Real Madrid’s DNA makes them so lethal in Europe

ON paper, Manchester City should be slight favourites to beat Real Madrid in the semi-final of the UEFA Champions League. At least, that’s the narrative – City are supposedly a better team, more prolific in front of goal and they have a coach who desperately wants to win the competition he last won in 2011.

Guardiola is heavily linked to the Champions League, but he’s confronting a manager whose relationship with the cup is every bit as intimate, Carlo Ancelotti, who has won it as a coach three times to Pep’s two. Ancelotti, who himself was considered past his best, is one of only three managers to have completed three Champions League victories (Bob Paisley and Zinedine Zidane are the others). Ancelotti is seen as part of the preceding football generation to Guardiola, the coach everyone covets. While Pep is a cross between messianic techbro and Bohemian hipster, slack-jawed Carlo gives off the air of a slightly tranquilised favourite uncle. They couldn’t be more different.

The two teams have a similar win rate in 2021-22 – City’s is 72.9% and Real’s 71.7%, Guardiola and Ancelotti have the best win rates in Europe at the moment. Real have lost seven games, City one less in the league, Champions League and FA Cup. Both have lost three games in their respective leagues. The difference between the two teams is minimal. City score more goals, 120 to 96, but the assumption that Real Madrid are nothing special is a little misleading. Certainly, the current Real side seems to have plenty of stamina, thanks to the methods of fitness coach Antonio Pintus.

It has been said before, but the Champions League is not always won by the best team in Europe – Real Madrid have proved that before. Similarly, the World Cup is not always secured by the public’s favourite side. The popular belief is that City and Liverpool are the best teams in Europe and most likely they are, but there is a stubborn resistance about Real Madrid that has repeatedly sent them all the way in the Champions League. Real’s all-star squads, their European pedigree and self-belief have served some very fortunate coaches down the years. Some football experts might claim there is no such thing as footballing DNA, and the current situation at Manchester United would probably support that view, but Real Madrid do not have to be the best around to win the Champions League. It’s in their blood.

However, when Cristiano Ronaldo left Real Madrid for Juventus in 2018, there was a school of thought suggesting the club had lost the very man who was capable of getting them out of tight situations. Ronaldo, in Real’s four winning campaigns, had scored 60 Champions League goals, a remarkable feat. He left after Real beat Liverpool in the 2018 final and departed Juventus three years later having failed to win the Champions League with the Italian side. It is probable that his special relationship with the competition is over, especially as his current employer is floundering and lacking direction. At Juventus, he never got beyond the quarter-final and in his second and third seasons, exited in the round of 16. Real, meanwhile, struggled at first, but have reached the last two semi-finals.

Real’s fans expect Champions League success – every knockout blow is forensically examined

Real’s fans expect success in Europe and every knockout defeat is forensically examined by the public. Managers, players and presidents have received blows to their position due to early elimination. Perhaps this air of tension has been used to Real’s advantage over the years, constantly pushing them to over-achieve. Look at how they performed against Chelsea: Karim Benzema’s four goals over two legs were right out of Ronaldo’s tie-changing portfolio. Benzema sat in the shadows to a certain extend when CR7 was at the Bernabéu and although he’s supposed to be at the veteran stage of his career, his display at Stamford Bridge was the stuff of Balon d’Or candidates.

Age is one area where City apparently have an advantage, yet according to Transfermarkt, Manchester City’s squad has an average age of 27.5 years versus Real’s 27 years 4 months. What is important in this figure is the age of some of Real’s key men – Benzema is 34, Luka Modrić 36 and Toni Kroos 32. By comparison, Kevin De Bruyne is now 30 and Riyad Mahrez is 31. Everyone has been urging Real to rebuild and there will need to be an influx of new signings or the introduction of youngsters. Transfer rumours abound constantly with Real, but it does look as though Paris Saint-Germain’s Kylian Mbappé and Chelsea’s Rüdiger could be heading to Madrid.

