Real Madrid - Manchester United: five conflicts to understand the rivalry

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Real Madrid - Manchester United: five conflicts to understand the rivalry

Two of the most important institutions of European football go head-to-head in Santa Clara, California on Sunday night at Levi's Stadium. It is Real Madrid's debut in the preseason while Manchester United will play in their fourth game. Relations between the clubs has always been respectful with Afredo Di Stefano and Sir Bobby Charlton sharing a mutual admiration, Beckham's arrival at Real Madrid facilitated by the English side in 2003 while Redondo and Ronaldo were applauded by Old Trafford. Events in the last few years, however, have soured these amiable feelings and here are five of such events.

The transfer of Cristiano Ronaldo

The end was calm and benefitted everyone as Ronaldo got the chance to realise a life-long dream, Real Madrid got their galactico and Manchester United landed the biggest transfer fee for a player ever, at the time, of €96 million. The path to that end was torturous though. Real Madrid initiated contact in 2007 and wanted to pry Alex Ferguson's prize asset away from him. English clubs do not install termination clauses in their contracts and so a fee must be agreed with the selling club. Ferguson was not happy with Real Madrid's advances and made reference to them being "Franco's team, who got what they wanted when they wanted" but also said he "wouldn't sell them a virus". The money United received and the success he has had in the Spanish capital has no price and Manchester United fans have longed for a return of their prodigal son since he left. 

The last 16 of the Champions League 2012-13

The last official game between the two teams came in 2013 in the knockout stages of the Champions League. Following a 1-1 draw at the Santiago Bernabeu, the pair travelled back to Manchester where United took a 1-0 lead to make it an uphill battle for los Blancos. On 56 minutes, however, Nani was sent off for what appeared to be an unintentional kick on Arbeloa. The Spanish defender was replaced by Luka Modric and moments later levelled the score and the tie. Ronaldo scored soon after and United were down and out. Mourinho, to his credit, said after the game that "in my opinion, the best team has lost" but it didn't do much to ease United's woes and their need for revenge on Real Madrid.

The David de Gea case

The main point of discontent between the two clubs came on the final day of August 2015. Real Madrid and De Gea were keen on a move and while Manchester United tried to convince him otherwise, the deal was set to be closed on the last day of the season. It also included the transfer of Keylor Navas to Manchester. United reportedly sent the documents late, which left Real Madrid with not time to send the documents back on their end meaning no deal was done. Florentino Perez accused United of a "lack of experience" as they took eight hours to send back the contract that should have been sent in much less time. It was similar to what had happened with Fabio Coentrao the year before but in reverse when Real Madrid's slow delivery process scuppered a deal for the left-back. The possibility of De Gea remained alive but Navas settled in Real Madrid's goals and won the 11th and 12th Champions League with the club and Perez rejected the chance to sign Spain's number one this summer. 

The battle for Paul Pogba last summer

Last summer, Paul Pogba was on the look-out for a new team having won almost everything with Juventus. United, who owned the player when he was younger, and made the grave mistake of letting him go, wanted to rectify their error and give the rookie United coach, Jose Mourinho, the franchise player he needed to build around in his first year at the club. On the other hand, Zidane was also keen despite having Toni Kroos, Luka Modric, Casmiro, Mateo Kovacic, Isco and James in their ranks. Real Madrid conceded defeat in the pursuit of the Frenchman with the deal to United being facilitated by Mina Raiola, who does not have the best relationship with Real Madrid. 

Morata: €90 million or nothing

The last chapter of the simmering feud took place very recently. The Premier League side were keen on bringing in Alvaro Morata and the Spanish striker was up for joining Mourinho. They presented Real Madrid with an offer of €70 million plus another €10 million in add-ons. The LaLiga champions said they would not budge on their €90 million valuation (€80 million + €10 add-ons). It seemed like a deal would get done but United did not bother with the negotiations and turned their attention to Romelu Lukaku instead. Mourinho said they made a fair offer for Morata but the club did not want to listen in what was the latest passive-aggressive comment made between the sides.