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Real Madrid president Perez needs to live within his means after collapse of Super League scheme

08:00 BST 26/04/2021
Florentino Perez Real Madrid
Record Champions League winners face Chelsea in the semi-finals this week with controversy raging over their president's part in breakaway proposals

While Real Madrid midfielder Antonio Blanco was impressing on his full debut at Cadiz’s Ramon de Carranza stadium, 700 miles north east in the capital, his president Florentino Perez was waiting at Cadena SER’s studio to defend his failed plan to "save football".

Those were Perez's words, and words with which the vast majority of the football world disagreed.

The 74-year-old Super League president is not exactly a master of public relations, of course. Hurriedly launching the project late on a Sunday night with him as the lead figure was a mistake. Following that up with an interview on El Chiringuito – a trashy football ‘debate’ show – compounded the error and made its failure inevitable.

Although the accommodating hosts produced statistics plucked from thin air which seemed to back up the idea that fans across Europe crave a Super League, the reaction everywhere else made a mockery of those numbers.

The biggest backlash arrived in England, with fans of the six clubs included in the project rejecting the idea as vehemently as the Premier League, Serie A, La Liga and UEFA.

Perez's plot was revealed as nothing more than a scheme to save his own club, and ironically their most bitter rivals Barcelona, who are in the same sinking ship, burdened with heavy debt.

Teams like Chelsea and Manchester City were among those to jump on board the Super League train at the last minute for fear of being left behind, with the Clasico duo (at least until Joan Laporta took over at Barcelona) and Premier League powerhouses Manchester United and Liverpool the driving forces behind it all.

Paris Saint-Germain did not sign up but, in a way, they were a key factor in the creation of the Super League. The likes of Madrid have had their noses put of joint by the emergence of clubs such as PSG and City, who have access to seemingly bottomless wells of oil money.

In a bid to keep the nouveau riche at bay, the old order have been over-extending themselves, spending far too much on transfers and player wages.

However, with JP Morgan having now taken their billions off the table after seeing the project fall apart, Madrid and Perez have to find a new solution to their economic issues.

Perez, who sold Madrid’s training ground to the city authorities for €501 million (£436m/$606m) in 2001 after a reclassification of the land to clear the club’s mounting debt, has dealt with financial problems before.

Back then, the sale allowed him to build his collection of Galacticos, and 20 years on, he hoped to celebrate the anniversary with the Super League launch.

The land bought by the city two decades ago became the most valuable plot in the whole of Spain as a result, with the EU suspecting they paid over the odds to help pull Real Madrid out of their debt hole.

Four skyscrapers were built there. “The Figo tower, the Zidane tower, the Ronaldo tower and the Beckham tower,” wrote ABC newspaper, given Perez’s ACS construction group was involved in their building.

Earlier this year, meanwhile, the European Commission ordered Madrid and Barcelona to repay millions in state aid.

Los Blancos have around €900m (£785m/$1 billion) of gross debt, putting them in a position nearly as bad as Barcelona, whose problems have been widely discussed as they try to negotiate a new contract for captain Lionel Messi.

His Madrid counterpart Sergio Ramos could also leave La Liga this summer, given the Blancos refused to meet his financial demands over extending a contract that expires in two months.

Ramos' usual central-defensive partner Raphael Varane is another concern, with the Frenchman's deal set to run out in 2022.

Essentially, Madrid have dug themselves into a rather big hole, and it is hard for them to get out of it.

They had not spent big on a player since Gareth Bale arrived in 2013, but then, two years ago, committed approximately €145m (£126/$175m) in a deal to sign Eden Hazard, who is proving more of a problem to the club’s finances than La Liga defences.

On Wednesday night, though, at the Ramon de Carranza, Blanco showed Madrid the way forward.

Like Barcelona have leaned heavily on Oscar Mingueza, Ronald Araujo, Pedri, Ansu Fati and Ilaix Moriba this season, Zinedine Zidane needs to turn to his youth academy to fill holes in his star-studded but over-stretched squad.

And the French coach, who has also called upon Sergio Arribas and Marvin Park on occasions this term, could not have been anything but impressed by Blanco's gritty performance in midfield alongside Casemiro.

However, while Barcelona are renowned for being a club that brings through young talent, Madrid do not find a home for the players that come through La Fabrica. That now has to change.

They must also comb the market carefully, looking for opportunities to hire top talent for as little as possible, which is why they are poised to sign David Alaba on a five-year deal.

The Bayern Munich defender's wage demands are high, but at least he will arrive at Santiago Bernabeu on a free transfer. Madrid will need to make similarly shrewd signings if they want to add to their squad.

Their stadium redevelopment costs an estimated €575m (£500m/$695m), without adding extra seats. It is hard to reconcile that expensive outlay with Perez saying the club will be "dead" in 2024 without the Super League.

Madrid need to start running their club within its means to survive, instead of trying to tear football's structures apart to cover their losses.

“What clubs have to do now is control costs instead of increasing income,” said La Liga president Javier Tebas.

He may be a disagreeable character, but there is no denying that he has a point.

If Barcelona and Real Madrid have revenues touching €1bn (£875m/$1.2bn) a season and it is still not enough for them to keep their heads above water, then clearly something is wrong.

When fans are back in stadiums filling club coffers, the debt problem will not seem quite as big for Real Madrid, but like an iceberg, it will remain a major threat only partially hidden.

Perez is adamant that the Super League is not dead and insists that the founding members cannot leave. He has already started talking about returning with a modified project but now, at least, he knows it will not be plain sailing to take football where he wants it to go.

However, if Perez really wants to save football, he will leave it well alone, and invest his time and energy into making his poorly run club a more viable operation in its own right.

Backing more youth academy products like Blanco would be an excellent place to start.