Real Madrid’s culture and their European heritage is very much about being the best on the continent, if not the world, so it would appear the club’s number one target has always been the European Cup/Champions League. The situation in Spain is such they know they can win La Liga at almost any time, so if a trophy has to be sacrificed, it is not going to be the Champions League. Real’s success in Europe, six wins since 2000, is only one less than the number of La Liga titles. Returning to Cristiano Ronaldo, he won just two championships with Real while Barcelona and Lionel Messi dominated the Spanish landscape. Perhaps it was also something to do with the composition of Real Madrid’s team, a star-packed unit that may be more equipped for the big occasion rather than the 38-game slog of the league. The ultimate cup team, maybe?

Manchester City will be aware of the task ahead of them, Guardiola has battled against Real Madrid as a player and manager throughout his entire career. As a Barcelona man, a Catalan and a rival, he knows all about Real and their place in the story of pan-European competitions.  He will also understand he’s not up against 11 players on the pitch, he’s taking on an idea, the Real Madrid concept of European domination. The hurdle may be every bit as formidable as the quality of the men wearing those famous white shirts.

Real Madrid still a “unique club” as pandemic squeezes the purse

AT first glance, Real Madrid’s 2019-20 financials do not appear to be too troublesome, but with a major redevelopment plan for the Bernabéu Stadium in progress and a higher level of net debt, a 6% drop in revenues to € 715 million is arguably the start of the club’s near-term challenges. With expenses at a massive € 680 million, the club made a modest net profit of € 300,000 versus € 38 million in 2019. 

Real Madrid have already implemented significant spending controls to try and reduce the risk of unsustainable debt, including a cut in players wages. In 2019-20, despite agreed reductions, Real’s football wages still rose by 5% to € 378 million, which amounts to 53% of income. 


Real Madrid’s management, hinted at their Ordinary General Assembly (OGA) that some difficult times were ahead for the game: “The pandemic has changed life as we know it”, said club president Florentino Pérez. “We’re faced with an unprecedented situation which would have been impossible to imagine and which has had a serious impact on every facet of society and of course, the world of football.”

Interestingly, Pérez called for a reform of European football to make it more competitive and exciting. It was clear he was referring to the much-discussed and controversial super league.

Pérez also claimed there is an element of bias against Real around TV coverage and punditry, a comment which drew criticism from La Liga President Javier Tebas. “I think the president of Real Madrid is getting very distracted by the matter of the European Super League, they should inform him better,” he responded.

The current global crisis comes at a time when Real’s squad needs reinforcements with a number of key players at the veteran stage of their career. This is a problem Real knew was coming a long time ago: Luka Modric, Sergio Ramos, Toni Kroos, Nacho, Marcelo and Karim Benzema are all over 30 and although younger players are now being introduced, these players have limited upside and are undoubtedly expensive.

Ramos looks bound for Paris Saint-Germain and Modric has had a year added to his contract, but other members of the “old guard” have at least a year on their contracts to run. 


Although Real’s January window activity might be forcibly muted, there is still talk of them trying to lure Kylian Mbappé and Erling Haaland to Madrid in the summer. With these two young strikers valued at up to € 400 million between them, Real will need to source the funding of such lavish acquisitions. Their net spend in 2019-20 was € 184 million, some € 60 million more than 2018-19. It is likely to be lower in 2020-21, which means players will have to be sold to fund any headline-making purchase. In both of the last two seasons, they made over € 100 million on player sales. Ramos and Isco look like being the first players to leave.

Real’s spending limits, like their rivals Barcelona, have been cut significantly, a drop of 27% to € 555 million (Barca is down 43% to € 454 million). Barca’s net debt position is far worse.

Real’s income was obviously compromised by the ban on fans on matchdays, resulting in the revenue stream dropping by 20% to € 116 million. Broadcasting, too, suffered, falling by 11% to € 231 million. Real’s strength – boosted by their 230 million global fans – was in their commercial income, which rose by 4% to € 369 million. This now contributes over half of the club’s total revenues.

