In the topsy-turvy world of European soccer – where the width of a goal post can be the difference between jubilation and humiliation – Real Madrid has been on a weeklong roller-coaster.
The Spanish champion, worth $5.1 billion, is the most valuable soccer team in the world, according to Forbes’ latest rankings, and club soccer’s top brand based on the Brand Finance Football 50 2022 report released this week.
On the pitch, Real Madrid has secured the La Liga tile and a win in Saturday’s Champions League final against Liverpool will extend Madrid’s record as the most successful team in Europe’s most prestigious club competition.
For all its success, the club renowned for signing galácticos, superstar players, has also had to deal with the sting of rejection. Confident of adding the French striker Kylian Mbappé to the club’s roster for next season on a free transfer, the Real Madrid president Florentino Pérez received a call last week from Mbappé. The player informed Pérez he would stay at Paris Saint-Germain.
The Spanish league reacted with fury, saying in a statement that Mbappé’s new deal with PSG “attacks the economic stability of European football”. It was “scandalous” that the French team, owned by Qatar Sports Investments, could afford to pay so much after reporting significant losses in recent seasons. La Liga said it will file a complaint.
Mbappé, 23 and already considered one of the world’s best players, would have been a statement signing for Madrid and Pérez.
Beyond that disappointment, though, must be a deeper concern about the shifting balance of power in European soccer.
Boosted by broadcast rights worth more than $3.9 billion this year, comfortably the highest among the Big Five European leagues, the English Premier League is increasing its financial advantage over the rest. While Real Madrid and its Spanish rival FC Barcelona lead the continent’s rich list, 11 of the 20 most valuable clubs are from England.
Madrid’s envious commercial revenue has led to an operating income of $90 million, but that’s still $14 million less than Liverpool.
And the extra resources available to English teams translate to on-the-field results. The Champions League final on Saturday will be the fourth in five years to feature at least one English club. If not for Madrid’s dramatic, injury time comeback against Manchester City in this year’s semifinal, the championship game would have been another all-English final like 2021 and 2019.
Madrid can point to the three Champions League trophies it won from 2016 to 2018. But the team’s fans and its president, Pérez, know the financial dominance of English clubs today is a daunting challenge.
That is one of the reasons Madrid – along with FC Barcelona and the Italian club Juventus – continues to push for a European Super League. The 12 founders of the proposed breakaway competition, including six English clubs, have distanced themselves (for now, at least) from the idea after fan backlash. Still, the rebel clubs continue to pursue the creation of a new competition through the courts.
The regular blockbuster fixtures, and presumed lucrative broadcast deal of a Super League, would have helped the Spanish teams close the gap on the Premier League’s biggest clubs.
If Madrid defeats Liverpool in Paris on Saturday and lifts the European Cup for a record 14th time, Pérez and his lieutenants won’t be focusing on Mbappé or the value of broadcast deals.
But, win or lose, it won’t take long for the Real Madrid president to return to thinking about the future of European soccer. And, most importantly, his club’s place in it.