Real Madrid: The Best Team Money Can Buy

By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 9, 2009

The supporters began gathering along La Castellana, Madrid's grand boulevard, outside Santiago Bernabeu Stadium throughout the afternoon of July 6. It was not an unusual sight, because for more than 60 years, the socios, or club members, have gone there to witness Real Madrid play soccer like few others in the sport's illustrious history.

On this day, though, the occasion was not a match against bitter nemesis FC Barcelona or a Champions League encounter with Bayern Munich.

They came to see Cristiano Ronaldo wave to them and juggle a ball. They came to see him in the No. 9 jersey and listen to him speak.

No official games, no lighthearted exhibitions, no championship celebrations. Just a formal introduction of a new player to 80,000 spectators and a live TV audience.

"As a child, I dreamt of playing for Real Madrid," the native of Portugal said alongside soccer legends Eusébio and Alfredo Di Stéfano. "I didn't expect the stadium to be packed. This is unbelievable."

This was no ordinary acquisition. Fueled by its obsession to reclaim Spanish supremacy from Barcelona, Real purchased Ronaldo, the reigning world player of the year, from Manchester United for $133.5 million, by far the biggest transfer fee in soccer history.

That figure didn't cover his salary, mind you. It was just for the rights to the transcendent winger, who will join his new teammates at FedEx Field on Sunday for a preseason friendly against D.C. United.

Ronaldo was hardly Real's only addition this summer. A week before Ronaldo's majestic entrance, Brazilian superstar Kaká, named the best player on the planet in 2007, was welcomed by 55,000 at Bernabeu after being acquired from AC Milan for $93.2 million.

And a few days after the Ronaldo event, about 30,000 turned out for the presentation of French forward Karim Benzema, a $50.2 million purchase from Lyon.

There was more to come: A few days before embarking on its MLS tour, which began with a 5-1 victory at Toronto FC on Friday, Real claimed Spanish midfielder Xabi Alonso from Liverpool for $56.6 million.

All told, Real bought eight players for $375 million. The club's overall payroll this season is an estimated $130 million. The New York Yankees will spend almost $210 million on salaries this season, but in acquiring talent, they didn't have to worry about massive transfer fees.

One of the few instances of a Major League Baseball team spending exorbitantly for the rights to a player outside its league was the Boston Red Sox paying $51.1 million for the rights to acquire pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka from the Japanese circuit in 2007.

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