Another re-launch this week of Real Madrid’s future vision for their Bernabeu Stadium, although little mention that they have already done this twice before, once in 2011 and again in January 2014, and on neither occasion have the artists’ impressions progressed to be any more than that.
The CGI version undoubtedly caught the eye, with a steel wrap over the 72-year-old concrete structure first commissioned by Santiago Bernabeu, and lots of talk about new technology and fan experiences. Sadly no extra standard seats for the rank and file punters at a club where membership had been capped at around 92,500 for some time and one might legitimately ask what €575 million actually buys you these days in stadium design.
If only there was someone at the club who knew a bit about large building projects, unless of course you count the autocratic president Florentino Perez, who happens also to be the chairman of ACS, the largest construction company in Spain. He was joined on stage this week by the major of Madrid, Manuela Carmena, who strayed off script by expressing, not unjustifiably, her astonishment that it had taken the club so long.
Coming in the week that Tottenham Hotspur opened their new stadium to general acclaim, having demolished one and built another in its place in the space of less than two years, it was unfortunate timing. As their financial results revealed, Spurs borrowed around £460 million to build their new ground, with a loan facility for more, and have around £100 million cash in hand. No-one is under any illusions that the next few years will be a balancing act between paying for the stadium and maintaining a team capable of challenging for the top four.
The club’s former president Colonel Ortega, the historian David Goldblatt has written, was executed for his republican sympathies. His successor was imprisoned. Only when the club was put in the hands of one of its former players, Bernabeu, who had served in General Franco’s army, did the dictator find someone he liked. Bernabeu proved so persuasive that it is the belief of many that the concrete that built the stadium came from the same consignment earmarked for Franco’s military monument, The Valley of the Fallen.
It was the Real Madrid membership that paid for the new Chamartin stadium that would come to adopt the name of the project’s instigator. Around 45,000 socios invested in bonds and so the stadium was built. The old footage of workmen hacking away at the ground under a boiling Spanish sun was part of the heritage video at this week’s launch. Strangely, the official website page listing the club’s presidents from 1900 to the present day makes no mention of the doomed Colonel Ortega.
Perez is certainly keen on one old tradition from the 1940s: one of Spain’s richest men also wants the membership to pay for the new stadium. This is doubly important given that the delays over the stadium cost Madrid their first backer, IPIC, an Abu Dhabi energy company who were to have the naming rights. There was the inconvenience of a European Competitions’ commission investigation into the original Las Tablas land deal between the club and the city’s then sympathetic council, which ordered Real Madrid to pay back around €20.3 million of illegal state aid.
Last year, Perez asked the club’s general assembly, a nominal council of elected figures from among the membership that he controls, to grant permission for the club to borrow €575 million for the rebuilding of the Bernabeu. There will be a remodelling of the surrounding area, a bigger scoreboard and a retractable roof at a club that has never required cover in the past. The plans look impressive but the capacity is unchanged and the details were vague.
“New revenues” sounded like a plan to rinse the hospitality market in an “increasingly difficult international football setting" which can be roughly translated as frustration at the lag Spanish footballs broadcast revenues suffer in relation to the Premier League.
More pressing for Perez is where the money comes from this time around. There was no firm indication that financing has been obtained for the new Bernabeu, although rumours abound – from American banks to another bond issue. In the most recent financial results from July of last year the club did factor in a €45 million loss relating to the imminent demolition of the Esquinas shopping mall that adjoins the current stadium. For accounting reasons that may have to come down this summer so the losses do not get passed on to next year’s books.
In the meantime, Spurs, less successful, but now in a position to take on the future have completed their stadium project in much less time than the eight years and counting on the Bernabeu clock. The club from north London do not have 13 European Cups in the cabinet, but they do have a wage bill of £147 million. Madrid will have to address a wage bill of €430 million, second only to Barcelona.
In the meantime we await another summer when the drumbeat from Spain will doubtless be that Madrid are in the market for any number of big name players. Where these astronomical sums are to come from remains a mystery at a club where, eight years on, they are still waiting to rebuild a stadium that will not get any bigger.
Sooner rather than later the battle will come over the future of the Champions League, because the biggest clubs in Europe outside England are not going to wait around to discover how much the next Premier League round of rights for 2022-2024 exceed their own. The European Club Association big powers lead by Juventus chairman Andrea Agnelli want a de facto European League that guarantees them a place every year and many more games.
This is the period of the Premier League’s history when its staunch belief in collective bargaining and fair sharing of the revenue will be tested to its maximum. Friday’s statement of solidarity was a start but just the beginning of a battle that will determine whether the old league system of English football can survive the onset of modern game’s priorities.