Real set to build a 34m Villa in Madrid to cap a six-day, 170m spending frenzy
Real Madrid will complete six days that have transformed world football this week when they take their already phenomenal summer transfer spending to an astonishing £170million by signing Valencia and Spain striker David Villa. Villa's agent, Jose Luis Tamargo, was finalising details yesterday of the Euro 2008 top scorer's personal terms with Real director Jorge Valdano. As long as the £34m fee is confirmed as acceptable by Valencia, a club in the middle of a financial crisis, the third part of the attacking triumvirate promised by new Madrid president Florentino Perez will be in place alongside Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka. And there is even bleaker news for Manchester United to follow. Weakened by the loss of Ronaldo to Madrid, they are likely to find themselves put further in their place by the Spanish in their search for a replacement for FIFA's World Player of the Year. Not only would Bayern Munich's Franck Ribery, the most obvious direct replacement for Ronaldo, prefer a move to Barcelona, but Real are already talking about putting a further deal together for Karim Benzema, 21, another potential Sir Alex Ferguson target, which would see the France centre forward stay at Lyon for another season before joining Madrid in the summer of 2010 for £25m. In a matter of days, the virile English Premier League has started to look emasculated. The best five players on the planet at present are Ronaldo, Leo Messi, Kaka, Xavi and Andres Iniesta, and all five will be playing next season in Spain, whose national team are European champions and World Cup favourites and who also boast the Champions League winners in Barcelona. For United, the £18m arrival of Antonio Valencia from Wigan is going to look like small beer compared to the Champagne Charlies of Madrid. Unless Ribery can be wrested from Bayern Munich though at present neither Barcelona nor United are interested in the £60m fee demanded by the Germans English clubs will appear a little feeble. They have already been hit by the decline in the value of sterling and the new 50 per cent tax rate. Even Roman Abramovich-backed Chelsea could not compete with Real Madrid for Kaka and Villa, and the Spanish club are unlikely to have completed their denuding of the Premier League for the summer. Although the prospect of seizing Xabi Alonso from Liverpool may be receding because of Gareth Barry's move to Manchester City, Arsenal's Gael Clichy is among the principal candidates to fill Real's left-back position, problematic since the departure of Roberto Carlos in 2007. Arsenal are unlikely to resist a £12m bid given the progress last season of Kieran Gibbs and Clichy's injury record. Real goalkeeper Iker Casillas believes that Ronaldo's world record move will end English clubs' domination of the Champions League. The Spain captain, preparing for his country's opening Confederations Cup game in South Africa today, said the decision by Ronaldo to quit Old Trafford and join Kaka at the Bernabeu proved there was a growing shift in power across Europe. 'Recently, apart from Barcelona, the teams that have reached the final phase of the Champions League have been from England,' said Casillas. 'They always seem to have teams at least in the semi-finals. But now Spanish teams are building up again.' Real, nine times European champions, have not reached the final since 2002 and this season were knocked out by Liverpool in the last 16 but that, insisted Casillas, would change. 'With these types of players, it is clear that Spanish clubs are ready to compete again,' he warned. That the Premier League and United, in particular, are the victims of this Spanish raiding party is richly ironic because the business model that has allowed Perez to inflate the market so dramatically is one long preached by English clubs. Now that the Glazer family, United's American owners, have demonstrated it is possible to carry debts of £699m and still make a profit on the basis of annual revenue of £257m, why shouldn't Real Madrid, whose most recent recorded incomewas £290m, do the same? Real had debts of £511m before the current spending spree, according to a study by the University of Barcelona. With the industrial power of construction magnate Perez adding extra guarantees for lenders, even in the midst of a brutal recession, Spanishbanks such as La Caixa and Santander have been willing to extend their credit lines to enable Madrid's debt to equal that of United's. There is one rather pertinent difference, however. Being a mutual society owned by fans, Real's new borrowings have been used to sign the most exciting players in world football; United's debts simply prop up the Glazer family's purchase of the clubfor their own financial benefit. Ultimately, though, the five Glazer brothers Avram, Joel, Bryan, Edward and Kevin and sister Darcie, who own and direct United's strategy, share more common ground with Perez. The level of backing provided by banks and the need to maximise revenue is likely to drive proposals for the much-vaunted European Super League. Perez was candid on the subject when canvassing for his return last month. Referring to how the now disbanded G-14 pressured UEFA to expand and revolutionise the Champions League during the 1990s, Perez said: 'I think it is not enough. A local competition must always carry on in each country but that is not incompatible with a European competition. The way it is now, maybe you never play against AC Milan. In my previous stint as president we never faced ACMilan or Inter. 'Sometimes we faced Manchester United, sometimes Bayern. But to compete against clubs on a permanent basis, every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, wouldproduce more income for these clubs. It is very important.' Economics professor Stefan Szymanski, of London's City University, agrees. 'One area of revenue growth would be to ensure you have the Real v United fixture every season, home and away,' he said. 'It could be argued that it's the scarcity of thosematches which makes them valuable, but I suspect that if you have more of those games which attract the most interest, then you'd generate more money.' That would be almost impossible to achieve without the support of UEFA, the governing body in Europe, and although president, Michel Platini, is an instinctive traditionalist, he may feel reforms to the Champions League could strengthen his powerbase. For Platini, it could put his organisation in charge of the most lucrative sporting league in the world, eclipsing the value of even American football's NFL. And for the likes of United and Real, it might satisfy their appetite for increased revenues or, more pertinently, the demands of their corporate financial backers. Platini has always insisted that he would listen to proposals put forward by the European Clubs Forum, the newly-formed representative body of the 102 biggest clubs within UEFA. If those clubs were to agree on a format which allowed a 16-team European League to compete for the European Cup, there is no reason why Platini would not agree, as long as it could run concurrently with national leagues. With the likes of Perez pushing the agenda and clubs with debts of £700m becoming the rule rather than the exception in football, a UEFA-backed super league has moved a step closer. That may be the ultimate legacy of the week that saw Ronaldo, Kaka and David Villa revolutionise the game.
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