Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid 'non-aggression pact' is pure nonsense
Recent days have shown that the idea of a "non-aggression pact" between Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid, which in theory stopped Madrid from taking players from their cross-town neighbours, never really existed.
It seems clear now that the idea that the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu hierarchy, and especially president Florentino Perez, would ever act in any other way than pure self-interest was always fanciful, and that no such barrier stands between possible moves by Madrid for the much-sought-after rojiblanco duo of Antoine Griezmann and Theo Fernandez.
An unwritten agreement that stopped Madrid from signing anyone from Atletico without express permission, or vice versa, has been mentioned in local press reports on and off for years now. It surfaced again last week amid a Marca cover story that Los Blancos were set to sign Theo this summer, having been impressed by the young defender's performances on loan at Alaves, and planned to trigger his €24 million release clause once the transfer window opens.
That was followed by stories put out by reporters very close to Atletico president Enrique Cerezo suggesting he was so upset by Madrid's un-good-neighbourly conduct that he was considering boycotting the pre-match meal before Saturday's derbi at the Bernabeu. Cerezo himself then publicly laughed off these stories, but the important thing was that a message had been sent to his club's fans that their interests were being protected. It was later unsurprisingly reported that Theo's future was not discussed between the courses, as the suits from both clubs enjoyed their food on Saturday amid an atmosphere of bonhomie.
That the issue did not come up should not really be a surprise. Reports during the week about the pact have pointed to Atletico players past and present, including Diego Forlan, Sergio Aguero, Radamel Falcao and Jose Maria Gimenez, all being targeted by Madrid, but the moves not going through as the Bernabeu outfit did not want to hurt their neighbours' feelings.
The truth is a bit less exciting. Aguero was realistically the only one of these players that Madrid made a big effort to chase. But he ended up at Manchester City back in summer 2011, as Perez and his board were unable (or chose not) to match the €45m fee paid by the Premier League club.
The concept of the "non-aggression pact" has also been used by various other parties over the years to serve their own interests. Back in 2012, then-Madrid coach Jose Mourinho referred to the an unwritten agreement when saying he was a big fan of Falcao, but would not be looking to sign him. This had the effect of bigging-up the reputation of a fellow Jorge Mendes client and making Mourinho look like a nice guy. But it was never realistic that the Colombia international would end up at the Bernabeu.
Griezmann himself even mentioned the supposed pact in an interview in France just last February, saying "he believed" such an agreement was in place. This was a useful way for him to suggest he could not join Madrid in the future, while never actually denying he would play for them.
Madrid chief Perez has not spoken publicly about any pact and is unlikely to worry about such a nicety. The construction magnate would not have become Madrid president in the first place without his audacious signing of Luis Figo from Barcelona back in 2000. He has also made efforts, on and off, to try and tempt stars, including Lionel Messi, Neymar and Andres Iniesta, to cross the Clasico divide.
The reason the pact has become news recently is that Atletico are now a really dangerous rival for Madrid, and in Griezmann and Theo they have players who their neighbours really want. Both are the right age and potential to improve Zinedine Zidane's current squad. And both appear to be at least open to the idea of hearing what the Bernabeu outfit have to offer them.
This should be of no surprise to anyone. It fits with what big clubs do elsewhere, even more so as the membership of the European elite narrows. Last summer, Serie A hegemons Juventus took their biggest rival Napoli's most important player Gonzalo Higuain. Bayern Munich have raided Borussia Dortmund for Robert Lewandowski, Mats Hummels and Mario Gotze to maintain their Bundesliga dominance. Madrid taking Griezmann, especially, would just be logical in this context.
It would also be logical for Griezmann and Theo to consider how they might earn more money and win more trophies at the Bernabeu. Within the closed world of professional footballers there is much less preoccupation about the badge you represent. When at Real Sociedad, Griezmann was thought to be a madridista, but that did not stop him from joining Atletico when it was his best career option in summer 2014.
Sergio Ramos showed just how much he cares about the background of his teammates and the controversies that might arise in signing new stars when speaking at the Bernabeu on Saturday evening. "Madrid's doors are always open to the top players," he said. "I want the best players in my team, whether they play for the neighbours, or live with my aunt."
That is the reality of top level football, and the idea that Ramos or his club feel bound by a sentimental rule that stops them from hurting their weaker neighbours is just nonsense.
Dermot Corrigan is a Madrid-based football writer who covers La Liga and the Spain national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @dermotmcorrigan