The premier professional league of soccer (association football) in North America (USA and Canada) is known as Major League Soccer (MLS). The name seems to be a calque of Major League Baseball (MLB), but MLB is not a league; it’s an umbrella organization for the two major leagues, the American League and the National League, that have long existed as independent entities. MLS, on the other hand, is the league itself, and the name is therefore both semantically inept and grammatically clumsy.
One of the teams in MLS, located in Utah, is called Real Salt Lake. What is “real” about it? It is not based in the city of Salt Lake City or on the shores of the Great Salt Lake, but in a suburban city named Sandy which is a good 15 miles away from the lake.
No, the Real part of the club’s name comes from its association with what is perhaps the world’s most famous football club, the Real Madrid Club de Fútbol (RM), in which real means ‘royal’ — a qualification given to the club’s name by King Alfonso XIII in 1920 (before that it was just the Madrid Foot-Ball [sic] Club).
Still, real also means ‘real’ in Spanish. But when I went yesterday to the California Memorial Stadium in Berkeley to see a friendly between Real Madrid and Inter Milan, I did not see the real Real Madrid. Here is a news item, dated yesterday, from Real Madrid’s website:
Cristiano Ronaldo has arrived in Los Angeles. The Whites striker arrived at Hotel Montage Beverly Hills, where he was reunited with Casillas, Ramos, Modric, Arbeloa, Xabi Alonso and Coentrão, who were left out of the matchday squad for the first game of the pre-season against Inter Milan.
Now, can anyone say that Real Madrid without Ronaldo, Casillas, Ramos, Modrić, Arbeloa, Xabi Alonso and Coentrão (or Benzema and Di María, for that matter) is the real Real Madrid that people (supposedly 62,500 of them — a sellout — though there were some glaring empty seats in the shade), many of them wearing the famous (and famously expensive) white jersey, paid $100 or more to see?
I noticed that something was wrong when RM took the pitch with the players’ jerseys showing no names above their numbers. And most of the numbers were in the high 20s and 30s, while on the squad as shown on the website no one has a number higher than 25.
Yes, there were some recognizable first- and second-stringers whom I remembered from the Champions’ League: Pepe (3), Bale (11), Carvajal (15), Nacho (18), Isco (23). And having Diego López and Jesús Fernández in the goal might have been meant to cover up Casillas’ embarrassing performance as Spain’s goalkeeper in the World Cup. But who in the world are Diego and Marcos Llorente (not Fernando, who plays for Spain and Juventus), Álvaro Medrán, Raúl de Tomás, Derik, Sobrino?
The stars will, apparently, play in the upcoming matches of the series of friendlies bearing the grandiose title of International Champions’ Cup: against Roma in Dallas, against Man U in Ann Arbor (by which time James Rodríguez may have joined th team)… But what we in Northern California saw was the Unreal Madrid. Or, in Spanish, Irreal Madrid.