Two’s company. One is not. Now that Manchester United are planning to relaunch their women’s team, Real Madrid are now left as the only major European superclub without one or without concrete plans to start one and the pressure is mounting in Spain for Los Blancos to fix this.
Looking across the continent, in England all of clubs that form the male top six either have a ladies team or, in the case of United, are now planning one. In France there are women’s teams at PSG, Marseille and Lyon, while Bayern Munich, the eternal superpower of the Bundesliga, have one. And in Italy, this year’s Champions League representatives of Juventus, Roma and Napoli all have a women’s side too.
Even in Spain, nine of the 20 clubs taking part in this season’s men’s LaLiga tournament also have a team in the Liga Iberdrola, the top division for the women’s game. Three of them have a women’s team in the second division and the clubs that don’t have one at all are the smaller-sized institutions that wouldn’t expected to. Plus Real Madrid.
There have long been murmurings of one being set up, but Real Madrid president Florentino Pérez has made sure to remain vague on the details. Just after retaining the presidency last year he held a number of interviews with the local media and mentioned plans to set up a women’s team that would only train, rather than compete professionally.
That won’t satisfy the growing number of football fans who are calling for Real Madrid to properly join the party, rather than press their ear to the door. It wouldn’t be financially lucrative for the club, at least not initially, but Real Madrid pride themselves on being a multi-sports institution, one which also has a basketball team. Assuming the cost is similar to the reported €5m euros Manchester United initially plan to invest, the cost would be a drop in the ocean for the European champions.
However, the cost to the brand of not having one could grow to a point where it becomes damaging. According to Sky Sports’ James Cooper, this was one of the most persuasive arguments when it came to convincing directors at Old Trafford to bring back the women’s team that was scrapped in 2005. “There has been a recognition among Manchester United’s top brass that they had got to a stage where not having a women’s team was becoming embarrassing,” Cooper said, and we’re surely approaching a similar breaking point in the Spanish capital.
But will Real Madrid ever actually be shamed into creating a women’s team? MARCA’s David Menayo, who writes about the women’s game for the Spanish newspaper, isn’t convinced. He wrote an article in the aftermath of the Manchester United news titled “Will there be Real Madrid women’s team? Yes, but no.” In it he explained why he was pessimistic about the possibility of seeing a women’s team formed any time soon. “The club don’t have a women’s team, nor is one expected,” Menayo wrote. “Pérez has suggested that it is a plan for the future, but he has never explained if this is in the long-term future or if this project is something that is actually on the table.”
Others in the Spanish media have suggested that the hesitation stems from the fact that Pérez is concerned about having to start from the very bottom and not enjoying instant success.
But why does it even matter if these superclubs have a women’s team or not? Isn’t the women’s game progressing well enough without their help? Well, it’s true that the women’s game doesn’t need these clubs and it would be much better for the clubs participating in these leagues to be enthusiastic about the game, rather than simply ticking a box. An independent Madrid FC team, one which even wears a white kit, has been set up to fill the void that Real Madrid have been leaving and they are doing things better than an official Real Madrid women’s side would initially be able to. For other girls in the Spanish capital, Atlético Madrid have a team and they are the current champions of Spain.
However, the pull that these superclubs have is enormous and it is powerful. Real Madrid have more than 100,000 members and 20.2% of these members are female. Real Madrid-supporting little girls, and there are many of them, would surely grow up much more motivated to play football if their own club had role models for them.
As Menayo put it in his excellent column: “Women’s football has matured without Real Madrid and it’ll survive and evolve without them too, but it is clear that their involvement would increase the value of the championship, would attract fans and would revolutionise the market.”
So come on Real Madrid. Get it done.