Even without Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid a big deal
When Real Madrid plays the MLS All-Stars on Wednesday night at Soldier Field, some of the biggest names in world soccer will be on the field. Welsh forward Gareth Bale, French striker Karim Benzema and Spanish defender Sergio Ramos are only three of the ‘‘Galacticos’’ who’ll be playing for a team coached by French legend Zinedine Zidane.
But the biggest name — Cristiano Ronaldo — is expected to be absent.
Ronaldo has had a whirlwind summer. He played for Portugal in the Confederations Cup, has been the subject of a tax investigation by the Spanish government and was even rumored to be leaving the European champions. Though Ronaldo appears to have reconciled with Real Madrid, he has missed its American tour, was in a Spanish court Monday regarding his taxes, was nowhere to be seen Tuesday and was absent from the roster for the game Wednesday.
“He’s at peace,” Zidane said after his team practiced in front of an estimated 1,500 fans. “He wants to concentrate on soccer.”
Unfortunately for Chicago soccer fans, Ronaldo won’t be reuniting with his teammates soon enough. He won’t face an MLS team featuring Kaka (Orlando City) and David Villa (New York City FC) and captained by the Fire’s Bastian Schweinsteiger. If he thought Ronaldo’s absence diminished the sold-out event at all, Schweinsteiger wasn’t saying.
Instead, he chose to look at the challenge he and his teammates will face, going up against a team that has won three of the last four UEFA Champions League titles and is brimming with some of the sport’s best and most expensive players.
“They still have a lot of good players,” Schweinsteiger said. “Ronaldo’s obviously one of the best players in the world, but they still have a lot of players who can play a main part in their game.”
With or without Ronaldo, Real Madrid is also one of the biggest brands in world sport. Much of Real Madrid’s motivation for preseason games in the United States is to make bags of money, but the club also wants to reach out to its foreign fan base and gain more exposure.
Zidane’s squad should accomplish that goal and also give the fans quite a memorable night.
“It’s a spectacle. It just is,” said Eric Wynalda, an analyst for Fox and a former U.S. national-team star. “That’s the reasoning behind bringing Real Madrid to play in this game, because of who they are and what they mean as a global brand. The attention will be on them, and there’s an opportunity to put on a good show.”
Attention and Real Madrid go hand in hand. If it’s not the biggest soccer club in the world, it’s in the top two or three, and it has fans all over the globe who would be thrilled to see the team play, with or without Ronaldo.
Midfielder Toni Kroos, who joined Real Madrid in 2014, has seen that firsthand and said there’s no other club like Real Madrid.
“Everywhere we go, whether it’s the USA, China or, of course, Madrid or Europe, the fans go crazy,” Kroos said. “They’re so happy to see us, to watch our training or games. It’s great to see.”
Follow me on Twitter @BrianSandalow.