Early Doors

Coentrao deal shows new reality

Early Doors

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Two seasons ago, Pep Guardiola, not a man prone to hyperbole, described the points tallies amassed by Barcelona and Real Madrid and the widening gulf they created from the rest of La Liga as "f*****g barbaric", and last season had a similar feel to it as both clubs surpassed 90 points again. Events so far this summer have indicated this duopoly will remain.

But Madrid's capture of Fabio Coentrao on Tuesday begs another question: do Barcelona and Real Madrid also belong in a distinct class of their own in a European-wide context.

At 30 million euros the Portugal international is the second most expensive full-back of all time, behind Barca's Dani Alves. For almost any other club in the world that signing would represent a huge statement of intent. For Madrid it just seems routine.

After all, since the second coming of president Florentino Perez in the summer of 2009, Madrid have spent an estimated, and quite staggering, 380 million euros on new players.

Indeed, the most indulgent aspect of the Coentrao deal is that Madrid are in absolutely no need of him whatsoever.

Assuming he will play in his favoured position of left-back, he faces competition from Marcelo, the Brazil international, who, though he has been inconsistent since joining the club, was largely excellent last season for Jose Mourinho.

When you factor in the signing of Raphael Varane from Lens, it is apparent to ED that Madrid have probably amassed the most formidable collection of defenders since Flash Gordon took on Ming the Merciless with his Defenders of the Earth.

Just look at their options. At left-back they have two players who would grace most sides in world football. At right-back, Alvaro Arbeloa and Sergio Ramos are both World Cup winners. In the centre, Pepe and Ricardo Carvalho face competition from Spain international Raul Albiol, new man Varane, and the versatile Ramos should he move across from the right.

The Madrid midfield has also been strengthened this summer with one of the Bundesliga's standout players in Nuri Sahin, and Hamit Altintop, who has presumably been employed as the former's professional best friend given he is unlikely to feature much. Jose Maria Callejon has also returned to the club from Espanyol to join a midfield which at the best of times cannot accomodate former World Player of the Year Kaka.

Attack is the next area of concern and a big-name striker will be brought in this summer. Neymar looks unlikely at this stage due to his reluctance to leave Brazil prior to the Club World Cup in December, but while Juventus are pushing hard for Atletico Madrid striker Sergio Aguero, the player wants to remain in the Spanish capital and looks a likely acquisition. Carlos Tevez is also a distinct possibility after declaring once again, and surely for the final time, that he is sick of Manchester City.

You could argue that spending such a vast amount of money is a logical approach given Madrid are attempting to catch up with one of the greatest club sides of all time in Guardiola's Barcelona. After all, you can't just magic up overnight the kind of organic understanding Barca enjoy.

But Barca, too, look to have an expensive summer planned. Cesc Fabregas is surely destined to get his dream return to the club and could cost as much as £40 million, while a transfer for Alexis Sanchez, though prolonged, is also expected to go through, taking the European champions' outlay to somewhere in the region of £75 million.

This hyper spending, year on year, ensures Barca and Real's stranglehold over La Liga continues, but ED wonders whether the two clubs are accelerating away from the rest of Europe as well.

Manchester City have embarked on a spending spree that puts even Roman Abramovich's spending at Chelsea in the shade, but that initial outlay was to ensure they secured a place in the Champions League. Though hardly gripped by austerity measures, it is said there is now a more sober approach behind closed doors with the looming concern of the Financial Fair Play regulations. Their new left-back, in contrast to Real's, cost only £7 million.

Manchester United have spent plenty of money this summer, but largely on investments for the future, and as for Arsenal, well ED won't even go there.

Chelsea's spending has increased dramatically in the past 12 months and could continue in that vein if they do manage to prise Luka Modric away from Tottenham, but a serious effort was required to reinvigorate an ageing squad. In any case, it was reported that the Blues missed out on Coentrao to Madrid, demonstrating where the power lies in this relationship.

So while England's clubs carry out essential maintenance, Spain's two biggest clubs are embellishing their already glittering squads, basically pimping out a Rolls Royce. It should be a matter of some concern.

After all, Madrid were only halted in the Champions League by Barcelona last season and should rightly be regarded as the second strongest club side in European football, particularly given that they have a player in Ronaldo who scored 40 league goals last season. These two sides will set the benchmark once again.

Despite his big-money move to the second best team in Europe, Coentrao remained humble when confirming his move on Thursday.

"I am going to work hard to play and Marcelo will do the same," he said. "We will compete for the same position every week and that will benefit the team, which is the most important thing.

"The Spanish league is very competitive and there are lots of good teams. I am determined to try and win it with Real Madrid."

There are lots of good teams, that much is true, but there are also two exceptional teams, who show no intention of slowing in their pursuit of expensive excellence. It remains to be seen whether the rest of Europe, and not only Spain, can keep up.

- - -

PROMOTIONAL STUNT OF THE DAY: First we had Michael Owen's famous brochure, and now Owen Hargreaves has adopted an unconventional approach to drumming up some interest. Following his release by Manchester United, the midfielder has attempted to prove his fitness by releasing a series of videos on YouTube demonstrating various exercises.

FOREIGN VIEW: "It's a shame to be compared to the Russian billionaire. I feel ashamed to be mentioned with him. He accumulated his wealth by monopolising his country's natural resources. I set up my business empire step by step, competing fiercely in the market." - Dalian Wanda chairman Wang Jianlin bristles at comparisons to Roman Abramovich after he pledges money to boost football in China.

COMING UP: Andy Mitten and Jim White file their latest columns and the Women's World Cup continues to supply drama as Groups C and D come to their conclusion.

Away from football, England take on Sri Lanka in the latest one-day international and the Tour de France reaches its fifth stage.

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