“Sign him up Florentino,” Real Madrid fans wrote on Twitter, before manager Zinedine Zidane was asked if he was sending club president Florentino Perez a message.
Kylian Mbappe had just destroyed Barcelona at Camp Nou and 24 hours later Erling Haaland did the same with Sevilla at Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan.
As Real Sociedad lost 4-0 to Manchester United on Thursday night, sentiment in Spain became clear: La Liga was in free fall.
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Later that night, Granada beat Napoli and Villarreal sawed off Salzburg in a competition that it should be remembered only six months ago, won by Sevilla for the fourth time in seven years.
In fact, a Spanish team has won the Europa League seven times out of the last 11.
Three of those titles belong to Atletico Madrid, who face Chelsea in the Champions League on Tuesday, after knocking out English champions Liverpool last season.
Real Madrid will face Atalanta, hoping to avoid a third year without winning the tournament, having won the previous three.
“The Spanish teams are still strong, it’s only just a moment,” Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman said last week. “You cannot draw conclusions.”
While there is a need for hindsight – that the speed of the fall is in part due to previously achieved highs – Spain’s dominance in Europe has also been receding for some time.
It may have started when Barcelona lost to Roma in 2018, continued with the departures of Neymar and Cristiano Ronaldo, before taking root, as financial impotence prevented a revival.
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Certainly, for Barcelona and Real Madrid, the reluctance to refresh their teams has been punished to the maximum, the coronavirus pandemic imposing a year without spending when they probably had to spend the most.
The youngsters of Real Madrid are not yet thriving, while Barcelona have seen a historic era grow old, leave or retire.
Atletico Madrid continue to rebuild after their own iconic group of starts. Seville has endured but Valencia is in a mess.
For most of this century it has been talked about when a generational talent moves to Spain, but now there are no guarantees.
Mbappe has long been linked with Zidane but, as Lionel Messi has shown, the best players define themselves by wins in the Champions League and who could confidently say that Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City will not own more. in the coming years as Barcelona and Real. Madrid?
Ronaldo and Neymar are gone, before Messi tries and still could. Last summer, City nipped Spain’s most exciting young talent, Ferran Torres, while Atletico were powerless to stop Thomas Partey from joining Arsenal.
And while Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho dominated the La Liga summit at the end of the last decade, the most charismatic and modern coaches – Jurgen Klopp, Mauricio Pochettino, Thomas Tuchel, Julian Nagelsmann – have plied their trade almost entirely elsewhere. since.
With Guardiola, they drove the switch to a more physical, vertical and more pressing style, which seems to have left the Spanish teams behind.
“Barca have always been a team that have chosen a lot of players for their technical qualities and not a lot for their physical qualities,” Koeman said on Saturday.
“You have to have both, to have balance, you want the ball, play from behind and create chances.
“This team has played really well that way this season, but we need a balanced team, which can be physical and defend and do everything else. To defend yourself, you need to have legs.
Behind all of this lies a financial reality, namely that Spanish clubs, including the first two, are no longer among the most generous payers of transfer fees or salaries.
Despite La Liga’s attempts to internationalize, foreign investors still flocked not to Spain but to England, attracted by the most lucrative TV deals and biggest audiences around the world.
As Barcelona and Real Madrid shut their doors last summer, Chelsea and Manchester City have been spending freely, with their billionaire owners offering protection against a pandemic that has crippled clubs almost everywhere else.
La Liga president Javier Tebas has said the Premier League’s transfer activity is ‘excessive’, but while Spain’s tighter spending controls could pay off in the future, they are also restrictive at present.
“Financial solvency is very important,” Tebas said. “When the crisis is over, our clubs will be as strong as before.”
If an economic recovery is rapid, reconstruction will take longer. Mbappe and Haaland would not join the best in Europe, they would be catalysts for a recovery.