Pitchside

Real Madrid need to sign Falcao this summer – and it’s bad news for Benzema

Pitchside

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In the hyper real arms race that has enveloped Spain's two biggest clubs, unparalleled in its grandiose scale and relentless audacity, mere excellence is no longer sufficient.

Trading multimillion-pound acquisitions like two rapacious investment banks, Barcelona have made ultra-superstar signings their currency. This is not a new trend, but one which has been accelerated and intensified dramatically by Real Madrid in recent seasons, to be matched by Barcelona, the Catalan enclave careful not to be left behind by the lavish spending in the capital.

At the Bernabeu, successive summers have witnessed the arrival of the most expensive player in history in £86m Gareth Bale and the fifth most expensive in £63m James Rodriguez, adding to the second most expensive in the £80m Cristiano Ronaldo.

Barcelona now boast the £75m Luis Suarez, the third most expensive player of all time, and Neymar, whose own transfer is as murky and intricate as the derivatives market, but was revealed earlier this year to be to the value of £71.5m, putting him fourth on the list. Playing in between them next season is Lionel Messi, a player whom if he became available on the open market would dwarf them all and command football's first nine-figure transfer sum.

But while Barcelona's triumvirate are supported by one of football's best ever midfields, Real Madrid's lurks behind a player who still divides opinion, even after a Champions League triumph and an initially prolific World Cup.

Karim Benzema was one of the first of the crop of new galacticos signed by returning president Florentino Perez in 2009, but his price - £35m - now looks rather quaint compared to the fees spent at the top of the market by the two most lavish clubs in the game.

Perez has defended him long and hard - most notably at the start of last season when he was being whistled by the famously fickle Madrid fans - but despite a season in which he won over coach Carlo Ancelotti and many of his detractors, his record of 24 goals in 52 games does not bear scrutiny with the very best.

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Benzema lives in the shadow of Ronaldo and Bale

He is the one expendable member of what came to be known as the BBC last season. If Bale is the creative enterprise and searching insight and Cristiano the on-camera superstar talent, Benzema must then be the bloated middle management to keep this tortuous analogy alive. It is his job at stake in the next round of cuts.

It is not all Benzema's fault: getting any shots of your own in a team featuring Ronaldo is a feat in itself, but still, the France star will see the face of a possible replacement staring back at him from the pages of the Madrid press this week.

The Spanish press would have is believe that Falcao is once again coming under Madrid's gaze, with club scouts reported to be in attendance at Sunday's Emirates Cup to watch his first start since sustaining the knee injury in January which wrecked his season and ended his hopes of spearheading Colombia's thrilling World Cup team.

They would not have learned anything new. A player who has scored 102 goals in 136 games over the past five years does not suddenly show a new facet to his talent in a pre-season tournament. Anyone could have told you - and probably should have told Laurent Koscielny - that leaving him unmarked to get his head to a free-kick will undoubtedly result in a goal.

[REPORT: FALCAO MAKES ARSENAL PAY]

But still, the Madrid scouts did gain an impression of a player who is back, following a lengthy recuperation. He is fit, scoring goals and ready to attract a new, intense wave of transfer speculation.

Do Madrid need him? No, but they didn't need James either. It is rarely about necessity; rather prestige.

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A curious £51m transfer to Monaco - which even a year ago was being presented in some quarters as merely a device to prevent a direct transfer from Atletico Madrid to their well-heeled neighbours - has not embellished Falcao's reputation but he remains arguably the best out-and-out centre-forward in world football.

Few have that same sense of threat in the box; that same purity and clarity of thought when it comes to scoring. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is possibly better, and certainly more inventive, but as a pure unadulterated striker - not a false nine, not a floating second forward, not a prolific wide player - no one else reaches his level.

And certainly not Benzema, who for all his qualities has never taken on galactico proportions. The most expensive line of forwards ever assembled may well need a commensurate striker ahead of them, if only to look Barcelona square in the face and say, 'your move, again'.

By Tom Adams – on Twitter @tomEurosport

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