The quest for the La Liga crown is tougher in 2015-16 than it has been in recent years. Another wrinkle was added to the proceedings last week as Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid were both handed down two window transfer bans by FIFA. Both clubs received their punishment for “violation of several provisions concerning the international transfer and first registration” of players under the age of 18. Barcelona received such a ban for similar infractions that ended this month. Nevertheless, hamstringing two of Spain’s elite for a year is just going to intensify this current window and the title race as a whole.
Real Madrid has been aware that the hammer was potentially coming for quite some time. They’ve been downplaying reports of the impending ban for roughly a year, calling the accusations “unfounded and reckless.” But now that the sanctions are here, a spending spree could be in the cards. Rebuilding from the Rafa Benitez debacle was supposed to be a steady job for Zinedine Zidane, but that is now out the window. It makes matters that much worse that four of Zizou’s own kids were on the list of youngsters signed in violation.
Madrid have been linked to many a Galactico in recent months, but they’d be hard pressed to get any inked before January ends. Most are cup tied in Europe, some even domestically in Spain, and the thought of weeks on the sideline won’t be too alluring for most stars. Still, the draw of playing for Los Blancos is stronger than most clubs in Europe, so it wouldn’t be shocking for Real to come up with a couple decent hauls in the coming weeks.
The ban hits Atletico Madrid much harder than their city mates at the Bernabeu. While they’ve spent big in recent years, Atleti do a great deal of their roster building through youth development. The problem with Atletico’s youth system, according to reports, is their over-reliance on non-Spanish players. According to the report that led to Barca’s ban, the Rojiblancos had 43 players from 26 countries in their academy as of 2015. 21 of those were under 16 which sent up red flags.
While Real Madrid may be scrambling to bring in new faces, Atletico will most likely be trying to bring back old ones out on loan. Alessio Cerci at Milan and Javi Manquillo at Marseille are two of the bigger names that Atletico Madrid are attempting to bring home to the Spanish capital. They may also be inclined to pull flop Jackson Martinez and the much sought after Antoine Griezmann off the market. Manager Diego Simeone knows the importance of cohesion and removing tension around a “Will he be sold?” player could make a difference in a title race.
As if the story needed any more depth to it, reports are surfacing that Real Madrid believes that Bayern Munich were the anonymous tipsters that put into motion the investigations against Spain’s big three. It is more conjecture than concrete at the moment, but the accusation may bring some added heat to a potential Champions League matchup. Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid, and Barcelona are all still alive in Europe’s most prestigious tournament, as are the Bavarian giants. If any of the three get paired up with Bayern in the quarterfinals or beyond, this claim by Real could cause some fireworks.
Now while a transfer ban isn’t ideal for any club, Barcelona has shown that it isn’t a death sentence. Real and Atletico Madrid have enough talent and depth to make it through a year without external reinforcements. It will also give them a time to clean up their shop and make sure they have better checks and balances when it comes to youth recruitment. But while the future for both Madrid clubs remains up in the air, the present is a battle for supremacy domestically and in the Champions League. They must keep their eye on the prize for it is a prize that they are both very capable of attaining.
Be sure to keep it here for more coverage of La Liga, as well as the Champions League. Use our Gameview for both competitions to keep yourself informed of all the comings and goings. You can follow me on Twitter @TREVORutley and the site @sportsftb.