Florentino Pérez had a contented smile on his face, and with good reason. He had just watched Spain and Brazil share a thrilling, freewheeling draw at the stadium he has expensively, lavishly, reappointed. Now, Pérez, Real Madrid’s all-powerful president, found himself in a whitewashed tunnel, presented — completely by chance, obviously — with his favorite kind of photo opportunity.

To one side stood Vinícius Júnior, Real Madrid’s standard-bearer and main event, dutifully introducing the man who pays his wages to his Brazil teammates. A little further along the corridor, hurrying to pay obeisance, was Rodrygo, another of Pérez’s employees.

But Pérez’s focus was on Endrick, the 17-year-old star-in-waiting who will complete his long-awaited move to the Santiago Bernabéu this summer. To say the two of them shared a conversation would be pushing it: In footage of their brief meeting, Endrick does not appear to speak. After a handshake, Pérez utters only one line, but it is perfect. “We’re waiting for you here,” he said.

Real Madrid has had Endrick lined up for some time: The club announced that it had reached an agreement to sign him from Palmeiras three days before the final of the 2022 World Cup. He would, as FIFA’s rules dictate, remain in Brazil, with the club that has sculpted him into the most coveted prospect in world soccer, until he turns 18 this July.

That kind of long-term planning feels just a little out of step with Real Madrid’s traditional modus operandi. The club identifies, correctly, as a titan, and — under Pérez’s stewardship, in particular — it has taken great pride in living the values associated with the classical definition of that term: impetuous, impulsive, irascible.

It fires coaches for failing to win the Champions League, signs players on the back of a stellar World Cup and airs a regular feature on its in-house television channel that has been interpreted as a pre-emptive attempt to influence and/or intimidate referees. Real Madrid has always been the sort of place that eats its own sons.

All of that remains hard-wired into the club’s fibers. In the past three years, Pérez has not only helped to concoct a Super League that was intended to reshape world soccer more to his liking, but defended it on a gaudy late-night talk show — a little like going on “Judge Judy” to announce the abolition of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — and then continued to promote it even after it was savaged by, well, just about everyone else.

But there is little question that there is something different about the current incarnation of Real Madrid. The club has always regarded itself as being the biggest, most powerful, most glamorous, most famous team not just in soccer, but in sports as a whole. Now, it is possible to make the case that it should be regarded as the best run, too.

Its mildly absurd record in the Champions League bears that out. In the last decade, it has won the tournament the club cherishes most five times. Should Carlo Ancelotti’s team fall to Manchester City over the next two weeks, it would mark only the third time since 2010 that Real Madrid has not reached at least the semifinals of Europe’s showpiece competition.

A better gauge, though, is what will happen this summer. As well as Endrick, already anointed as the finest player of soccer’s new generation, Real Madrid is expected (at last) to sign Kylian Mbappé, the standout of the current one. They should be joined, too, by Alphonso Davies, the Bayern Munich and Canada left back.

All three deals showcase how adroitly Real Madrid now navigates the transfer market. Endrick is another special from Juni Calafat, the club’s recruitment chief, who has long been tasked with bringing the brightest prospects from around the world — and from South America in particular — to Madrid.

Mbappé has been a case study in patience, with Real Madrid by turns seducing the player and biding its time, slowly and carefully positioning itself as his only realistic route out of Paris St.-Germain, waiting until the economic conditions were right to sign a player currently employed by a club that is in effect an arm of a nation state.

Davies, too, is a masterpiece of patience: Real Madrid will present Bayern Munich with the choice of losing him for a fee this summer, or for nothing when his contract expires in 2025. Bayern will resent it, of course. But it is familiar enough with that sort of strong-arm method that it might, privately, applaud just a little, too.

It would not be the first club to admire — however begrudgingly — how well Real Madrid has adapted to a financial landscape that, as the Super League project demonstrated, seemed to have shifted against Europe’s old aristocrats.

Real Madrid does not have the money, for example, to bully Premier League teams into selling players, and so instead it signed Antonio Rüdiger from Chelsea on a free transfer. It retains an impressively productive academy — according to the analysis firm CIES, 97 of its graduates are playing professionally in Europe — but has also moved quickly to gobble up players like Eduardo Camavinga, Jude Bellingham and Aurelién Tchouaméni before they fall into English clutches.

