clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Real Madrid Starter Debate: Benzema Or Higuaín? Kaká Or Özil? Does It Matter?

Getty Images

Modern sports seem to be inexorably traveling in the direction of the superteam: Real Madrid and Barcelona (and perhaps Málaga) have come to dominate Spanish--and probably European--soccer thanks to immense budgets that dwarf their competitors. The same is true in England (United, City, and Chelsea spring to mind) and Italy, where we all know the cash that gets thrown around (to referees).

In the NBA (well, when there was and NBA), the players had begun to team up, creating superteams with two or three mega-stars: Miami, New York, Boston, and LA come to mind. And do we even need to talk about the Yankees, Phillies and Red Sox in baseball?

My point with all this in relation to Real Madrid is that in this new era of the mega-spending superteam, the old divisions of "starters" and "benchwarmers" have begun to fray: now, teams have players on the bench that wouldn't just be solid starters in other places, they'd actually be stars, the best player on most teams. At this level of player, these divisions, while ingrained in our heads, have begun to disappear. Madrid just doesn't have space on the field for all the mega-stars; neither does Barcelona. As such, it's silly to think of one player, say Karim Benzema as a "starter," and another, say Gonzalo Higuaín as a "benchwarmer": they are both so talented that Real Madrid can afford to deploy them as they see fit, whenever they want.

This isn't to say that there isn't some prestige involved with being the "starting center forward" for Real Madrid--we still attach this sense of importance to the players who begin the game on the field.

But we shouldn't.

It's actually contrary to the way the modern game has evolved: now, teams like Madrid can be exceedingly tactical about when they put particular players onto the pitch, and don't have to sacrifice the quality that they used to when they would remove a starter. In the modern game, for example, it might even be beneficial for a team to sit their best player, only to bring him on in the second half--especially if he lags towards the end of matches.

So these debates--the Kaká or Özil, Benzema or Higuaín?--are sort of silly. The answer, of course, is all of the above.

The response I've heard most often the last few weeks has been, "fine, Gabe, I get it. We need all of them. But the question is really about which players you'd choose to start in an important match!" Still. I'm actually saying that that's not an important question! It doesn't matter who starts. You pick a team based on who's been playing the best recently, then you change it up if things don't work--and these changes can come as soon as half an hour in!

In this respect, I actually see a lot of brilliance in some of Barcelona's signings this offseason (economically, of course, they make little to no sense): buying Alexis Sánchez and Cesc Fábregas seems silly in the paradigm of starters and benchwarmers, but actually makes a lot of sense in the dynamic of the superteam. They weren't buying "starters"; they were buying players who could be stars on any other team in the world.

Maybe this system is messed up. Sure, it's horrible that the best teams can afford to have all the best players, and the poor teams get squat. But that's the way it is right now--and if Madrid can embrace it, and keep all their players happy, then they might profit substantially.

If nothing else, we can at least settle these debates.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Managing Madrid Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of Real Madrid news from Managing Madrid