The biggest story to come out of world football last week was the news that Madrid rivals Atletico and Real have both been hit with a two-window transfer ban from FIFA, which will start this summer. It’s a devastating revelation for the two Spanish giants, and is set to impact the elite level throughout Spain and perhaps the entire continent.
In a situation not too dissimilar from the Barcelona embargo that only ended this month, the two Madrid clubs are being punished for irregularities in their dealings with minors. Both teams have declared their innocence and are planning to appeal the decision. In truth, though, it seems inevitable that the bans will remain.
Assuming the appeals are unsuccessful, the embargoes will bring huge repercussions and those impacts will begin with the current window. Both clubs will be free to make signings between now and the February 1 deadline; expect to see a flux of activity, especially at the Bernabeu.
New Real head coach Zinedine Zidane was set to receive a huge transfer kitty this summer, but these developments could fast-track the release of those funds. Noise coming out Spain suggests that Florentino Perez is prepared to sanction £250m worth of signings in order to build a team capable of weathering the forthcoming storm. This is a strategy that Barcelona used to perfection in 2014, bolstering their roster with the notable additions of Luis Suarez, Ivan Rakitic and Marc-Andre ter Stegen; nine months later, the Blaugrana had confirmed their return to the summit of world football with a mind-blowing treble.
That’s the blueprint that Real Madrid will want to replicate. They’ve already copied their Clasico rivals by employing Zidane as manager, and there is no secret that the Bernabeu giants hope that their new boss can enjoy the same levels of improvement as Pep Guardiola and Luis Enrique respectively brought to the Camp Nou. The Blancos reportedly have their radar set on a number of top targets, which could alter the landscape in Madrid and across Europe’s top divisions.
Long-term target David De Gea has already been linked with a potential move during this window. Meanwhile, a move for former Atletico star Sergio Aguero has been rumoured too. With Paul Pogba, Eden Hazard and John Stones on the shortlist too, it could be a frantic fortnight ahead. Real Madrid are often the catalyst for activity across Europe’s top leagues, but their influence between now and February 1 is likely to be greater than ever.
It’s not only the Bernabeu arrivals room that will be impacted, though. There has been widespread speculation about the potential departures of Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Isco and Karim Benzema in recent months. In light of these revelations, those stars should stay. After all, the Blancos wouldn’t be able to register their replacements until the summer of 2017.
The embargo won’t be quite so significant for Real’s city rivals. Atletico are well prepared to weather the storm, particularly as their focus has been on young stars for some time. Diego Simeone has been building a youthful side, sprinkled with a handful of more experienced players, ahead of this summer’s stadium move. Quite frankly, as is often the case for clubs entering a new home, spending was likely to be modest over the next year or two anyway.
Irrespective of how well the two clubs think they can manage the situation, the embargo can only make life more difficult for the respective management teams. If either club was to suffer a Chelseaesque fall from grace, the lack of new recruitments would make it extremely difficult to salvage the situation. Similarly, it will prove very difficult to make contingencies for any injuries that may befall their biggest starrs. Perhaps more importantly, it hands Barcelona a huge advantage as they aim to build on the current success to usher in an era of sheer dominance.
Neither Real or Atletico were able to capitalise on Barcelona’s embargo, but the Catalonian giants have firsthand experience of the ban and this should encourage them to maximise the potential it brings. The Camp Nou club already boasts the best squad in world football and are seemingly en route to becoming the first club to successfully defend the Champions League. If Enrique’s men can achieve that goal, it would certainly see them close the off-field gap to Real Madrid too. With their rivals then facing a year without new recruitments, Josep Maria Bartomeu would have the crosshair set.
On the pitch, the Clasico rivals have been at loggerheads for over a century. However, overtaking the Blancos away from strictly football matters would signal a huge shift in Spanish and world football. While the Blancos will always be a major player in world football, losing top spot could potentially open the gate for other Liga sides to flourish.
Sevilla, Valencia and Villarreal could genuinely hope to become competitive outfits. Those three clubs, amongst others, are accustomed to seeing their best players depart for the bright lights of the Bernabeu. With this outcome removed, the managers of those sides finally have a chance to gain a level of consistency when it comes to assembling a better side. In truth, they’re still likely to fall short of both Madrid clubs and have virtually no chance of dethroning Barcelona; nevertheless, it does offer a chance for the ‘also rans’ to improve.
An increased standard across the league can only work wonders for a division that is now considered by many to be the best league in the world. Those improvements on the field can only help La Liga’s quest to start emulating the level of commercial standing that the English Premier League enjoys. It seems crazy to suggest that banning two of the top clubs from buying players could bring a positive influence on this expedition, but the fact that both Madrid clubs will still remain in contention means that it could weirdly be a fantastic long-term development for everyone – with Real being the only possible exception.
Having said that, the brand of Real Madrid is so powerful that a 12-month transfer embargo won’t suddenly ruin the club. They will always remain one of the biggest and best clubs in world football; their main cause for concern is the potential widening of the gap to Barcelona on the pitch, and subsequent changing of the guard off of it.
As already touched upon, the biggest influence may be on other divisions around Europe. For starters, the potential growth of La Liga as a whole could suddenly make it a lot tougher for overseas clubs to attract those budget buys from Spain’s lesser sides. Moreover, the lack of money being spent by the Madrid clubs, especially Los Blancos, could create a far slower rate of activity throughout the duration of the ban.
There has been many example of Real’s activity setting the wheels in motion for a flurry of activity. In recent years, the Gareth Bale saga stands out as the best illustration of this phenomenon. The world record transfer paved the way for Tottenham to recruit multiple new signings, which in turn gave other clubs spending power to bring in their own replacements. Meanwhile, the Welshman’s arrival also led to the sale of Mesut Ozil to Arsenal.
Of course, the nature of modern football dictates that every transfer window will see huge sums of money change hands across Europe; nevertheless, the absence of Real’s activity is going to create a noticeable less exciting market. While Atletico’s influence wouldn’t have been quite as significant, their inactivity will be felt over the continent too. Furthermore, the fact Barcelona have got their foundations in place could also add to the sense of dullness around the 2016/17 windows.
It would be incorrect to suggest that a one-year transfer embargo will destroy such illustrious clubs, but the news has rightly sent shockwaves across the football world. Spanish football is in a very good place right now as all three European trophies, along with the Club World Cup, currently reside in the trophy cabinets of Liga clubs. Unlike Italy a decade ago, the scandal is unlikely to usurp the current hierarchy between the leagues. What could change, however, is the state of the title-race and competitiveness of the chasing pack.
In an odd way, the positives easily outweigh the negatives. Besides, the fact that appeal hearings could well see the ban delayed for another transfer window, as was the case following Barcelona’s original sanction. If this does happen, both Zidane and Simeone will have ample time to assemble squads capable of coping through the stint of inactivity. Even if the initial punishment stands, the next fortnight should be frantic at both the Bernabeu and Vicente Calderon. Don’t be surprised if that encourages increased movement across Spain, Germany, England, Italy and France.
The real winners here are Barcelona. If they can retain their position as the kings of Spain and Europe over the coming months, the current Blaugrana generation could overtake the much eulogised Real side of the 1950s to become the undisputed greatest team of all time.