The result is a club that, almost alone among the grand old teams of the continent, can look to the future with relish. Barcelona has mortgaged many tomorrows to pay for the sins of yesterday. Bayern Munich is about to hire its fourth coach in three years. Juventus is still reeling from the mass resignation of its board in 2022 amid allegations of fraudulent accounting.

Real Madrid, on the other hand, should next season be able to name a midfield of Camavinga, Tchouaméni and Bellingham, and a forward line of Rodrygo, Vinícius and Endrick. Quite where Federico Valverde fits in is anyone’s guess. It certainly does not feel like the club’s destiny rests on whatever Mbappé decides to do.

It may, in many ways, remain an old-fashioned club, run as a personal fief by an omnipotent president. It does not pretend to be as data-driven, as avowedly modern, as Manchester City or Liverpool or Brighton, and it most definitely does not, at any point, feel any need whatsoever to tell anyone how clever it is.

But it is difficult to escape the impression that of all the game’s traditional elite, Real Madrid is now the one that needs a Super League the least. It is true that this is not the reality Florentino Pérez hoped to occupy in the spring of 2024. He wanted it to change, irrevocably, to suit his club. The converse, though, seems to have worked just as well. He has his modern stadium. He has his cluster of stars. The world remains, as it always was, much to Real Madrid’s liking.

The end, for Emma Hayes, is in sight. Next weekend, her Chelsea team will take on Manchester United in the semifinal of the F.A. Cup. A few days later, it has a Champions League semifinal with Barcelona to contemplate. There are five games left in England’s Women’s Super League; if Chelsea wins them all, Hayes may depart for her new job, as coach of the United States, with a valedictory championship.

One, two or three of those trophies would be a fitting way for Hayes, the W.S.L.’s greatest-ever coach, to wave goodbye to a league she has done much to build. Over the last few weeks, though, the 47-year-old Hayes’s farewell tour has taken on a decidedly, but unexpectedly, contentious aspect.

First, she suggested that — from a coaching point of view — it might be less than ideal for teammates to be romantic partners. She quickly rowed back from those comments after it appeared they had stoked resentment both inside and outside her squad.

Then, last week, she shoved Jonas Eidevall, her Arsenal counterpart, and then accused him of exhibiting “male aggression” in confronting a Chelsea player during the Blues’ defeat in the Women’s League Cup final. There, a retraction — or even a clarification — seems less forthcoming, something that may be explained by the fact that Hayes is not the first coach to find Eidevall’s touchline demeanor a little abrasive.

Hayes is habitually frank. She is eloquent and unafraid in equal measure. That is, in part, what has allowed her to develop a profile beyond women’s soccer. In these past few weeks, though, she has exhibited an openness that borders on straight-shooting. The overriding impression is that she does not want to leave England without setting a few things straight.

Curious to note, this week, that the idea of a luxury tax is being floated by certain Premier League teams as a more palatable alternative to all these infernal points deductions. Well, that is how it is being dressed up, anyway: What is actually happening is that some of the league’s clubs are trying to find a method, effectively, to abolish financial regulation.

This is an increasingly popular stance, because the Premier League has allowed the idea that cost controls are in some way “unfair” to fester. It is, though, a disingenuous one.

Those clubs who want to allow the market to run riot do not want to level the playing field. They want, instead, to take one unpopular elite and replace it with another. The primary difference, of course, would be that this new one includes and favors them. Nobody is thinking in the slightest about collective fairness.

Still, the idea is out there, so let’s debunk it. A luxury tax has benefits in American sports. It would not work in England, partly because there is no salary cap, and partly because some of the teams are owned by nation states, making the idea of a financial penalty pretty laughable. They would pay it and go on their merry way, driving other clubs to the wall as they do.

If you want a truly “fair” Premier League, you need more financial regulation, not less. And, as discussed a little while ago, if you are to take inspiration from the U.S., the best place to start would be with a commissioner, complete with both office and powers, who can enforce those rules in real time.

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