Real Madrid’s imminent capture of Dani Ceballos from Real Betis is another illustration of a pretty dramatic change in transfer strategy at the Bernabeu.
For the first few years of his reign, Madrid president Florentino Perez became (in)famous for a determination to hoover up as many of the world’s biggest stars as possible.
David Beckham, Luis Figo, Ronaldo and a certain Zinedine Zidane were the standard-bearers for the world’s most glamorous collection of players, whose awesome individual talents did not always transfer into collective efficiency.
Perez was determined to ensure Madrid remained the most prestigious and most media-hyped team on the planet, maintaining his policy throughout the first decade of the new millennium by capturing celebrated stars such as Kaka, Robinho, Cristiano Ronaldo and Xabi Alonso.
In the last couple of years, however, that policy has been ditched. Gareth Bale in 2013 and James Rodriguez a year later were the last big-name arrivals at the Bernabeu, where the new faces now come with a very different profile: instead of world-famous superstars, they are young and emerging.
The impending arrival of Ceballos will be the fifth addition to Madrid’s squad this summer, with the 20 year-old midfielder preceded by Vinicius Junior (16), Theo Hernandez (19), Jesus Vallejo (20) and Marcos Llorente (22).
They are all good players, but compared to the Galacticos they are unknowns: only close followers of European football will know that Hernandez and Llorente enjoyed excellent seasons on loan at Alaves last year, or that Vallejo has just returned from a loan spell at Eintracht Frankfurt.
Vinicius, who will remain with his current club Flamengo for another two seasons, is even more inexperienced, only making his first professional appearance in May and still waiting to score his first goal at senior level.
Rather than being a new development, this policy is consistent with the approach taken by Madrid in recent summers, which have seen superstars shunned in favour of the likes of Mateo Kovacic, Marco Asensio, Alvaro Morata, Isco and Casemiro, none of whom were older than 21 when they joined.
As well as assembling a group of players who can stay together for many years to come, the strategy of buying young and hungry rather than experienced and established has given Zidane an incomparable array of talent which he fully exploits with his rotation policy.
Ceballos, whose playing attributes are roughly comparable to Isco, will not arrive with an expectation of starting 30 games. Like everyone else – even Cristiano Ronaldo – he will play his part in a true squad approach will allows Zidane to shuffle his pack from week to week without suffering a significant dip in quality.
It’s now perfectly reasonable to argue that Real Madrid are currently the best two teams in the world, and their strength in depth should allow Los Blancos to mount strong challenges in every competition again this season.
The arrival of Llorente to cover for Casemiro means that Zidane now has two top-quality players in every single position throughout the squad, and if the French coach can continue to massage egos and ensure everybody feels involved, his team will take some stopping.
As ever, it’s only natural to compare Madrid’s new approach to squad-building with the scattergun strategy being employed by Barcelona.
The Catalan club’s over-reliance on Lionel Messi and a lack of rotation options were the main reasons for their failures in La Liga and the Champions League last season, and the way they have switched attentions from Marco Verratti to Paulinho this summer suggests they have not learned any lessons yet.
While Madrid have been quietly snapping up many of the world’s most promising emerging talents – with Monaco’s Kylian Mbappe their next likely target – Barca are currently negotiating for a 29 year-old who currently plays in China and whose only previous experience in a major league was a disastrous failure.
A few years ago, Madrid’s Galacticos policy was widely ridiculed while Barca were lauded for their ability to seamlessly introduce new talent from their youth system.
But now the fact that Ceballos rejected Barca in favour of Madrid shows how far the tables have turned. The club from the capital are well on top, both on and off the pitch.
Know more about Sport360 Application