So Carlo Ancelotti's first match in charge of Real Madrid will be against . . . Bournemouth.
With all respect to the English club, not the most glamorous tie for the Italian to kick-off his new job with Los Blancos, but a relatively low-key one that may well be a precursor for how Ancelotti's time at the Bernabeu could pan out, certainly in relation to Jose Mourinho's. President Florentino Perez is wanting more calm at Madrid after the tornado approach from the Portuguese over the last three years, and this could be the perfect start for that at the 10,000-seater Goldsands Stadium July 21.
Bournemouth, known as the Cherries, have played most of their recent football in the third and fourth tiers of English football and last season won promotion to the Championship, the second tier. It's safe to say the visit of Madrid, with first team supposedly in tow, will be the highlight of their season, and a match that will live long in the club's history for years to come. Cristiano Ronaldo, Mesut Ozil, Iker Casillas all playing in their stadium. A real one-off, a match to remember. Bournemouth won't be making the Champions League anytime soon and probably won't be winning promotion to the Premier League, either.
It should be a momentous occasion for Bournemouth's loyal fans, albeit a relatively small band. It should be. Though the match, albeit still a massive coup for the the club, has hit the headlines for the wrong reasons over in England, with Bournemouth deciding to charge a whopping 60 pounds for adults and about half that for children. Season ticket holders get a five-pound discount. Yes, really.
First things first -- from a purely business point of view it's a massive day for the English club. Supply will not meet demand, not in a 10,000-seater with Madrid promising to send a strong squad. The match will sell out, even at the ridiculous prices the club is charging. It's a huge payday and will be Bournemouth's biggest for some time - possibly ever. A sellout could help the club fund new signings to keep them in the Championship next season. Madrid, the Cherries could say, helped them to do that.
On the other hand, and the one that should be taken more into consideration, the prices, for a preseason friendly, are absolutely appalling and a sign of the way football is going currently. Madrid don't even charge £60 for a lot of seats at the Bernabeu for big La Liga and Champions League games, and that's competitive football, not just a sub-standard friendly match.
The hardcore Bournemouth fans will go - an 'I was there when we played Real Madrid' moment, but it will price out other fans. Even if it doesn't, it could make it harder for them to get tickets with undoubted interest in watching Madrid from other teams around the Bournemouth area and beyond.
It's also a sign of the way clubs, no matter how big or small, are going in the current financial climate and with financial fair play kicking in. Preseason is no longer a time for rest and recuperation, it's a time for clubs to go on tour and make money. If they cannot be funded by wealthy backers anymore, they need to get out and sell, sell, sell. A trip to Bournemouth may come during a gap in Madrid's calendar and the club may well have demanded a large appearance fee, like they did at Leicester City a few years ago -- hence the high prices.
Madrid follow the Bournemouth friendly with clashes against Lyon, in France, and against Paris Saint-Germain in Sweden, of all places. A four-match tour of the United States, something that's now becoming an annual occurrence, follows before Los Blancos host Al Sadd, from Qatar, for the Bernabeu Trophy. While preparation on the pitch is crucial, it's clear pound, euro and dollar signs have been flashing before people's eyes when arranging these fixtures, and it's not just Madrid.
The south coast of England could well be the place Isco makes his Madrid debut, too, although Ancelotti may ease the playmaker back into action after his performances internationally over the summer. The former Malaga man was officially unveiled at the Bernabeu this week and will wear number 23, following on from David Beckham, Mesut Ozil (when he first joined the club) and Raphael van der Vaart. No pressure there, then.
The reason for my focus on the friendly matches, ridiculous pricing aside, is that transfer activity is cooling somewhat around the Bernabeu. Reports in Spain suggest Madrid have given up hope of signing Gareth Bale this summer and will instead wait another year to make their move, or make the Welshman force Tottenham's hand in letting him go.
Cristiano Ronaldo has also pledged his future to Madrid by insisting he's happy in Spain, although he'll always have Manchester United, and English football in his hearts. Aww. So that's two big transfer rumours that were threatening to take over the summer all-but dampened, then.
Asier Illarramendi, of Racing Santander, is the latest name grabbing the column inches. Ancelotti and Zinedine Zidane have apparently identified the 23-year-old as back-up for Xabi Alonso, and his eventual successor.
The youngster certainly falls in the same bracket as Alonso, with plenty of tactical nous, and an impressive season in helping to guide the San Sebastian club to the Champions League. A 30-million-euro release clause stands in Madrid's way, and it will be interesting to see if they are prepared to match that given the deal for Isco is reported to be paid over three installments.