Written By: Jay
Not sure how it was possible, but for the past two weeks I have been in the wrong place, at the wrong time: I sold my Red Bulls tickets for what is being called the best game of the year. Entertaining visiting guests and packing for my own vacation, limited my time to write an acceptable piece on the Columbus purchase. My destination was Madrid, but Real was in the U.S. displaying their dominance. Once on vacation, with no mobile internet access, and only the occasionally use of the WiFi in my hotel room, I learned Clint Dempsey shunned England for the Sounders. My only hope was to return with knowing I was present in the Spanish capital when the transfer of Gareth Bale was announced.
On the day of my arrival, with my hotel only a few blocks away, I visited football’s royal palace, Estadio Santiago Bernabéu. Located in the administrative and financial distract, Chamartín, the stadium is outside of the denser residential or tourism areas. My visit coincided with country’s tourist season; the locals migrate to the coast while travelers flocked to the city’s center. Oddly, the only place I did not see a Real Madrid jersey was on streets of Chamartin.
The two things immediately noticed is Bernabéu’s remarkable height and almost entirely grey exterior. The only exception is the polished metal crest in the front of the stadium. The outside of the stadium appears to be a bit generic, lacking what the home of World Cup Champions and 9-time Champions League winners should possess. Not until you enter the seating area does your sense of awe awaken.
The view from the fifth tier is of a well-manicured Desso GrassMaster island surrounded by a sea of 85,000 plus cornflower blue seats. The thought that a 66-year arena can maintain its visual appeal makes me curse the Steinbrenners for demolishing Yankees Stadium. Rather than rebuild, Real Madrid reduced the 100,000 seater with renovations adding a roof and suites. In the most recent renovation they added back an additionally 5,000 seats. The view, while impressive is merely a primer.
The middle portion of the tour is a résumé for the Club of the 20th Century. Two trophies rooms and one room dedicated to the greatest Real player of all time Cristiano Ronaldo Alfredo Di Stéfano. Unfortunately, the genius architects of championship teams doesn’t translate to trophy room design. The room lit by floor to ceiling video screens on one side and the trophy cases on the other, made it a pain in the ass to photograph a loved one in front of some truly astounding trophies. The remainder of the tour took you through the stands, down to the pitch, the visitor’s locker room, pressroom and lastly the source of Real’s power, the three floor all Real Madrid and Adidas store. Across the city, you can see the source of their power in every museum, plaza and outdoor café.
Along with Picassos, Dalis, and Goyas, were Ronaldos, Casillas, and Messis. Yes Messis, while it was Real’s city Barca was well represented. Surely those walking billboards for Qatar, bwin, Fly Emirates, Nike and Adidas must have hoped to hear of a certain Welshman’s arrival. (Full disclosure: I bought a Ricky Rubio Espana National Team Jersey: billboard for San Miguel and Caixi Bank). However, when I asked the cab drivers, concierges, and bartenders (very Thomas Friedman of me) I received two responses: we don’t need him or, more commonly, I support Atlético Madrid. Actually, the first four people I asked, all supported Atlético.
Is Athletico the team of the working class Madridistas? Is Real Madrid the team of the tourist and the wealthy, those very same currently on the coast of the Spain? I heard no heckles from Real fans, no jokes. Red Sox hats and jerseys in NYC will get you wise cracks and dirty looks, and vice-versa. But here, this week, the most expense transfer in a footballing history did not rate and a rival jersey didn’t raise an eyebrow.
It is unlikely I’ll witness a Lebron James Decision moment. The Plaza de Cibeles would not be a sea of purple, white and the new 2013 denim blue jerseys. Still, I would like something of note to happen while in Madrid, to be at the right place and time for once this week. The 48-hours passed without note, the only word on the matter was that Tottenham had set their price at €120 million.
So I return with nothing but a confirmation of the Barca and Real commercial dominance, and the irrelevance of other La Liga clubs to most foreigners. In a country in a finance crisis with more than 25% unemployment, a negative GPD for five straight quarters, and an average house hold income of $22, 847, paying €85 ($113.54 on 8/9/2013) for a jersey is beyond luxury. What one could gleam is Real’s and Barca’s financial dominance will be secure as long as the remaining clubs rely on domestic fans.
I did return with one thing of note, and also another area of Spanish dominance, jamón and on tap sweet vermouth.