It’s something that may forever be ingrained in Spanish football – consistently welcoming or producing the very finest talents in world football, and then sooner or later bidding them farewell. Amid former managers opting for retirement, current managers looking set for an exit, and the player’s 200th goal for Real Madrid against Malaga on Wednesday night, Cristiano Ronaldo is reportedly the next major name to depart La Liga.
This one is a little different to what we’ve seen over the past couple of summers. Yes, Sergio Aguero has always been talked about in the same light as Juan Mata, Santi Cazorla and David Silva, but the feelings aren’t really the same when discussing Ronaldo.
What La Liga stands to lose (if the reports turn out to be correct) is the battle between the two players who are undoubtedly one and two in world football. Lionel Messi vs. Ronaldo became a subplot to the recent Barcelona and Real Madrid story, lining up nicely alongside Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho but with far less in the way of fire breathing from either corner.
You look at Ronaldo as one of the most complete footballers in the world today, perhaps even more so than Messi. The Portuguese is a draw and only offers good things for La Liga. But when it’s all done and dusted, the bigger loss will be felt from the homegrown players continuing this disappointing trend.
The Premier League is likely to benefit from at least three of the biggest names currently in Spain this summer. Radamel Falcao could make the switch and join Ronaldo on the train to England. But Spain’s all-time leading scorer David Villa will be the most significant. It represents Spanish football’s inability to retain its finest and most legendary players. If Frank Lampard or Wayne Rooney become topics for transfer discussion, the first possible destinations reeled out are all Premier League-based. When Victor Valdes announced his intention to leave Barcelona, it was only those abroad who were deemed likely to offer him a new chapter. And it’s not really a matter of whether or not Barcelona would want to sell domestically; how many Chelsea fans would want to see Lampard line up for Manchester United? Additionally, how many Liverpool fans were ok with Fernando Torres moving to west London?
With regards to Ronaldo, the Portuguese also represents a continuing trend, being that Spain will always be the frontrunners for the world’s biggest names. Whether you want to start with Zinedine Zidane or Luis Figo and end with Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Lionel Messi, Spain’s big two are perpetual draws for the biggest names in the game. And to go one tier down, Atletico Madrid have also played a big part in Spain’s recent make up, with Aguero and Radamel Falcao just two of the names.
Where Ronaldo leaves off, another will arrive. Those records are hugely impressive but not unmatchable. Despite the obvious imbalance of finances in the league, there is some benefit to names like Florentino Perez. Stars will continue to pour into La Liga, and in terms of Real Madrid and Barcelona, there doesn’t seem to be any signs of stopping. Ronaldo may leave, but Neymar could come in. It’s the cycle that doesn’t prompt a great deal of disappointment when looking at the bigger picture. Sergio Canales threw away a year of his career when he switched from Racing to the Bernabeu. He won’t be the last youngster to move up or out in Spanish football, and that’s the real loss.
Spain will prove to be powerless to keep its better players this summer, just as they were last year and the year before that. For Real Madrid fans it will be a blow if Ronaldo moves on, taking any immediate hope of a 10th Champions League title with him. But clubs like Athletic Bilbao, Real Sociedad, Valencia, and many others will continue to sell in order to get by.
The contradiction is that La Liga clubs continue to be a success in domestic cup competitions or in Europe. Last season, Bilbao reached two cup finals, competing against Atletico Madrid in the Europa League. This season, Atletico have reached the Copa del Rey final. In the last 10 years there have been eight different winners of Spain’s domestic cup competition, with Sevilla and Barcelona winning twice. In the Europa League/UEFA Cup, Valencia, Atletico and Sevilla have triumphed. The scope for success is there. The problem is the inability to retain and build. The possible loss of Ronaldo will be important, but it should always be overshadowed by La Liga clubs failing to put together long-term title-challenging teams.