10th August 2016. By Ryan Baldi.
When you hear the words "Real Madrid", a Pavlovian response is triggered in your mind, conjuring images of the famous immaculate white strip, a packed out Santiago BernabÃ©u stadium with floodlights glistening, the European Cup being proudly lofted high in celebration of yet another Continental conquering.
You also think of glamourous players, lavish spending on the latest superstars and transfer market dominance you think of GalÃ¡cticos.
Luis Figo, Zinedine Zidane and Ronaldo were the first of the headline-grabbing marquee signings of the era that became defined by the club's yearly summer transfer business in the early 2000s, and Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and James RodrÃguez are more recent examples of Los Blancos propensity to flex their financial muscles.
But even before the term GalÃ¡ctico was coined, Real Madrid were accustomed to attracting world football's most talented players, stretching back as far as the 1950s with the signings of Alfredo di StÃ©fano and Feren? Puskas.
The capture of a big-name, world-class star has felt almost like a forgone conclusion for Madridistas over the last decade and a half; the arrival at the BernabÃ©u of the hot young thing who has shone brightest at the latest World Cup or European Championship is taken for granted, as transfer records tumble.
But could all of that be changing?
It has been two years now since Madrid's last true GalÃ¡ctico signing the arrival of James RodrÃguez in 2014 from AS Monaco for £63 million, after the Colombian starred at that summer's World Cup in Brazil.
Last summer, Brazilian full-back Danilo was Madrid's most expensive incoming, signed for around £25 million from FC Porto, with young Croatian midfielder Matteo Kova?i? joining from Inter Milan for a similar fee neither could be labelled a GalÃ¡ctico by any measure.
And during the current transfer window, with less than two weeks before the new season begins, Ãlvaro Morata is the club's only signing the European champions exercised their €30 million buyback option to re-sign the player from Juventus, having sold him to the Bianconeri two years ago. A talented and influential striker though Morata is, a GalÃ¡ctico he certainly is not.
Madrid's recent lack of a marquee signing isn't for want of trying, though.
This time a year ago, the eleven-time champions of Europe were in pursuit of Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea. A deal for the Spanish shot stopper was finally agreed as the transfer window was about to slam shut, only to be scuppered by a failure to submit the relevant papers to the authorities, and the deal was left in tatters as the deadline passed; de Gea remained a United player, and even signed a new long-term contract with the Old Trafford club, while Madrid remained GalÃ¡ctico-less.
And this summer, Los Merengues were again embroiled in a tug of war with the Red Devils, this time over Juventus' gifted French midfielder Paul Pogba. Multiple media reports suggested that, given the choice, Pogba would prefer to join Madrid, but the Spanish club were seemingly unwilling or unable to compete with the kind of money United were willing to throw at the deal.
Despite manager Zidane's efforts to convince president Florentino PÃ©rez to stump up the cash, and despite Madrid's efforts to throw a spanner in the works of United's negotiations with Juventus, the Red Devils got their man in a world record £89 million deal. And, once again, Madrid are without a GalÃ¡ctico signing.
In a further transfer window defeat, Los Blancos were believed to be literally hours away from completing a deal to sign Portuguese midfielder AndrÃ© Gomes from Valencia last month, only for bitter rivals FC Barcelona to swoop in and steal the player away from under their noses. Barca sealed a €55 million deal for the 22-year-old, and Madrid were left red-faced.
Now, of course there is still another three weeks to go before the current transfer window closes, so Madrid could yet surprise everybody by pulling a rabbit out of their hat with a big-money superstar signing.
But the realistic options for a potential GalÃ¡ctico arrival are thin on the ground. AtlÃ©tico Madrid's Antione Griezmann and Paris Saint Germain's Marco Verratti have recently signed new long-term contracts, while Robert Lewandowski and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang seem unlikely to leave Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund respectively this season despite the latter's confession that he'd love to represent Real Madrid in the future.
And it's not like Madrid need any of these players. In fact, there is a strong argument that could be made to suggest that such a signing would only disrupt the harmony within Zidane's squad.
Take the "BBC" attacking trio of Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo for example. Benzema may be the least eye-catching player of the three, but the selfless role he plays in running the channels, holding the ball up and bringing his team-mates into play is key to getting the best out of Bale and Ronaldo; Benzema's role as playmaker-striker is one that he has perfected.
If you were to swap Benzema for Lewandowski or Aubameyang, the balance would be altered. Would Lewandowski be happy to play a role that is subservient to Ronaldo? Would Aubameyang enjoy working off the ball to create space inside for Bale?
And say Madrid had been successful in their pursuit of Pogba, who makes way in their midfield? Luka Modri? and Toni Kroos were outstanding last season, would it be worth sacrificing one of them for Pogba? And Casemiro became vital to Madrid in the latter stages of the Champions League: the Brazilian is a specialist defensive midfielder, and the job he did of shielding the back four proved invaluable; taking him out would undoubtedly be a mistake.
So Real Madrid's move away from GalÃ¡ctico signings may not have been made by choice, but curbing the yearly turnover of superstars may not be such a bad thing.
They are the reigning champions of Europe, with a wealth of superstar players in every department. The addition of Morata this summer has given them an alternative option up front who will not come in and offset the established dynamic.
Allowing Zidane, who only took over from Rafa BenÃtez in January, the time to further get to know his squad and shape them into his way of playing, without worrying about crowbarring in the latest record signing, will allow the Frenchman to build something substantial and long-lasting.
A move away from the GalÃ¡ctico obsession would represent a move away from short-termism for Madrid. Instead of focussing on who is the best player on the market right now to generate the most publicity, who must then be crammed into the already top-heavy side, Zidane can pour his efforts into finding square pegs for square holes.
A joined-up, long-term approach could see Madrid finally augment their Champions League mastery into usurping Barcelona as La Liga's dominant force.
Real Madrid Fail to Make A Galactico Signing - But Retain Hopes of Success
10th August 2016. By Ryan Baldi.