By Graham Hunter
That noise which could be heard echoing round the Stadio Olimpico in Rome at the end of Matchday 6 was a warm breeze carrying a massive sigh of relief all the way from Madrid.
Raising the roof
It came from the designers of Real Madrid CF's Puerta 57 restaurant, which will open within the Santiago Bernabéu stadium in the next few days and which, with its 'Planet Hollywood-style' food and its memorabilia theme, is scheduled to earn €2m per season. That sigh of relief also came from the experts charged with designing and constructing the all-encompassing and retractable roof structure intended to cover the Bernabéu within four years at an outline cost of €25m.
Perhaps there was also an extra puff to that breeze from the marketing men, under the guidance of club director José Ángel Sánchez, who have helped turn Madrid from €156m debt in 2001 into a debt-free club which can project a €300m budget for 2004/05. So there was a financially driven Scirocco wind of total relief blowing from Madrid when that qualification-earning 3-0 victory over AS Roma was finally achieved.
But perhaps the stunning nature of president Florentino Pérez's financial revolution has slightly obscured the core nature of Madrid's business plan - not making money, but winning the European Champion Clubs' Cup.
The sigh of relief doubtless also was equally driven by the 490 million Madrid sympathisers around the world, as was recently calculated by a SportUndMarkt survey. If Madrid needed the financial and personal boost of ensuring qualification for the upper echelons of the continent's premier club competition, it is not rude to other clubs to argue that Europe also needed them.
Clearly the advance to the last 16 of, for example, FC Dynamo Kyiv would have been welcomed by football lovers and romantics everywhere. But any calling card that bears the legend "Real Madrid - winners of nine European Cups", deserves to open the door to even the most exclusive party.
Mariano García Remón's team had to earn the right to remain in the Champions League - there are no free passes at this level. But no one who cares for the flair and daring which make football the world's greatest game could actually desire the tournament to proceed without them from this early stage.
There has been an elongated debate in recent times about the efficacy of the 'Zidanes and Pavóns' policy which stocks the club with superstars and complements them with youth team products. The fact the club won no trophies last season, other than the Spanish Super Cup, hurt badly and perhaps that is part of the reason why there has recently been a bewildering mix of under-performance and confident predictions emanating from the squad.
Several key players have stated that victory in Rome will be the springboard to winning the Champions League or La Liga - or both. Perhaps, again, the overwhelming marketing power of Los Galacticos has left some people forgetting that even Ronaldo, Zinedine Zidane and Raúl González are human, can suffer from tiredness and can also be undermined by a drop in confidence.
This result, for all the strangeness of an empty stadium and a weakened Roma, will give an incredible boost of self-belief. There are issues to address regarding the best formation that Madrid can apply and there may even be new signings to arrive in January; but anyone who knows their history will start to view Madrid as serious propositions to win a tenth title.
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