For anyone associated with Real Madrid CF it must be mystifying how Florentino Perez Rodriguez, their President controls the Los Merengues’ transfer policy, often to the chagrin or bemusement of the coaching staff. Ever since the controversial construction magnate first assumed control of the Real boardroom in 2000 with the unlikely-looking but tantalizing prospect of luring then Barcelona star Luis Figo to their playing staff, the autocratic Perez has established and stuck to his ‘Galactico’ policy, never mind the fact that this has often unbalanced the playing staff.
In two spells as the president, Perez has stuck with the policy of adding a superstar to the playing staff every single year and 2014 has not been an exception. In came Toni Kroos from Bayern Munich as well as James Rodriguez from AS Monaco in France. Both starred for their countries during the just ended FIFA World Cup in Brazil. The German World Cup winner’s deal had already been almost sealed well before the tournament commenced while the Colombian’s exploits in being the Golden Boot winner as well as scoring the goal of the tournament probably moved Perez into action.
But the coming in of the two players will not have raised eyebrows for those familiar with the Los Blancos incoming staff. It is the exiting personnel that has somehow surprised all except those very close to Perez himself.
For after a man-of-the-match performance that sealed a long sought after La Decima or record tenth UEFA Champions League triumph, Angel di Maria has subsequently been sold to Manchester United while fellow midfield stalwart Xabi Alonso suddenly departed for Kroos’ former club Bayern in an apparently mystifying huff.
The whole circus is now being played out in the media with di Maria writing an open letter to the Madrid public stating that he never wanted to leave but that he was unappreciated and also that various lies were being peddled in the media about his departure.
Likewise Alonso made a simple statement that he left for the same reasons as di Maria – that of being unappreciated. But it well worth analyzing how the duo’s absence will be felt where it matters most – on the field of play given the (as ever) crucial season that always awaits a Real Madrid manager.
It is being rather simplistic to assume that di Maria will be replaced by Rodriguez while Kroos will negate Xabi Alonso’s absence. Despite being equally gifted, the Colombian does not have the same work-rate as the Argentine di Maria, who is also a more orthodox wide player.
Rodriguez can drift in from wide positions, but he is more suited as the ‘number 10’, that oft-used phrase for a forward playing more in the hole. While di Maria played on the right or left of the forward line, it is Ancelloti’ s decision to move him to central positions that often decided games in Madrid’s favour, especially in the UCL final.
With players like Cristiano Ronaldo, newly awarded The Best Player in Europe by UEFA and Gareth Bale (the world’s most expensive player) more suited to start their attacking forays from wide positions, yet constantly drifting inside to exploit space, di Maria offered a perfect foil in attacking positions with his hard-running and pace. Rodriguez is no slouch and as an intelligent player with an excellent touch, he may well render the departure of the Argentine as irrelevant.
But it the Argentine’s ability to tactically adapt in games that served him well and may just be missing from James Rodriguez, especially when you consider that Ronaldo and Karim Benzema both tend to converge in the centre at the apex of the attack. As shown by Colombia’s exciting World Cup adventure, Real may well get the best of the Colombian by positioning him centrally and just ahead of Kroos and Luka Modric, who as is likely, will command the two deep-lying positions.
As for Kroos, the German’s clever movement and passing accuracy in any position on the field means he is a dead certainty in the line-up and every football manager’s dream. The German rarely gives the ball away while his positional sense is excellent in both defensive and attacking positions.
He may not bust a lung to recover his position, but the economy of his positional play, passing and movement generally negates the need for this.
But in a long season in which Los Blancos are chasing a total of 6 trophies (now reduced to 5 with their loss to cross-town rival Atletico Madrid), there is certainly a sense that Real will miss Alonso’s combativeness and long range passing in certain games. The recently retired Spanish international’s long range passing is a well-known attribute and as his ability to get stuck in cannot be understated.
My feeling is Kroos’ neat and dainty touches coupled with his set-piece prowess could in fact have complemented Alonso’s qualities rather than as an outright replacement. With the Croat Luka Modric now firmly established at the Bernabeu, the trio could have complemented each other perfectly over the course of a long season, but for now the future must be faced.
It is a generally acknowledged thing that great players are able to work together and adapt their game to suit a variety of circumstances and in the main Real Madrid may not suffer too much from the departures of Di Maria and Alonso as Kroos and Rodriguez both fall into that category. But it is interesting to see how, over the course of a long season, Ancelloti’s side will be affected by the enforced (in Di Maria’s case) and in Alonso’s case, unexpected departures. A failure to clinch one or both of either the La Liga title or the UCL may leave his job on the line.