145m
69,426 Average attendance 2016-17 39,936
EUR 3,095m Enterprise value ** EUR 1,218m
(EUR 140m) Net transfers over last five years (EUR 14m)
EUR 285m Cost of likely starting XI EUR 270m

*Data from Deloitte/*KPMG/Other sources

Real are already planning for life after Ronaldo and are ready to flex that fiscal power once more. They’ve signed Brazilian starlet Vinicius Junior, the 16 year-old who may be the next Neymar, for EUR 45m, and look set to table EUR 100m for Chelsea’s Eden Hazard. Basically, when you’re as rich as Real, you can target – and usually get – whoever you want. It’s a similar situation in Italy for Juve, who have pursued a strategy of weakening their opponents by cherry-picking the best players. But with Real it goes way beyond geographic boundaries, as seen in their latest interest in Hazard.

Real do not have the ageing problem that Juve may come up against, but Sergio Ramos, Luka Modric and Cristiano Ronaldo are all over 30. Karim Benzema and Marcelo are both 29. But Dani Carvajal, Raphael Varane, Casemiro and Isco are all 25 or under. The big question is, what happens when CR7 goes?

Ronaldo has the perfect sense of theatre, whether you like him or not, and this past year has seen him on what may be the start of a farewell tour. European Championships, Champions League, La Liga and now another Champions League final, not to mention the forthcoming Confederations Cup. Real have been less reliant on him this season and there are some cynics who believe the team has been more effective for it – this was, after all, their first title since 2012. But Ronaldo demonstrated his “big game” timing when he netted two successive hat-tricks in the quarter-final and semi-final of the Champions League. His goal haul, 40 in all games, 25 in La Liga, is his lowest return since 2010 and the first time he has fallen below 50 since his debut season in Real colours.

Real may also be better because they are not trying to accommodate Ronaldo, Benzema and Gareth Bale every game. Bale has endured a staccato season in 2016-17 because of injury and played only half of Real’s league games. It seems unlikely that he will appear in the starting line-up in Cardiff.

That might make Zinedine Zidane’s selection problems easier and with Real being so successful without Bale for much of the campaign, doubts have been cast over the Welshman’s future in Madrid. Indeed, Manchester United are now being linked with Bale, who has been somewhat overshadowed by Isco, the new flavour of the month. It’s a competitive club and if you’re not fit, somebody is ready to step into the limelight and such is the nature of Real they probably need to turn over some of their star purchases to keep interest high and balance the books a little – and of course, to make way for new acquisitions that keep the pot boiling nicely at the Bernabeu.

It would be oh so predictable if Real were to win the competition again, but on paper, they have the edge against the Italian champions, both on and off the pitch. Much depends on whether Ronaldo and Benzema can outsmart the Juve defence, which has been the rock on which their success has been built. Has Ronaldo got another great performance in him this season? You cannot bet against him, or indeed Real Madrid.

 

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