While Real Madrid was playing keep-away from an overmatched Celtic team in the final match of the World Football Challenge tour Saturday afternoon in Philadelphia, the talk between those covering the match turned to just how good this particular Real Madrid team may be.
Might they be too good?
It may sound like a ridiculous notion to suggest any football club has too much talent, but if there is one team in the world who can boast that, it would have to be Jose Mourinho's current Madrid side.
“When we have a stellar roster like we have with (these) players, it’s so much easier for us to work," Mourinho told reporters in Philadelphia before departing for Spain. "And we do have a good roster. It’s a roster that we’ve been working on for two years, and each year we’re getting better and better.
"The group is getting together. There’s unity. We get to know each other well, and this is a group that we’ve been winning, and the unity actually helps us to have a great roster. And the players are ambitious and (they) will continue having unity and success on the field.”
Ambition and unity certainly are keys to success. Talent, of course, is also a big key to that success, and managing this talent and keeping these players united and full of ambition may be the hardest job in the entire world.
Who are we mere mortals to question the managerial abilities of The Special One? (Sorry, that should read the Only One.)
With ostensibly the same squad last season, Mourinho led Real Madrid to the top of the table in La Liga and to the Champions League semifinals. Despite the domestic dominance in La Liga—winning the league title by nine points over rival Barcelona—they did lose to Barca in both the Spanish Supercup and Copa Del Rey.
As good as last season was for Real Madrid, it wasn't close to what Mourinho had expected, and it isn't close to what he expects for his club this season, either.
As his preseason excursion to the U.S. came to an end, Mourinho told reporters, "We think that we are going to be in good shape because this is a year in which we have a lot of pressure and expectations.“
Who ever thought The Special, er, Only One could be understated?
Mourinho has immense pressure and expectations this season, not only to defend the league title, but to win the UEFA Champions League with Real Madrid as well. Mourinho has two Champions League titles in his career—one at Porto and one at Inter—but has been unable to get to the final, let alone win, with this deep Madrid squad.
As ridiculous as it may sound given the depth of talent flourishing across Europe, anything less than a UEFA title during Mourinho's reign would be considered a failure at Real Madrid.
And that isn't even the hardest thing Mourinho will have to do this season.
Despite all the matches Real Madrid will play—from La Liga schedule to the Spanish Super Cup to Champions League—he still needs to find time for all these world-class players to see the field.
The active squad in the World Football Challenge win over Celtic could have split in half, lined up on one side of the field with their traditional white jerseys and the other side in black and fielded two of the most talented teams on the planet.
Madrid started the match with Iker Casillas, Mesut Ozil, Angel Di Maria, Karim Benzema and Pepe all on the bench, and their starting lineup, other than the absence of Casillas, still seemed to make perfect sense, with more talent and continuity than all but a small handful of clubs in the entire world.
Marcelo and Ricardo Carvalho weren't even on the trip—the former due to Olympic duties and the latter rumored to be for his imminent departure from the club—and Real Madrid still had an embarrassment of riches on the back line, boasting six or seven defenders that could start for any team in the world, including Fabio Coentrao, Raul Albiol, Sergio Ramos and Alvaro Arbeloa starting the match.
The depth in midfield makes the back line look thin by comparison.
The four who started against Celtic were Xabi Alonso, Sami Khedira, Jose Maria Callejon, who led the team in scoring on the U.S. tour, and Kaka, who has been rumored out of Madrid for two years but still gets time in an increasingly crowded midfield. Ozil, Di Maria, Lass Diarra, Esteban Granero and Nuri Sahin, who is also rumored to be leaving as soon as this week, came off the bench.
For every rumor of Kaka or Sahin leaving Madrid, there are more rumors of Luka Modric replacing them. On Tuesday, Fulham forward Moussa Dembele told reporters he may be on his way to Madrid instead of Modric.
Why? Where in the world is he going to get minutes in this midfield?
It's hard to believe we have gotten this far into a conversation about Real Madrid's obscene depth and Cristiano Ronaldo's name has yet to appear.
Ronaldo, thought of as one of the two best players on the planet, played in 58 matches for the club in 2011-12, scoring 64 goals. The man simply does not come out of matches, logging a ridiculous 3,483 minutes in 38 league matches, with more than 1,500 minutes logged in 15 Champions League and Copa del Rey matches as well.
The final forward spot is primarily split between Benzema, who played in 50 matches last season, starting 38 of those, and Gonzalo Higuain, who played in 52 matches, despite starting just 28. Certainly, the depth up front is a good problem for Mourinho to have.
In fact, all of these are good problems for Mourinho to have while the team is winning and everyone is happy.
Can young players like Callejon and Granero be happy on the bench forever? Callejon played in 35 matches last season, staring just 11. The dynamic young midfielder played in just 736 La Liga minutes—more games and minutes than Granero last season, but nowhere close to what he would earn at more than 50 other European clubs.
Where will these two young stars get time, and how will that change if Madrid brings in yet another high-priced midfielder during the transfer window?
Besides, can they even afford it? Madrid claims they are in good standing with regard to their debt, but is that even true? And how long can they sustain that given the tumult in the Spanish economy and the top-heavy nature of their methodology?
There is only so much money to go around, and if millions upon millions are tied up in players who see less than 40 percent of the team's league minutes—Kaka, for example, sat on the bench for more than 2,000 minutes during La Liga matches last season—how much talent is too much talent to have around?
For Mourinho, it all comes back to unity. While standing in the mixed zone waiting for players to come talk to us about how great they expect their season to be—only Xabi Alonso was offered to reporters and, shocker, he thinks their season has a chance to be great—some working media joked about asking to talk with Kaka and being told by the Real Madrid press officers that that would never happen. It turns out Kaka never talks. Can you blame him?
Maybe, just maybe, there isn't as much unity as Mourinho really thinks.
That will be the biggest challenge for The Special, er Only One—let's just call him The One for the rest of the season, shall we?—this year. How does he keep the most talented players in the world happy when half of them won't see the field?
There are enough matches to get everyone time throughout the year, but are there enough minutes in those matches to make everyone happy? Are there enough trophies to feed that ambition?
Mourinho thinks there are enough matches, and minutes, and trophies, and until it shows otherwise, the deepest team in the world will continue to be The One to beat. Keeping everyone on this team united—trophies or not—will truly be special.