An act of institutional homage, they call it. Sergio Ramos got one last year. Marcelo had one earlier this summer. So did Raul that day.
The latest to receive that accolade from Real Madrid is Casemiro, who was honored on Monday morning before leaving for Manchester United – another great club, but one that, these days, famous players tend to arrive in the glare of glory, only to leave the club. Under a dark cloud.
Ramos was a great club captain, and an icon of their modern age, but at the age of 35, a fading force, by the time his contract expired he left for PSG. The same can be said of Marcelo, 34, who has not yet joined a new club.
Casemiro is only 30 years old – still worth, at least in United’s eyes, a minimum transfer fee of €60m (£50.9m, $60m) and a four-year contract at least twice his previous salary – and Real were not intending to That never sell it until last week he told them he had received an offer he couldn’t refuse.
But he also left with the blessing of the Spanish club. Not an order from Real Madrid, but in the end on terms they are happy to accept.
At another club, it could have caused a meltdown. The icon of the team, winner of the Champions League five times, expresses his desire to take on a new challenge. When you consider yourself the biggest club in the world of football, how do you deal with that?
In the case of United and Cristiano Ronaldo, you panic. Since you’ve spent the past 12 months in player bondage, and despite his body language and demeanor for large parts of last season, you wouldn’t expect it. I was left dazed for the next couple of months, not least because the player was still waiting for a reliable escape route to emerge. He is 37 years old. He just wants out.
Or, in the case of Real and Casemiro, she takes a deep breath, smiles and decides to grant him his wish because he’s the wrong side of 30 (only, having crossed that milestone six months ago), because his level of performance isn’t. It was not so, and most of all, because his successor is already in the club.
Real Madrid fans will be forgiven for experiencing flashbacks in the summer of 2003, when another defensive midfielder who won the Champions League was unexpectedly transferred to the Premier League.
The sale of Claude Makelele to Chelsea was one of the big mistakes Florentino Perez made as president of Real Madrid. She summed up the flaws of the galactico policy that led to the addition of David Beckham to a squad that already included Luis Figo, Zinedine Zidane and the great Brazilian striker Ronaldo…but weeks later he was devoid of the hardworking and intelligent midfielder who allowed the artists to step forward to work their magic.
As Makelele said years later, “He (Perez) wasn’t interested in me because I wouldn’t help sell any shirts for the club.”
It looks different after nearly two decades. There is a deep appreciation for Casemiro’s contribution to the club’s recent successes, as an integral part of the midfield partnership – alongside Toni Kroos and Luka Modric – that has dominated the Champions League.
At these more formidable clubs, under a president who still craves signings for Galactico (and hardly hides his disgust when a player like Kylian Mbappe resists Real’s overtures to stay at wealthy PSG), there has been a transformation. Commercial strategies tend to be built around superstars, but there is now a recognition that teams must be built around players who excel at the less magical things.
Otherwise, why would Real commit up to €100m to sign Aurelien Tchouameni from Monaco this summer? He’s a more extended player than Casemiro – something coach Carlo Ancelotti was keen to stress after the 22-year-old’s stellar performance in the 4-1 win away to Celta Vigo on Saturday – but he is an important cornerstone in the next phase of Real’s development.
🇧🇷 Linda 🇧🇷# Gracias Casemiro pic.twitter.com/ZKNdYZxTAY
– Real Madrid CF (realmadriden) August 22 2022
Ancelotti has hinted that his preference was to integrate Chuamini with Casemiro this season and possibly beyond. This plan was changed with the departure of the Brazilian to United.
It’s far from ideal, but United’s bid must have felt impossible to resist, especially because, unlike two decades ago, Real Madrid were already smartly building for the future.
In the past four years, after winning the Champions League for the third time in a row with an aging team, Real Madrid sold 33-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo to Juventus for 116 million euros, 32-year-old Keylor Navas to Paris Saint-Germain for €1 . 15 million, 28-year-old Raphael Varane to United for an initial €40m and now 30-year-old Casemiro to United for an initial €60m.
