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Real Madrid's stadium-over-squad policy has taken its toll


There’s a Real Madrid XI plus subs that wasn’t in Alcoy on Wednesday because it’s in exile: Keylor Navas at PSG, Achraf Hakimi at Inter, Pepe at Porto, Danilo at Juventus, Sergio Reguilón at Tottenham, Mateo Kovacic at Chelsea, Dani Ceballos at Arsenal, James Rodríguez at Everton, Marcos Llorente at Atlético, Brahim Díaz at AC Milan, Borja Mayoral at Roma, Álvaro Morata at Juventus (with Cristiano Ronaldo, whose absence remains Madrid’s main problem) and Gareth Bale, a dead weight that will be back, at Tottenham. There’s also Luka Jovic at Eintracht Frankfurt and soon Martin Odegaard, who has one foot out of the door. Most of them went into exile because club president Florentino Pérez decided to reduce his outgoings on playing staff to finance his gigantic, galactic can of sardines. That’s his priority.

Real Madrid have been left with a weakened squad not helped by a set of mostly useless signings

The result is that Madrid have an ageing group of regulars who get the job done from midfield backwards but are noticeably weaker up top, and understudies who the coach can’t trust to give his starters a breather - or get the team through a cup tie against third-tier opposition (even if he throws on a steadily greater number of first-choice players to help out). It’s true that we haven’t just seen departures in the past couple of years. Several buys have been made in a bid to remedy the signs of weakness shown by the team. But while they've all been expensive, most have been useless. Álvaro Odriozola, Éder Militão, Ferland Mendy (the only one who’s been a regular), Vinicius Junior, Rodrygo Goes, Reinier, Andriy Lunin, the offloaded Jovic, and Eden Hazard, who is as much of a dead weight as Bale.

Real Madrid are where they are because of their fixation with the Bernabéu revamp

Real Madrid are in the state they’re in because, for a while now, their sole focus has been the new Bernabéu. They’ve consciously weakened their squad, made clumsy attempts to patch it up and have asked Zinedine Zidane to work miracles. He now looks utterly spent and cannot hide his dissatisfaction with certain members of his squad. There are as many players he has but doesn’t want, as there are that he doesn’t have but does want. He knows club chiefs are fanning the flames of speculation about him and can now only hope that Hazard bucks up and wins the odd game from time to time. Blaming the financial effects of the coronavirus is misleading. The main issue at Madrid is the fixation on stadium over squad. And all these calls for a European super league only serve to hide this truth, too.