Spanish giants Real Madrid and FC Barcelona are two colossal ships without a rudder.
Untimely European Champions League exits have provoked controversial reactions within both clubs: Real coach Jose Mourinho has publicly criticised his players, and in turn has faced growing criticism from fans and an increasingly hostile domestic press.
Meanwhile many in the Spanish media have announced the end of the Barça ‘golden era’ and signs of cracking are showing with star defender Gerard Piqué arguing with coach Tito Vilanova.
But despite the chaotic picture, there is of course great speculation about the next moves of two of the world’s biggest football clubs.
The question remains on every fan’s mind: ‘what next?’ Madrilistas and Catalans must know important decisions are looming.
Real are determined to win their tenth European Cup, but many Spaniards are sceptical about changes in their style of play.
“Big signings are to come,” says Gaby Ruíz, Canal + sports journalist.
“But it looks like the club’s structure and its style of play won’t change. This could be a good moment to change that.”
So what can we expect? Florentino Pérez’s chequebook, that’s what.
The President of Real Madrid will remain faithful to his policy to buy ‘galácticos’. And this time he has extra motivation: the next Real Madrid presidential elections take place in June – if, of course, somebody is brave enough to challenge him.
If the elections take place Pérez will definitely present a crucial signing that will guarantee his re-election. He is also willing to get rid of striker Gonzalo Higuaín, winger Angel De María, midfielder Kaká and defender Pepe, and all those important players who can bring money to the club.
But who does he want to buy?
Several names are already on the tycoon’s shopping list:
Dani Carvajal, who has achieved recognition for his performance in Germany’s Bundesliga is a defensive target. In midfield two names are pushing hard: The Italian Marco Verratti, a 20-year-old ‘bambino’ who plays for Ligue 1 side Paris Saint Germain, and Borussia Dortmund’s IlKay Gundogan.
In attack there are four rumoured options: Manchester City’s Kun Agüero Liverpool’s Luís Suárez, Atletico’s Radamel Falcao (Atlético de Madrid) and Borussia’s Robert Lewandoski.
But who of these players is most likely to wear the ‘galácticos’ shirt?
Lewandowski’s contract with Borussia ends next June 2014, so if his team do not want him to leave ‘for free’ they might prefer to sell him to Real Madrid instead of their bitter rivals Bayern Munich, as will happen with Mario Götze.
Luís Suárez’s controversial time in England, especially after his recent biting indiscretion against Chelsea’s Ivanovic, could trigger his exit. Also mooted from England is Tottenham’s Gareth Bale, another big star who is frequently linked with a move to a bigger club like Real.
Kun Agüero has repeatedly been a target for Real Madrid and Atlético de Madrid’s Radamel Falcao is also under consideration. However Florentino Pérez is a gentleman and follows a ‘non-aggressive’ policy towards his neighbours.
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The post-Champions League symptoms affected Catalans the hardest.
Several Spanish newspapers have announced the end of Barça’s golden era.
But not everybody thinks the same way: “Barça’s golden era is not over, what happened was that this year crucial areas such as midfield and attack haven’t been strengthened”, argues Sergio López, a Barça’s supporter.
Perhaps Barça’s football stars Xavi, Piqué, Puyol and even Messi show a lack of attitude.
But Barça have another more pressing problem. It is called “Messi-dependence.”
“Barça’s elimination came in a moment when the team relied on Messi the most, and the Argentinian wasn’t there’, says José Gavilán, Spanish football expert for Sphera Sports.
The club still doesn’t know how to deal with that. So their strategy lies with the club’s youth team.
F.C. Barcelona have an inexhaustible pool of young players. It’s the best of Spain – thanks to Johan Cruyff who started work on it 25 years ago.
Barça’s latest generation of players are ready for action. They are young, talented and full of energy and hope, emotions that perhaps the veteran players have forgotten.
It must be difficult to keep motivated players who have won everything.
Barcelona’s President Sandro Rosell will also have to dip into his pocket to buy “top players” to appease Barça’s fans. But his pretensions are more moderated than Florentino Pérez’s.
Brazilian Neymar and Dortmund’s Mats Hummels are Rosell’s first priorities. Hummels will strengthen Barça’s defence, where the club was more vulnerable this season.
These changes are more expectations than a reality right now.
But Real Madrid and F.C. Barcelona are still the most popular clubs in the world, so expect to see these two clubs back jostling for top spot in European next season.