And so it begins. Another summer, another Florentino Perez-led push for the greatest players on the planet to pull on the all-white of Real Madrid.
Last year it was Gareth Bale, and those who have gone before him ooze class, quality and sky-high wages: Zinedine Zidane, Luis Figo, Ronaldo, Cristiano and David Beckham. Liverpool’s Luis Suarez is the next name on Perez’s wanted list, and his acquisition should be the only one Madrid chase with gusto this summer.
The Uruguay international’s name has been linked with the Bernabeu for over a year, but this summer the push is expected to intensify. Suarez enjoyed arguably his best season in sharing the European Golden Shoe with Ronaldo thanks to his 31 goals for Liverpool, which put them on course for the Premier League title before they fell apart in the closing weeks of the campaign. That impressive tally, which also included 12 assists, came despite missing the first six Premier League games of the season through suspension.
Some will question whether Los Merengues need to shell out another bumper transfer fee after winning two trophies — including the long-awaited Decima in the Champions League — last season. Karim Benzema would be the man most likely to make way for Suarez, and the Frenchman forged a good relationship with Ronaldo and Bale last term, scoring 22 goals in all competitions and chipping in with 14 assists.
So stick or twist? No club should rest on their laurels, and the signing of Suarez would send a message around La Liga and the world. Bale’s signing was ultimately a success after initial criticism of the huge transfer fee, but the capture of Suarez would take Los Blancos to another level.
On the money side, the former Ajax man would not come cheap. He only extended his Liverpool contract earlier this season, and Madrid made a rod for their own back last summer with the world-record 85 million pounds fee for Bale. A fee of between 50-60 million pounds has been mooted for Suarez, but Perez would have to part with more cash than that to get his man — though, relatively, he’d be worth it.
Another splurge on one player will come in for criticism in such bad economic times in Spain, and around the world, but Suarez is a player who is highly marketable and who could well pay for himself in the long run. Perez and Madrid are smart in the commercial world, and how much a player is worth commercially, as well as on the pitch, is always considered.
Madrid topped football’s “rich list” last year with total revenues of $702 million, despite winning no trophies, and that is only expected to rise given Bale’s explosive arrival and winning the Champions League. Suarez’s arrival would boost that further, too.
On the pitch, his talents are unquestionable. He led Liverpool’s chase for the Premier League title and scooped the majority of the player of the year accolades in England thanks to his sparkling form for the Anfield club. The range of goals he scores is attractive to a potential buyer, too, as he is able to score wonder goals and headers, or he can just simply show the anticipation to be in the right place at the right time to get his side a goal.
The Bernabeu crowd should also warm to him thanks to his high work rate, something that is lacking in Benzema and that drew disappointment from Madridistas at the start of the season. Suarez will constantly track back and help out and, although having a selfishness required to be a top player in front of goal, he’s also very much a team man. He can play all across Carlo Ancelotti’s front three, something Benzema cannot match, although a spot leading the line would be his main role given the threat of Bale and Ronaldo out wide.
His behaviour issues will no doubt be brought into question given his previous bans for biting (twice; one for Liverpool and once for Ajax) and racial abuse towards Manchester United defender Patrice Evra. His theatrics on the pitch do not wash well, either, but last season Suarez at least showed improvement on that front and Ancelotti is the perfect manager to continue to help him develop.
His signing should not come at the expense of Benzema, either. Although the former Lyon man has been linked with a move to Arsenal this summer, Madrid will need their Frenchman, given the tough and jam-packed campaign that lies ahead. Los Blancos will battle for trophies on six fronts next season, with the European Super Cup, Spanish Super Cup and FIFA World Club Cup adding to their quest for La Liga, Champions League and Copa del Rey glory. It may seem like a tough ask but a club of the stature of Real Madrid, led by a president like Perez, will be gunning for all six. They will struggle to do that with only one experienced front man in their ranks.
While Madrid are blessed with arguably the strongest and deepest squad in world football, the No. 9 position is not their strongest point. Luckily, Benzema stayed fit for the majority of the campaign, but with Alvaro Morata pushing for more first-team opportunities elsewhere, Los Blancos would be left with pushing Ronaldo more central, something he isn’t keen on, or playing Jese Rodriguez there when he’s more penetrative out wide. Keeping Benzema, with possibly a contract extension on the cards, as well as capturing Suarez, will be crucial.
The Frenchman isn’t alien to sharing the No. 9 slot, and when he did so with Gonzalo Higuain, the rotation worked well for Madrid. It’s always a tricky task with two world-class players fighting for the same starting position, but given Los Blancos’ packed fixture calendar, a rest here and there will do both players, and ultimately the team, good, especially after their exploits in this summer’s World Cup.
The lack of a suitable backup was noticeable at the end of the season when it helped play a part in costing Madrid the title — and a possible treble. In the costly 1-1 draw at Valladolid, Morata replaced Ronaldo early on and Madrid struggled to kill the game off, resulting on a late leveller for the hosts. A few days later at Celta none of Bale, Benzema or Ronaldo played, and Ancelotti’s men went down to a 2-0 defeat, failing to score for only the second time in the league.
Madrid will not make wholesale changes to their Champions League-winning squad this season but a striker is necessary to boost their chances of further success next season. Other players such as Sevilla duo Ivan Rakitic, who has reportedly attracted the attention of Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid, and Alberto Moreno, who looks set for a move to Liverpool, have been linked with the Bernabeu, but Los Blancos are blessed with two good players for all other positions. A year on under Ancelotti and those players should only improve.
Quite simply, the signing of Suarez may be seen as another debatable wallet-buster for Los Blancos, but it would only improve Madrid, and his arrival would mirror the rewards reaped by the big-money Bale signing.