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Madrid’s Hierarchy is Topped by Veterans, not Wonder-kids

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Real Madrid’s three veterans swept all the awards in Monaco. Why upset the balance of the team, and what those awards ultimately represent?

Photo Courtesy of Real Madrid: UEFA 2017 Award Ceremony 2017

Late in the evening on August 24th, 2017; Sergio Ramos, Luka Modric, and Cristiano Ronaldo stood side-by-side — each holding the award for the best in Europe at their respective positions. There would be no controversy on this night, nor would there be debate — these players deserved their accolades. It was a proud moment for Madrid fans, and a moment, when peeling back the layers, symbolized the perfect balance within the locker-room.

The quality has often been there for Madrid, but what is so different about this Madrid squad from other highly talented sides of the past? Most fans could rattle off a number of reasons, but one reason often neglected is the current hierarchy and the value of veterans — veterans who are the best in the business.

God bless players like Raul and Iker Casillas who are indeed legends of the club, but failed to maintain the level required to be at the top of the Madrid food-chain as they entered their 30’s. A young Higuain, a young Robben, and even Jose Antonio Reyes during his brief loan spell, piled on the pressure during Raul’s final seasons with the club. His weight in the locker-room was no longer backed-up by his performances, and others were simply better. The same for Iker Casillas, he was in-and-out of the team and eventually lost his confidence. His grip over the dressing room and influence waned. Sergio Ramos took over and it was even Iker who would look to his fellow Spaniard to lift the team when in need, a quality Ramos has yet to lose.

Cristiano (32), Modric (31), and Ramos (31), are the oldest members in the squad. Rather than envy from their teammates, there is adoration. They are the role-models, the big brothers, and the leaders of the squad. The rest of the squad know they have time on their side to follow in the foot-steps of the award winning veterans. Along with Gareth Bale, these three players are the highest paid within the squad.

It is clear Madrid have shifted their transfer policy in recent seasons to signing the best young players in the world. The current average age of the Real Madrid squad is 25.9 years old. Despite the barrage of young talent, the three oldest in the squad are the leaders and those who make the biggest impact on the pitch.

So the question arises: if Madrid wants the best young talent to be mentored by these veterans, then why has Kylian Mbappe chosen PSG over Madrid? Do not kid yourself, Madrid was in negotiations with Kylian and the interest was real. Mbappe grew up with posters of Cristiano all over his room and has confessed to being a Madrid fan in the past. What went wrong? It was not the transfer figure that Monaco had demanded that cooled Madrid’s pursuit. It had more to do with that moment, when the three veterans stood side-by-side in Monaco, and what it ultimately symbolized.

It came down to the structure and the balanced hierarchy within the squad. PSG reportedly offered £320,000 euros a week, a figure that would have put Mbappe right up there with Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale. Those wages would have far surpassed Luka Modric (£180K) and Sergio Ramos (£160K). As reported by Marca, Gareth Bale would likely have been sold and an 18-year-old with six-to-eight months of top class performances would have been the second highest earner within a squad that had just won the double. According to L'Équipe, Madrid had offered Kylian £120,000 a week — a fair offer and one that would still make the young star one of the best paid without upsetting balance. PSG offered close to triple the amount of Madrid’s and gave Mbappe the opportunity to return to his hometown of Paris, two convincing arguments.

Like any business or organization, there are leaders, and there is a culture. Was Kylian Mbappe worth upsetting that culture? It would mean Florentino, Zidane, and the Madrid board disregarded the worth of veterans and others in the squad who had led Madrid to three Champions League titles in four years. Had Madrid been in turmoil this summer following a trophy-less season, maybe it would have been worth breaking the hierarchy and the balance, but trophies have given a certain Frenchman and his veteran leaders in the locker room more clout. That moment in Monaco symbolized to the club and the squad that they are moving in the right direction. The best in the world are leading them. There is no need to upset the balance.