Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Champions League Winners

Real Madrid is guaranteed to win the Champions League.

Well. At least they've guaranteed Bayern Munich or Inter Milan to win the Champions League.

The Dutch duo Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder have all but carried their respective squads to this year's final, displaying all the style, panache and lethal efficiency that prompted Madrid to splash the cash on them initially. That same talent that they displayed at Madrid. That... prompted Madrid to sell them.

Real Madrid offloaded two of their most consistent and effective attacking options in order to help raise cash as part of the effort to acquire the mercurial goalscoring machine Cristiano Ronaldo (I refuse to call him just Ronaldo) and the proven world-class talent Kaká, among a host of other big-name signings. While many thought it a prudent decision, others (myself included) wondered why Sneijder was sacrificed when his much less effective counterpart Rafael Van der Vaart was saved. Furthermore, why did a team devoid of depth on the wings deem it necessary to sell Arjen Robben and bring in Karim Benzema when a much-improved and already nearly world-class player Gonzalo Higuan was on the books?

Although Real Madrid made a strong start to the season, a lack of depth out wide and a strong attacking presence through the middle was telling at times. Kaká most unexpectedly floundered, while the team seemed to rely overly much on Cristiano Ronaldo to power through opposing defenses. As Pellegrini put more trust in the temperamental genius Guti, the team found more cohesion in attack, but one cannot help but wonder whether having both Guti and Wesley Sneijder as options through the middle would have helped push them through to the later stages in Champions League, Copa Del Rey and through more obstinate opponents in La Liga (especially given Sneijder's absolute dominance of Inter's midfield this season). By the same token, watching Arjen Robben's matchwinning performances for Bayern Munich, one cannot deny that that type of individual brilliance could not have helped Madrid bridge the small gap between them and their Catalan counterparts.

This is all conjecture. But Real Madrid's willingness to sacrifice proven players for "bigger and better" is all too well known to backfire. Zidanes and Pavones has not quite taken off, and the sale of Claude Makélélé will always be known as one of football's great transfer mistakes.