The all-white angels of madrid

Real Madrid has a glittering history. In April 2012 it became the first team to win 100 matches in the Champions League, since it was rebranded in 1992. And, apart from winning an unprecedented number of nine European Cups, Real Madrid has also won a record 32 La Liga titles and three Intercontinental Cups. Priyansh takes stock.

When Manchester City striker Sergio Agüero travelled to Spain’s capital for his team’s Champions League opener against Real Madrid recently, he would have been forgiven for being a little sentimental. After all, the 24-year-old had spent five successful seasons in that city while playing for Real Madrid’s traditional rival, Atlético, before being snapped up by his current club.

However, it wasn’t a happy journey for the Argentine at all. Agüero had to be satisfied with being an unused substitute as he could not recover fully in time from an ankle injury and later, watched helplessly as his teammates threw away a 2-1 lead to lose 2-3 in thrilling circumstances.

The morale-sapping loss would have been even tougher to accept for the former Atlético Madrid player. The Atlético fans, though disappointed by its enemy number one’s success at the expense of a former loyalist’s team, would still have been pleased with Agüero since he chose not to wear Real Madrid’s colours when he left his former club. Or that’s what many would make them believe.

After the match, however, Agüero dismissed any such misperceptions held by the Atlético faithful. “If Real Madrid had been interested, I would be there. I am at City because Madrid showed no real interest in me. Now, I take the opportunity to deny the information that I supposedly said I would never play at Madrid because I have played at Atlético. This was published in an English paper. Now I am playing at City and think about nothing else,” said the Argentine. For many, it would be tough to resist the temptation of branding Agüero a ‘mercenary.’ However, that would be a tad harsh. For a player of Agüero’s talent, it will not be improper if he dreams of playing for a legendary club like Real Madrid since a career at Atlético would hardly offer him the opportunities to play in big tournaments and win titles.

However, the Argentine’s ambition aside, his temptation to play for the Spanish champion brings to light a tenuous link shared by most top footballers in the world. Even if one were to justify Agüero’s statement on the grounds of the minor success achieved by his former club, then why did Cristiano Ronaldo and Luís Figo leave Manchester United and FC Barcelona to play at the Santiago Bernabéu? Surely, those clubs could have stood up to the Portuguese duo’s ambitions.

Herein lies the charm of Real Madrid. Though it may not be the strongest side in club football presently, the Spain’s capital-city based club still continues to attract top players. One of the major reasons behind this phenomenon is the club’s much-celebrated history.

The day after Real Madrid beat Manchester City, Manchester United defeated Turkish side Galatasaray to become only the second club to win 100 matches in the Champions League, since it was rebranded in 1992. The first, unsurprisingly, is the nine-time European champion from the Spanish capital. Apart from winning an unprecedented number of European Cups, Real Madrid has also won a record 32 La Liga titles and three Intercontinental Cups.

The Spanish giant won the first five European Cups and it is widely believed that after watching Real Madrid beat Eintracht Frankfurt 7-3 in the 1960 final, Leeds United decided to change its blue strip to an all-white kit in order to emulate the Spanish club. Interestingly, Leeds did go on to achieve its greatest success in the 1960s and ’70s.

The all-white kit, it can be argued, adds to the allure of Real Madrid. The colour white, in all its pristine glory, adds elements of elegance and grandeur and exudes a sense of calm which can be seen in the traditional setting of other sports too. Test cricket and the Wimbledon championships testify to this claim. Also, the annoyance expressed by some after watching tennis at the London Olympics where players sported coloured clothing is a case in point.

While it would be absurd to suggest that the colour of the kit is a major factor when it comes to choosing between Real Madrid and another club for a footballer, it is hard to deny that there are subliminal processes at work when a large body of fans and players call it “the greatest club in the world.” This, inevitably, poses a larger racial question which could be investigated some day.

Over the past decade, however, Real Madrid has failed to live up to its billing as the world’s greatest club. This period has witnessed the spending of astronomical amounts of money on star players, as dictated by the “Galacticos” policy of the club president Florentino Pérez, but the team has failed to match his ambitions on the pitch.

Though the term “Galacticos” is recent, the Spanish giant has always carried a reputation for paying huge sums of fee for star players. Even in the 1950s, Real Madrid’s legendary president Santiago Bernabéu, in whose honour the club’s stadium is named, spent vast amounts of money to sign players like Alfredo di Stefano and Ferenc Puskas.

The present side, though expensively-assembled, is yet to achieve the kind of success enjoyed by the Real Madrid sides of ’50s or the La Quinta del Buitre (The Vulture-like Five) of the ’80s. It has had to contend with a Barcelona team that has itself rewritten some records and continues to dominate Spanish and European football, last season’s league title victory for Real Madrid notwithstanding.

While it is true that the Catalan club has taken football to greater heights, Real Madrid has continued to improve and is now finally able to match Barcelona in the famed El Clásico contests. Despite a poor start to the season for the defending champion, the long trend-setting tradition of Real Madrid is in no way threatened.