As transfer windows go, this one has quietly been super. In England, Arsenal have done some things, as have Chelsea, and Manchester United are going to maybe buy the entire Dutch national team and Arturo Vidal before September 1. Luis Suárez bit someone, then got shipped to Barcelona to team up with the best player in the world and the kid who's supposed to take his place. Something something FC Bayern something Lewandowksi.
Suddenly, though, we're looking at all this shit, and this shit looks weak. Suddenly, we're shrugging. And that's because Real Madrid trumped everyone with two major acquisitions: Bayern's Toni Kroos, and AS Monaco's James Rodríguez.
Both Kroos and Rodríguez were studs on their previous clubs, but they both earned international notice by bossing this year's World Cup. Kroos was Germany's engine in the midfield, and arguably the best player on the world's best team. He averaged 86 completed passes a game, which is foolish. (As a comparison, Italy's Andrea Pirlo, an ageless gem and the best passer on the planet, averaged just under 90 completed passes a game.) Kroos also scored a brace in the now-famous Brazilian beatdown, and recorded three assists throughout the tournament. The 24-year-old was an attacking midfielder, but last year, new Bayern manager Pep Guardiola moved him into the heart of the midfield, where he essentially became the German equivalent of Xavi, the legendary center midfielder Pep managed at Barcelona during their five-year waltz through world soccer. Kroos then had a very Xavi-like season, statistically, chipping in a few goals and assists and the occasional highlight like this:
As he did at Bayern, Kroos will serve as Madrid's Xavi; their puppeteer, but a decade younger and still years from hitting his prime and peak as a player. And that's why the signing ofl Kroos for about €30 million (granting that he's heading into the final year of his contract) is robbery.
And if Kroos is a bargain, then it makes sense Los Blancos would splurge on their other new toy, James Rodríguez. The 23-year-old has always been a Next Big Thing, but he didn't truly explode until this summer. The attacking midfielder spent the last year playing sidekick to striker Radamel Falcao, both AS Monaco's and Colombia's best player. But in January, Falcao blew out his knee, and suddenly everyone looked to Rodríguez to lead their nation through the World Cup.
Rodríguez promptly proceeded to shut shit down, all tournament long. He scored in every match, and finished with six goals in five, including this one, which was stupendous.
Rodríguez scored probably the best goal of the tournament, and he was probably the best player in the tournament. He put da team on his back and carried Los Cafeteros all the way to the quarterfinal, where they lost a 2-1 heartbreaker to tournament hosts Brazil. He broke down after the game, but it's cool now, because this week, Madrid signed him for around €80 million.
He's a terrifying player, arrogant and direct on the ball, and can score and set up goals when he's the focal point of the offense. It's hard to imagine him as the focal point anything at Madrid, though, where he'll be surrounded by guys like Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema and Luka Modrić and, of course, Kroos. We haven't seen a lot of what Rodríguez can do when he's Just a Guy, and that raises a couple questions.
The first is how necessary Rodríguez is to this lineup. That's ... complicated. Real Madrid have an alarming recent history of running through no. 10s. Last year, they swapped out Mesut Özil out for Spanish star Isco. After just one season, Madrid will bench or offload Isco for Rodríguez, who is, if nothing else, shinier. Madrid always attempts to seize the World Cup's best player—which is honestly a pretty good business strategy, if you have the money—but strangely, Özil, now at Arsenal, would almost definitely be the best option to slot around these players. He's an unselfish player who creates havoc with his movement as much as his passing. If Madrid are to play a 4-2-3-1, which everyone is assuming they would, Özil would probably be the best fit behind Benzema, threading balls through to him, Ronaldo, and Bale. Isco had a good first season for Real Madrid, and he's younger still than Rodríguez. Kroos is a no-brainer; one current holding midfielder, Xabi Alonso, is old, and Kroos is both younger and better than his countryman Sami Khedira. Rodríguez, though, has only really killed on a big stage in five games. But he's there now, so, you know, fuck it. We'll just wait and see.
The second question is if Real Madrid can work with all these killers rubbing shoulders and sharing the ball.
At least, probably. At least, let's hope. Because this is a front four—six, if you count Kroos and Modrić, who are both all-action midfielders—that could be beyond anything else in the sport, or anything we've ever seen before, really. Let's say that Rodríguez is truly the shit, and Kroos is actually blond Xavi. Ronaldo and Bale keep doing their android thing, and Benzema is as good as he was last year or gets replaced by someone better, like Falcao. There are probably only a few teams on Planet Earth—Bayern, City, Chelsea, maybe—that could still give them a game.
Madrid may never gel into a killing machine capable of scoring like six goals on any and everyone, and in any case, it may take some time. We won't really know until we see their new stars settled in and against real competition. It might take a few months. Because God is good all the time, it just so happens that on October 26, Madrid play another team that could give them a game: hated rivals Barcelona, whom Real Madrid host in the first El Clásico of the season. That game also happens to be the first time Luis Suárez will be able to suit up for Barcelona. He is a demon, and he will be frothing at the mouth, and everyone will be all the way turnt up, and maybe then we'll have a glimpse of how good Real Madrid really are.
Photo Credit: Getty