Van der Vaart could be latest star rescued off Real Madrid scrap heap
Shhhh! Stop. Stay very, very still. Listen carefully. Prick up your ears and you might just catch it: a faint rustling in the bushes as it ducks and dives its way through the darkness of Padre Damián Street, scavenging. If you're really lucky, you might even hear its characteristic call breaking the still air in the dead of night, escaping from somewhere in the shadow of the Santiago Bernabéu:
It was Arsenal manager
Redknapp is entitled to feel a little excited. If history repeats itself, he is entitled to be very, very excited indeed. Wenger wasn't suggesting a night-time vigil at the Bernabéu just for the sake of it.
Real Madrid's transfer policy has so often been to buy that season's Balón d'Or winner, as if
The same Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben whom Madrid ditched last summer. The same Sneijder and Robben who won domestic doubles with their new clubs. Correction:
It's easy to be smart after the event. The Spanish talk about
Sneijder hadn't had a great season (although he had been arguably Madrid's best outfield player the season before). Robben is injury-prone (but not as injury-prone as was made out: "only" eight teammates played more minutes than him -- a lot but not quite the "he's always injured" of lore). And they had to raise cash after returning president
But they might not have gone for the former if you'd told them that to do so would cost $152 million (the $203 million it cost to sign Ronaldo and Kaká minus the $51 million recouped on Robben and Sneijder). The "what a mistake it was to sell Robben and Sneijder" discourse is not just a case of historic revisionism, or
He publicly insisted that he did not want to lose either player. But he did. Their seasons could barely have gone better. Meanwhile, Madrid was eliminated from the Champions League at the first knockout phase for the sixth consecutive year. And lost the league to Barcelona. That was not all it lost. It lost money, too.
Sneijder arrived for $35 million and left for $19 million. Robben cost $47 million and left for $32 million. Now Van der Vaart has gone to Spurs for $12 million. He was signed for $16 million. That's a $35 million loss on the three. Redknapp claimed that he had balked at the price he was originally quoted: the $27 million that Bayern Munich was supposedly going to pay. Then, suddenly at the last minute, Madrid said he could take Van der Vaart for $12 million. For a World Cup finalist. For a man who, if the precedents are right, could have a huge impact. No wonder they were laughing on Tottenham High Road.
No wonder they were laughing in Barcelona, too. Because there is nothing they love more in Barcelona than to laugh at Madrid -- and vice versa. Thing is, they shouldn't. All the talk of Robben and Sneijder over the last 12 months has served to disguise that last summer Barcelona sold
Eto'o had cost Barcelona, too. Officially valued at $25 million (having cost $32 million and surely only increased his market value since), Eto'o was included in the deal to sign
And can anyone guarantee that Ibrahimovic, who has won seven successive league titles, won't embarrass Barcelona like Eto'o did? Like Sneijder and Robben embarrassed Madrid?
There are losses and losses. Barcelona claimed that it actually gained money with Ibrahimovic's departure. In announcing the Swede's departure to Milan, the club said it saved more than $77 million on wages. Last year, a similar argument was made -- with rather more credibility -- over the huge cost of renewing Eto'o's contract. Moving him made economic sense, as well as fulfilling a footballing need.
In Madrid, there is the claim that the club has sold well, resolving a problem that it inherited from the previous regime -- that it has made the best of a bad situation. It is a classic case of a new government blaming problems on the former administration. Selling players the previous president bought is easy -- if, as Robben and Sneijder proved, risky.
And that's the point. Despite their huge debts, Madrid and Barcelona can do it. They can buy players and then bin them. When the transfer window closed on Tuesday, only six teams in Spain had spent more than $13 million. Look closely and that figure is even more striking: Of those, Valencia actually has a net gain of more than $64 million; it has been a selling club, not a buying one. Sevilla's net spend is just $4 million. Valencia and Sevilla were Spain's third- and fourth-best team's last year. Atlético was forced to sell
Madrid and Barcelona have spent more than $89 million each. Together, they have spent more than the rest of the league combined. All of which means more imbalance. More stockpiling and, so often, more off-loading. The best the rest can hope for is to live off their scraps. The good news is that these are luxury scraps; the bad news is that for the rest of Spain, even the scraps are too expensive. For the rest of Europe, though, they can provide the most nourishing of meals. If Van der Vaart is even half as successful as Sneijder or Robben, and if Ibrahimovic is as good as Eto'o, it won't just be Redknapp and Wenger hanging around outside the Bernabéu and the Camp Nou, waiting for a world-class player to be slung out the back door with the rest of the rubbish.
It will be everyone else, too.