This adds up to over €230m at a time when the ratings of these players were dwindling (in Varane’s case because he was in the final year of his contract) and when their production was on the pitch, at least, starting to wane. . It also coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic and the financial challenges of trying to rebuild the Santiago Bernabeu.
During the same period, Real Madrid signed 18-year-old Vinicius Junior from Flamengo, 18-year-old Rodrygo from Santos, 21-year-old Eder Militao from Porto, and 18-year-old Eduardo Camavinga from Rennes. And now chomini. Total spending on these deals is estimated at around €250m, which is a lot but has been done with the next decade and more in mind.
There have been some much more questionable decisions over the same period – those huge deals to sign Eden Hazard and Luka Jovic in the summer of 2019, and Achraf Hakimi’s sale to Inter Milan a year later – and it’s fair to say the rebuilding process. The past four years have not been as smooth as last season’s glorious results suggested.
Several times, it was all too easy for Real Madrid’s winning Champions League campaign to end in defeat and indignation, as did the previous three.
But for all the focus on Karim Benzema’s brilliance throughout the knockout stage and Thibaut Courtois and Casemiro outperforming in the final against Liverpool, the contributions of the young players should not be overlooked.
Regarding the famous midfield trio, Casemiro was suspended for the second leg of the round of 16 against PSG and replaced Camavinga Kroos when Real trailed 2-0 on aggregate. In the quarter-final second leg against Chelsea, Real were 2-0 down (3-3 on aggregate) when Camavinga came in for Kroos and lost 3-0 (4-3 on aggregate) when Casemiro made way for Rodrygo; Against Manchester City in the semi-finals, Real trailed 1-0 on the night (5-3 on aggregate) when Camavinga and Marco Asensio replaced Modric and Casemiro.
That doesn’t mean it’s time to drop the curtain on the old runners. It certainly wasn’t Ancelotti’s intention, and besides, did you see Modric’s performance against Celta at the weekend? But the teams have to improve (something Real seem to have lost during Perez’s first presidency). Hence Vinicius, Rodrygo, Militao, Camavinga and Xwamini, not to mention their interest in Borussia Dortmund’s 19-year-old Judd Bellingham if, as expected, he is available next summer.
Although it is unnatural to take credit for the biggest club in the world, under the leadership of the man behind the terrible European League project, Real Madrid is working smarter than in the past.
Not only have they signed many of the best young talents in world football in recent years, thanks in large part to head international recruitment Johnny Calafat, but they have done so with clear succession plans.
In Chwamini’s case, the plan was to incorporate him gradually over the course of this season – as they did with Camavinga the previous season, when the youngster appeared 40 games in all competitions but was used mostly from the bench in bigger matches. . Ancelotti said after winning the European Super Cup against Eintracht Frankfurt two weeks ago that Chuamini “will improve and learn a lot alongside Casemiro”.
That plan was changed due to United’s desperation to sign Casemiro at almost any cost – the kind of wages and contract offer that prompted Real and the player to embrace a transfer that was not on either’s agenda. Real’s intention to sell was no more than Casemiro’s intention to play in the Europa League this season.
On Saturday evening, Ancelotti said the transition in Real’s midfield “could be a bit smooth or forced”. He was talking about the technical aspects of playing when possession is gained or lost, but he could easily have referred to the turnover of individuals. It may have been smooth – or at least as smooth as possible when going from such masterful players – but the speed may have been imposed, in this case by Casemiro’s departure to Old Trafford.
It’s not perfect. There could be moments, perhaps in the Champions League knockout rounds next spring, where Casemiro’s experience, know-how and toughness are missing. There may be calls to sign a more experienced player to bolster the midfield in the short term and help with that transition. As much as he defies such expectations, Modric – 37 in two weeks – certainly can’t work at that level for much longer.
But it makes sense to speed up the rebuilding program from a position of strength.
Sooner or later, the time will come when Real Kroos, who turns 33 in early January, and Modric say goodbye.
They too will deserve one of those institutional honors because when that time comes, it will be with the club’s blessing, with a succession plan in place.
(Main Graphic – Images: Getty Images / Design: Sam Richardson)