Grading Real Madrid's Off-Season Acquisitions:
It was an off-season of belt-tightening in the Liga BBVA, as MARCA eloquently put it, with only a few teams actually spending any money at all (and some of them totally ruining themselves in order to stave off the inevitable call of bankruptcy—Valencia, for example).
As such, Madrid's off-season was pretty balanced, as we released (or are in the process of releasing) various players—like Royston Drenthe, and, if all goes well Rafael Van Der Vaart. We added young, talented players who didn't break the bank (Angel di Maria, Mesut Özil, Sami Khedira, Sergio Canales, etc.).
We could've made a bit of a better push for Maicon, arguably the best wing defender in the world—I just wonder how much more we would've had to pay...
Overall, we definitely had a better off-season than Farça, who managed to—while in massive debt—sign David Villa for 40 million Euros, sign Javier Mascherano, and sell Ibra for a third of the price they bought him for (no joke: they bought him for 40 million plus Eto'o, and sold him for 24 million).
Oh, and we added the the best coach in the world, "The Special One."
I've been on the Special One's bandwagon since his days in Porto, so my heart lept a little hearing Flo announce his name. His credentials speak for themselves, really, having not lost a home game since he managed in Portugal, being defending Champions League champ—he's a born winner (classic sports cliché, but very true in this case), and his ego, his personality, and his tactical mindset are exactly what the Bernabéu needs.
Maicon, Still With Inter
The Brazilian was probably the most important piece on the market for us, especially as the game has evolved towards the importance of attacking wing-backs. While we already possess the other best wing back in the world, Sergio Ramos, Maicon could've really added an important piece to Mou's tactical puzzle.
From the news that came out of Milan and Madrid, the negotiations seemed stalled when Madrid refused to go above 24 million or so, and Milan wouldn't come down from 30 million euros. I feel like there could've been some compromise there—a bit more of a push from the Castellana could, in my opinion, have gotten this deal done.
Angel Di Maria, Velocity and Telant For The Bernabéu's Wings
We bought this talented 21-year-old winger from Benfica for €25 million, and he promptly rewarded us with a fantastic World Cup for Argentina. A phenom in Portugal, di Maria was widely regarded as one of the most important players and prospects on the market—a talented winger able to help a club in the short and long term.
This season, di Maria will be patrolling the lines of the Bernabéu much like he did against Peñarol in the recent Trofeo Santiago Bernabéu, where he scored a "magical" goal. Merengue faithful have already begun to fall in love with the lanky young argentine, and I expect him to be a major piece in our Midfield Of The Future.
Well, a couple years ago Bojan was the future of Spanish football—no longer. Sergio Canales, the 19-year-old, whose Racing teammates affectionately nicknamed "Guti," made his debut for Madrid against Club América—and scored a brilliant goal.
The exceptionally talented center-midfielder has a keen passing sense, a beautiful through ball, and the ability to put the ball in the net (olfato goleador as we call it in Spain). He's rumored to be starting our first league match against Mallorca. He has essentially unlimited potential in many respects: his ball skills, football sense and shot will all get better as he matures as a person and a player. And at €5 million? He could turn out to be one of the best signings of all time.
Pedro León, Home-Grown Talent
While his signing came out of nowhere for most Madrid fans, anyone watching La Liga last season will have remembered the name Pedro León. He turned in a series of excellent performances on the wing for Getafe as the Madrid minnows earned themselves a Europa League spot and a stellar sixth-place finish. The former Spanish under-21 player is a flank player with good technique who can score goals as well.
He will likely deputize for Ronaldo on the right wing, but is versatile and hardworking enough to make contributions across the midfield wherever he is needed. At €10 million, Pedro Léon represents a good, solid signing. His talent is such that despite his small reputation, he may look like a bargain in a few years.
Ricardo Carvalho, Veteran Leadership For The Back Line
With both of Real Madrid's elder statesmen, Raúl and Guti, bidding the Bernabéu a tearful farewell this season, Mourinho looked to one of his loyal stalwarts to add some much needed experience to the squad. With so many star names on display, it's easy to forget just how young this Real Madrid team is—excluding Jerzy Dudek, the back-up goalkeeper, Carvalho is the only player over 30 and only six outfield players are over 25.
Although he is 32, Carvalho is in the form of his life and can ably shore up the center of defense in the same way that Mourinho used veterans Walter Samuel and Lucio for Inter last season. He is also needed to provide defensive reinforcements for a back line heavily depleted by injury. Carvalho is tactically astute, excellent on the ball, and a good tackler. He might only have two good years left in him but for only €8 million, it could be an inspired short-term signing.
Mesut Özil, Germany's Zidane
The breakout star of the last world cup, this 21-year-old German of Turkish ancestry has already brought his magic to the Castellana. He was my favorite player in South Africa other than the already Real Madrid players (despite my two loyalties, Spain and the USA), and his reputation sky-rocketed after he masterfully guided the Germans, with two assists, past the mighty English. We bought his rights for a relatively modest 15 million euros (a steal, in my opinion), as he could one day replace Kaká as the center of the Madrid attack.
Immediately, Özil has become the center of Mou's offense, with plays running through and around him. He has showcased his immense passing ability in the our victory against Hércules, and in his play against Mallorca. He also has immense potential, and like Canales and di Maria, will form a part of the Real Madrid Midfield Of The Future (and of the Present, actually).
Sami Khedira, Patrolling, Heading, Shooting
Sami was one of our first post-South Africa signings, and to be honest, I was a little shocked. We got him at a very reasonable price (undisclosed, but rumored to be around 7 million euros), he's young, with seemingly limitless range and a fantastic head—for shooting physically, and for passing and organizing mentally. He scored a huge header in Germany's 3-2 win over Uruguay in the third place match—dazzling.
He's competing right now with Pedro Leon, Lass and Xabi (who's essentially assured a spot) for two center defending midfield spots in Mou's 4-2-3-1. He looks to have gained a bit on Lass recently, though the Frenchman got the start over him in the Mallorca game. He played brilliantly in the 25 minutes he had on the pitch in Mallorca, and will very probably be a long-term center defensive midfielder in Madrid's Midfield Of The Future.