Financing will bring the overall cost of the Bernabéu transformation to around € 800 million. During the pandemic, Real have been playing their home games at their training complex. Investment in the project has so far totalled € 113 million, with € 100 million drawn from the loans.

The club has no shortage of people wanting to lend them money and they have secured long-term financing that includes four loans totalling € 155 million with a maturity of five years and € 50 million over five years. Cash has come from five Spanish banks. Net debt at the club has risen by almost € 200 million to € 118 million. For the past four years, Real have been in a negative net debt position which meant they were able to pay-off debts and spend more freely in the market. 

Real said at their OGA that the club has solid liquidity with a net worth of € 533 million and a treasury of € 125 million (as of June 30).


They have already forecast revenues will drop again in 2020-21 to around € 617 million, which would be € 300 million higher if not for covid-19. Of course, if the fans return, that could all change, but they are already bracing themselves for a € 90 million-plus loss.

In the meantime, Real are defending the La Liga title they won in 2019-20. They are currently chasing a resurgent Atlético Madrid but are well ahead of troubled Barcelona. They are still in the UEFA Champions League and will face Atlanta in the round of 16. 

As for coach Zinedine Zidane, there have been rumours he is feeling the pressure of the immense work load. Like so many high-profile coaches, Zidane’s role is discussed on a weekly basis, game-by-game and the narrative changes all the time. He has an uncanny knack of producing job-saving results just at the right time. 

Just before Christmas he was, allegedly on the brink of being sacked but in the past fortnight, he is refusing to commit himself over his future. Ultimately, it won’t be Zidane who decides if and when he leaves the Bernabéu.

Pérez offered a cautious note about the year ahead at the club’s OGA: “We’re heading into a difficult reality, the consequences of which are still unknown at this stage. We all know we’ll have to travel a long path full of obstacles, facing up to this adversity, but we’re a unique club, one that never gives in.”

Photo: PA Images

1005 Words

Eden project shows Real are eager to broaden their footprint in 2019-20

Real Madrid presents its new player Eden Hazard at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid June 13, 2019 

THE MOST famous football club in the world is determined to regain its position at the top of Spanish and European football, judging by their frantic activity in the current transfer window, notably the signing of Eden Hazard from Chelsea for € 100 million.

Real Madrid have been big players in the transfer market this summer. Over the past 10 years, their expenditure on new recruits exceeded over € 1 billion before this summer, with landmark transactions involving Gareth Bale (€ 100 million), Cristiano Ronaldo (€ 94 million), James (€ 76 million) and Vinícius Júnior (€ 45 million). This past couple of months, Real have already spent more than € 300 million, signing Hazard as well as Luka Jović (€ 60m, Frankfurt), Éder Militão (€ 50m, Porto), Ferland Mendy (€ 48m, Lyon) and Rodrygo Goe (€ 45m, Santos).

The club has also been linked with Paris Saint-Germain’s Neymar and Kylian Mbappe in addition to Paul Pogba of Manchester United. The futures of Bale, Isco and Asensio are still uncertain, but increasingly, it looks as though at least one of them will leave the club. Real, if they want to continue their summer spree will have to sell to raise the cash, especially if they need to break records to add a new transformational signing to the club.

Inevitably, this has all fuelled hot debate in the Spanish capital. After all, every aspect of Real’s day-to-day existence is always dissected, either in the media or in the bars and restaurants in the increasingly popular city of Madrid. The Bernabéu is one of the Spanish capital’s chief landmarks, a massive stadium that dominates the neighbourhood and attracts thousands of fans eager to embark on tours of the iconic home of Real.

As well as enjoying a pre-eminent position in the game’s hierarchy, Real Madrid is also the most valuable brand in world football. Valued at € 1.8 billion, the club is ahead of a European peer group that includes Manchester United (€ 1.65bn), Barcelona (€1.59bn), Bayern Munich (€ 1.47bn), Manchester City (€ 1.4 bn), Liverpool (€ 1.28bn), Chelsea (€ 1.1bn) and Paris Saint-Germain (€ 1bn).

