Mesut Özil and Ángel di María have had frustrating experiences in England since being sold by Real Madrid in August of 2013 and 2014 respectively.
Di María was the target of a home invasion and been jerked around by Louis van Gaal, while Özil’s has been the scapegoat for all things plaguing Arsenal due to his chill demeanor, Nemo eyes and unquantifiable excellence.
Di María won the Champions League before leaving Madrid, providing the linkup play to help motor the BBC. Özil helped finance Madrid’s transfer for Gareth Bale, which made that club more athletic and explosive and ran Bayern Munich off the pitch. Özil missed out on the culmination of that difficult stretch in which Real Madrid fought their way back to relevance against the monstrosity of what Barcelona became, but he at least helped Germany win the World Cup after that first season at Arsenal was over.
Özil came in to Real Madrid for €18 million from Werder Bremen and went out to Arsenal for €50 million.
Di María was bought by Real Madrid from Benfica for €33 million in May of 2010 and sold to United in August of 2014 for €75 million.
Di María was an early success with United, but it was always clear that the club overpaid for him as they were desperate to return to the top-4 and bypass the purgatory of the Europa League. Van Gaal didn’t seem to have a clear plan for how to use di María and has moved him all over the pitch in as many as seven different positions. The joy and energy of him running box to box at Madrid has been gone at United.
Özil similarly had success early on and Arsenal looked like EPL title contenders in 13-14 before injuries, regression and Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea emerged as clearly better. Özil was injured at Bayern in the Champions League and has been injured for stretches again this season.
Real Madrid are struggling in 2015, but it’s not because they’re missing Özil and di María. Isco has become one of the world’s best young players and gives Madrid components of each player with a better workrate than Özil and more imagination and consistency than di María. With Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale struggling, the strength of Real Madrid is in midfield with Isco, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric.
When José Mourinho left Real Madrid to return to Chelsea, he reshaped the roster dramatically in a series of sales and purchases. Out went Juan Mata to United for €44.7 million, David Luiz to PSG for €49.5 million, Romelu Lukaku to Everton for €35.4 million, Andre Schürrle to Wolfsburg for €32 million and Kevin de Bruyne also to Wolfsburg for €22 million. Those moves made Diego Costa (€38 million), Cesc Fabregas (€33 million), Nemanja Matic (€25 million) and Juan Cuadrado (€31 million) happen for Chelsea. They’ve won the Capital One Cup, will win the EPL and were eliminated in the round of 16 of the Champions League.
Mourinho claims that Chelsea doesn’t sell garbage, but de Bruyne is the only transfer of that group that looks like a defeat given how well he’s played in the Bundesliga with meaningful appearances. The Mata to United transfer is the most lopsided EPL team to EPL team deal since Fernando Torres was sold by Liverpool to Chelsea for €58.5 million. Luiz was a transfer only PSG or City could justify, while the verdicts on Lukakau and Schürrle will be decided in time.
No club has had a better academy than Barcelona's La Masia, but they haven't been able to parlay those players into record-setting transfers.
Alexis Sánchez (not a La Masia player) was considered a slightly better version of Pedro at Barcelona, but he’s been on of the EPL’s most productive players at Arsenal. Barcelona largely wasted Alexis when he was there and sold him for less than what he was actually worth.
Barcelona sold Yaya Touré (also a non-La Masia player) to City in 2010 and he became the most important player for a club that won the Premier League.
The most influential players to leave United left for free (Paul Pogba) and £5 million (Gerard Piqué), or it was a generational talent just hitting his prime in Cristiano Ronaldo in 2009. The closest thing United has had to a di María/Özil type sale was David Beckham to Real Madrid in 2003 for €37.5, which was about much more than football.
The di María and Özil situations highlight the risks and rewards of buying from Real Madrid. The depth of quality and hype for lack of a better word at Real Madrid is such that their secondary players are always in danger of being perceived as better than they actually are. The expectation of them going from a facilitator role at Real Madrid to the focal point elsewhere is a precarious gamble. Not everyone becomes Touré or James Harden.
This is a competitive advantage Florentino Perez began to use coming out of the Galacticos era.
Robinho came in for €24 million from Santos and went out to Manchester City for €43 million. This move was an unmitigated disaster for City.
Arjen Robben was bought for €36 million in 2007 from Chelsea and sold in 2009 to Bayern for €24 million. Robben has been the key component of Bayern’s revival, representing a miss for Madrid. Robben even hurt Madrid directly in the 2012 Champions League Semifinals that Bayern lost to Chelsea in the Final.
More recently beyond di María and Özil, Real Madrid has sold off two to Serie A. Gonzalo Higuaín came in from River Plate for €12 million and was sold to Napoli in 2013 for €37 million. Álvaro Morata has played very well for Juventus this season and was sold for €20 million.
Real Madrid has the luxury of depth and with that depth comes sales of players who don’t fit, which helps take Financial Fair Play off the table for them as a concern unlike Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain who continue to play catch-up, or United who haven’t identified and used their talent as well.
Real Madrid’s richest rivals, perhaps except for the aforementioned Chelsea and this current generation of Bayern Munich with the depth and system at Pep Guardiola’s disposal, don’t have the same record of selling players. Most of the time, other clubs don’t pass go and do not collect $200 as is the formula for Madrid.