When you paint a mental picture of the original Galacticos of Real Madrid the first players that spring to mind are usually the likes of Zinedine Zidane, Luis Figo, Ronaldo - the first - and David Beckham.
The insanely gifted quartet were the landmark purchases of Florentino Perez’s first term of presidency at the Santiago Bernabeu, and the driving force behind a style of football that few clubs have ever had the audacity to engage in on a regular basis.
The Galacticos of old
To say Madrid’s mantra was centred around a ‘we’ll score more goals than you’ way of thinking is an understatement. The balance between the back-line and the front-line was dangerously uneven, the defence sacrificed in order to sate the relentless appetite for goals and glory coming from the stands.
The first of those cravings has always been a staple at Real, with Los Blancos supporters used to seeing score-lines highlighting their side's ruthless prolificacy in front of goal. In truth the success wasn’t far behind, with Perez presiding over the club at a time when it clinched it’s ninth European Cup.
With the aforementioned stars taking to the field week in week out Madrid were able to play using a blueprint which not only encouraged a gung-ho approach, but also celebrated the idea that by assembling the most impressive attacking unit in the world a team could forego concerns over its defence.
The United duplicate
It’s a blueprint which Manchester United appear to have adopted, whether willingly or not, thanks to their current crisis. The arrival of Louis van Gaal has, as was expected by the masses, instigated large scale change, and the former Premier League champions accounted for around £146 million of the money spent during the summer’s transfer window - that’s not taking into account the reported £350,000-a-week wages Radamel Falcao is taking home.
Yet despite the fact that they came good when it mattered most in the transfer market, and managed to entice world-class assets like Angel di Maria and Falcao to Old Trafford without the allure of Champions League football, serious doubts can be harboured over United’s ability to mix it with the best. For the Red Devils have spent like never before, and yet their squad remains weak.
United under pressure
Naturally their front four should be deemed capable of tearing apart all but the most diligent defences moving forward. The partnership of Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie still promises plenty of goals and, backed up by the talents of Di Maria, Juan Mata and Falcao, finding the net shouldn’t pose much of a problem at all.
Yet for all their positives when it comes into putting the scare into the opposition their armour remains riddled with deficiencies. Much like the Madrid of old they have splashed more than fans would have believed possible on high-profile names and dazzling reputations. The question remains; have they fixed what Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure broke?
First and foremost the inquisition begins with the purchase of Falcao, whose monster contract demands that he arrives ready to be a first-team starter rather than simply a backup option.
The Colombia international’s impressive goal haul to date lends credence to the theory that he will lead the charge as United attempt to climb back up the Premier League ladder, but with Van Gaal already boasting Van Persie and Rooney few can deny that his purchase was one of luxury rather than necessity.
Then of course there’s the defensive issues, which in my mind have hardly been properly addressed since the departures of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic. If last term United looked shaky at the back whilst the pair came to grips with the fact that they were no longer in their peak years, this season the side promises to be nothing short of awful.
With Jonny Evans the most senior figure at the heart of the back three Van Gaal is attempting to implement the Red Devils are in trouble, and neither Chris Smalling nor Phil Jones are ready yet to pick up the mantle where Vidic set it down.
It must be pointed out that the arrivals of Marcos Rojo and Daley Blind, who both shone at this summer’s World Cup, will give the United boss options that he wouldn’t have otherwise enjoyed, but once again experience is the attribute missing from their games and, as such, they must not be depended upon to save the day, as it were.
To be fair to Van Gaal his preferred options - those such as Mats Hummels, Mehdi Benatia and Thomas Vermaelen - evaded his clutches without him having too much of a say in the matter, but that doesn’t mean that his side aren’t going to suffer as a result. To put it simply United are devoid of a natural leader to hold their defence together when they come up against the biggest teams, and it will cost them before too long.
Lessons to be learned
In that respect there’s lessons to be learned from the downfall suffered by Madrid when they took their defensive gamble to the next level by getting rid of Claude Makelele. The Frenchman was regarded by many as the component which enabled the La Liga giants to come off the winning side more often than not, and when they got rid of him they soon realised that even their galaxy of stars couldn’t guarantee them silverware.
United have broken records in their bid to restore order, but unless Van Gaal can finish the job in January they’ll learn soon enough that an ensemble of strong players might offer a strong team-sheet, but it doesn’t ensure a strong team.