Real Madrid recently returned to the top of Brand Finance’s brand valuation of football clubs by growing their value by 17%, an increase partly attributable to the club winning its fourth UEFA Champions League in 2017-18. With 2018-19 a relatively disappointing campaign for Real, it will be interesting to see how they fare in next year’s assessment from the brand valuation company.

Real Madrid is not only the most valuable football brand, but is also the sector’s strongest, ahead of Barcelona and Bayern Munich. The club may have relinquished their UEFA Champions League crown for the first since 2015 and once more was outperformed domestically by fierce rivals Barcelona, but the financial, cultural and political clout of Real Madrid still places it ahead of its rivals.

Real Madrid became the world’s first global football club, largely because of a golden period in the 1950s and early 1960s that saw them win the first five European Cups. The club also broadened its international appeal by strategically signing overseas players like Alfredo Di Stefano and Ferenc Puskas. Real Madrid became the de factodiplomatic standard bearers for post-war Spain, moving some Franco-era politicans to claim the club was “the best embassy we ever had”.

It has not all been bouquets for Real, though – the club has experienced downturns and has endured financial problems on more than one occasion. At one stage, Real Madrid had worrying debts of €270 million, which were cleared by selling the club’s training ground. This coincided with Real embarking on a path to become the world’s richest football club with a modified business model and the signing of a string of footballing superstars – the so-called “galactico” era that included the likes of Zinedine Zidane, Luis Figo, Ronaldo and David Beckham.

Real Madrid became the first football club in the world to break the € 750 million barrier in revenues in 2017-18. Their commercial monies totalled € 376 million, around 50% of their overall revenues, making them the highest generator of cash from this income stream. The club’s status means it naturally attracts high profile sponsors and partnerships. Real Madrid has two main sponsors in Emirates airline (since 2013 main sponsor) and Adidas. The club earns € 70 million and € 110 million annually from Emirates and Adidas respectively. Although La Liga’s broadcasting rights are not as lucrative as the Premier League, contributing 50% of the league’s overall income, Real Madrid’s TV revenues totalled € 238 million in 2017-18, contributing 32% of total income.

Matchday revenues totalled € 136 million, thanks to average attendances at the 81,000-capacity Bernabéu stadium of 66,000 in 2017-18. Club President Florentino Perez unveiled plans for the redevelopment of the stadium, a € 575 million project that will last four years and will make the Bernabéu one of the most modern and spectacular in the world. The club anticipates the new stadium will boost income by € 150 million per season, including expanded retail opportunities.

The Real Madrid reputation is also boosted by its Foundation, which works to promote sport and its values as well as encouraging education and a commitment to charity. The Foundation runs projects in all corners of the globe, in keeping with the club’s position as one of the world’s most popular and recognisable clubs.

Real recently announced that it will form a women’s team for the first time, reaching an agreement to buy Deportico Tacon, a Madrid-based team for € 400,000. The club will continue under its own name for 2019-20, but in 2020-21, will merge with Real. It is somewhat strange that Real have arrived at women’s football rather later compared to peers, but the timing is appropriate.

The Real Madrid brand has been enhanced by a glorious era that has seen them win four Champions Leagues,  four FIFA Club World Cups, one La Liga title and one Copa Del Rey. However, the club have lifted the La Liga crown just six times in 20 years, compared to Barcelona’s 11.

But equally important in the modern game, the club’s finances have been boosted by continual success in the UEFA Champions League, securing high levels of prize money and TV income. Early stage elimination in 2018-19 will have a profound impact on revenues for the season, and in the near future, the disruption and financial implications of their stadium programme will also become apparent. However, their aggression in the transfer market suggests Real are determined to close the gap on Barcelona in the coming season.

Photo: PA Images