Real Madrid's Search for Attacking Talent Isn't the Answer to La Liga Struggles

Tim Collins@@TimDCollinsFeatured ColumnistJuly 21, 2014

CUIABA, BRAZIL - JUNE 24:  James Rodriguez of Colombia celebrates scoring his team's fourth goal during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group C match between Japan and Colombia at Arena Pantanal on June 24, 2014 in Cuiaba, Brazil.  (Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images)
Christopher Lee/Getty Images

From a neutral's perspective, there's a lot to love about Real Madrid's perennial quest for glamour.

Seemingly intent on orchestrating footballing perfection, Florentino Perez continues to chase an elusive ideal, lumping the game's finest attacking talent on one expanse of turf not simply in the search of victory, but rather sporting immortality. 

Indeed, it seems the process is more important that the outcome for Los Blancos' extravagant president. Winning is, of course, expected, but the nature of it is what counts. Drizzled in grace, power and panache, Real Madrid's most influential man will never allow his team to be defined by mere results.

Perez sees the Santiago Bernabeu as home to the most bedazzling show on earth. If it were still possible today, he'd have Freddie Mercury, John Lennon, Jimmy Page and Keith Richards—Galacticos of a different sort—combine for the pre-match entertainment. 

And now following in the footsteps of Luis Figo, Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo, David Beckham, Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale is Monaco and Colombia sensation, James Rodriguez, who appears set to become Perez's latest jewel in an €80 million move to the Spanish capital. 

Oh my it will be fun to watch, video-game stuff almost at the Bernabeu in 2014-15. Just don't be fooled into thinking a La Liga title will be the guaranteed conclusion. 

MADRID, SPAIN - MARCH 18: Cristiano Ronaldo (R) of Real Madrid celebrates with teammate Gareth Bale after scoring his team's second goal during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16, second leg match between Real Madrid and FC Schalke 04 at Estadio Santia
Denis Doyle/Getty Images

Those who've followed Los Blancos even haphazardly in recent years will understand that this is a pursuit that has been undertaken before.

It was Perez's ascension to the presidency in 2000 that initiated the club's first Galactico era, which resulted in remarkable but brief success until a saturation point was reached, where team balance and chemistry disintegrated in the 2003-04 season that was colourfully documented in John Carlin's White Angels: Beckham, Real Madrid and the New Football.

A decade on from that dramatic year, there's a sense that the appeal of a marquee signature is again taking precedent over the logical building blocks to unrelenting success. 

Remember, this is a club that scored more league goals than any other team in Europe in 2013-14, a team which ripped apart the defending continental champions 4-0 on their own stomping ground on the way to La Decima. 

But not content to allow Barcelona to win the battle of the transfer window after signing Luis Suarez, Perez has sought more attacking genius in Rodriguez and another World Cup star, Toni Kroos. 

That's a little like adding a shot of pure Russian vodka to a big glass of absinthe: How alcoholic can the blend really get? When is enough actually enough?

Examining the league table across recent seasons only reinforces the sense that the arrivals of Kroos and possibly Rodriguez are unlikely to solve Los Blancos' issues in La Liga—a title Perez's club has claimed just once in the last half decade. 

Combined La Liga Performance Across Last 5 Seasons
Real Madrid19014525205321801

Since the beginning of the 2009-10 campaign, Real Madrid is the only team on the continent to have broken the 100-league-goal mark in all five seasons, finding the back of the net a truly ridiculous 532 times. 

You have to go back six seasons, to 2008-09, to find the last time Los Blancos didn't crack the ton in Spain. 

But what has it all equated to in La Liga other than overwhelming notoriety? Given the sums spent and the talent on hand, not a lot really—their poor cross-town rivals who continue to sell their finest players edged them out last time around. 

Defending, the art Real Madrid have typically shown precious little regard for, is the unglamorous but obvious answer to the world's most valuable sporting institution. In the end, smashing eight strikes past an opponent might make for enchanting entertainment, but it doesn't earn you more points than sliding in four or five.

Lamentably—or perhaps beautifully, depending on your thirst to see scoring records tumble—Perez continues to do it his own way. 

MADRID, SPAIN - JULY 17:  . L-R) President of Real Madrid Florentino Perez and Real Madrid player Toni Kroos pose with Kroos' new Real Madrid shirt during his official unveiling at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium on July 17, 2014 in Madrid, Spain. Toni Kroos wh
Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images

Amid the arrivals of Rodriguez and Kroos, it seems likely that Angel di Maria and Sami Khedira could depart, stripping Carlo Ancelotti of two of his more versatile and defensively committed midfielders. While neither could be considered truly defensive assets, Khedira's box-to-box style and Di Maria's unrelenting work rate from end to end ensures there's a connection from defence to attack. 

In their absence, a trio of Rodriguez, Kroos and Luka Modric in midfield would be mouth-watering from an attacking standpoint, but such a scenario will leave Ancelotti's back four with little in the way of cover.

And given the performances put forward by some of Los Blancos' defenders at this summer's World Cup, that should be a significant concern. 

LISBON, PORTUGAL - MAY 24:  Head Coach, Carlo Ancelotti of Real Madrid folds his arms during the UEFA Champions League Final between Real Madrid and Atletico de Madrid at Estadio da Luz on May 24, 2014 in Lisbon, Portugal.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Was anyone impressed by the defensive displays put forward by Marcelo, who continued to abandon his primary duty at left-back? What about the glaring howlers from Iker Casillas? Or the inevitable hot-headed moment from Pepe? Or even the way Sergio Ramos was rendered ineffective?

Elsewhere, Alvaro Arbeloa has lost his position in the Spain team, Daniel Carvajal has improvements to make with his positional work before being considered elite and Raphael Varane's future is reportedly uncertain

It's these defensive issues that have continued to hold Real Madrid back, these concerns that have seen Los Blancos concede an extra 33 La Liga goals than their Catalan rivals over the last five seasons, resulting in seven more losses in that time.

In the typically tight top-end of La Liga's table, those are the numbers that determine titles. 

But triumphing amid defensive solidarity is not the Real Madrid way, not under Perez at least. Instead, the president continues to search for an elusive aesthetic perfection, a blend of stars too irresistible to turn away from.

Thus, should Rodriguez arrive to join the already signed Kroos, unrivalled entertainment at the Bernabeu will be a guarantee in 2014-15.

The same, however, can't be said with absolute certainty for the league title. 


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