Real Madrid have no excuses for lagging in support of women's game
The excitement generated by Atletico Madrid hosting Madrid CFF in the Primera Division Femenina de Futbol's new derbi fixture last weekend has further highlighted the out-of-touch stance of Real Madrid towards the women's game.
On Saturday afternoon, a crowd of over 22,000 witnessed France international Aurelie Kaci become the first woman to score an official goal at the Atletico's Wanda Metropolitano when she cracked home the opener from 25 yards. Teammate Marta Corredera was also on the score sheet but Madrid CFF's striker Jade Boho scored twice against her old team to gain a draw for the visitors.
Atletico did a good job of promoting the game, which was broadcast live on Spanish TV and heavily covered in the local sports media. Club socio members were allowed into the Wanda for free, with tickets for everyone else costing just €5.
The result was not such a blow for leaders Atletico as second-place Barcelona surprisingly drew 1-1 at relegation threatened Sporting Huelva the following day. That means the rojiblancos remain a point ahead in the Liga Iberdrola standings with seven games remaining, looking to retain a Spanish title they won for the first time last year.
The crowd at the Wanda was a sign both of increasing interest and professionalisation in the women's game in Spain, with the La Liga authorities having committed significant resources into its development over the past few years. Almost all of the biggest men's clubs are now involved: Athletic Bilbao are currently third in the table, with Valencia, Sevilla, Real Betis, Real Sociedad, Espanyol, Levante, Rayo Vallecano and Real Zaragoza all having teams in the top flight.
Just one Spanish giant is missing from that list, with AS editor Alfredo Relano particularly direct in his critical editorial last Sunday.
"Real Madrid still don't have a women's side because the club's president, Florentino Perez, doesn't want one and won't be budged on an issue on which he remains steadfastly behind the curve," Relano wrote.
While Madrid-based Rayo Vallecano are among the most successful women's teams in recent years, Madrid CFF are playing in the top flight for the first time this season and have clear designs on filling the space left by Real's absence.
Madrid CFF were formed in 2010 by businessman Alfredo Ulloa, whose daughter Paola is the current team's goalkeeper, with the resources to quickly climb to the Primera Division. The club's name and especially its all-white kit seems a pretty obvious reference to the city's most famous side. As one of only two outfits not affiliated with a men's team competing in the top flight [the other is Tenerife Egatesa], there has been persistent speculation that high-street optician chain owner Ulloa would sell to Perez should the opportunity arise, although the Real fan told Marca last summer there had never been any contact with the Bernabeu hierarchy.
Real's apparent unwillingness to even consider the idea of launching a competitive women's team brought renewed criticism from club socios at last October's club AGM. Perez responded by talking about a plan for an "amateur" side "so that girls can play," while appearing to suggest that a professional team with international stars would "not be in the spirit of madridismo." The contrast with the policy of signing galacticos like Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale for the men's side did not go unnoticed.
A few weeks later, the construction magnate gave further details in an interview with El Espanyol newspaper, suggesting the club's plans were evolving over time.
"We are working on women's football from a developmental viewpoint," Perez said. "What we will do now is launch a women's team and bring a player from Brazil, one from the USA, etc. We want to begin from the bottom, to add to the Spanish players who want to take part in this marvellous sport."
There has since been no official update on the progress of this plan and the club's news office declined the opportunity to comment for this article. This week, Manchester United announced they had applied to join the second tier of England's Women's Super League, leaving Madrid as one of the very few top European clubs with no links at all to the women's game.
Such a stance is useful ammunition for critics of Perez and Real Madrid generally; it's also a source of embarrassment for many of the club's supporters. Given that the annual budget of a women's team in Spain's top flight is much less than what Ronaldo or Bale earn in a week, there really is no excuse at this stage.
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