Real Madrid are historically the most successful club in Spain, Europe and probably the world, as well as one of the richest if not the richest club in the world. Over the years they’ve had some fantastic players and played some mouth-watering football but things have changed at the Santiago Bernabeu and as an outsider I have to wonder what exactly is going on at Real Madrid.
I watched Barcelona hammer Real 6-2 in El Classico at the weekend and despite my preference for the Catalan side it was a sad site to see how little contest there actually was in the game. Real tried to get forward in the early stages and even took the lead but while Barca looked fast, inventive and slick Real looked tired, at sometimes clueless and very sloppy. Barca had their Champions League semi-final against Chelsea to think about, Real knew they had to win to stand any chance of lifting the title at the end of the season yet they capitulated spectacularly as Barca simply destroyed them.
The Madrid faithful began to leave as soon as Barca took a 4-2 lead and by the time the score had reached 6-2 the stadium was virtually empty. For a club the size of Real Madrid to lose by that margin at home to their fierce rivals is simply unacceptable and there seems to be something inherently wrong with the way the club is run.
I had enough of the Cristiano Ronaldo saga last summer but for the purposes of this article I’m going to have to revisit it (I apologise to anyone out there who feels the same). Real pushed and pushed to sign Ronaldo but Manchester United wouldn’t give him up despite huge offers (£70million+) and pressure from the player himself. However, it has come to light that the Real coach at the time Bernd Schuster didn’t even want to sign Ronaldo.
“I understood the club would have to pay an extortionate fee to bring that kid, and they made it clear to me that if he came it would be very difficult to get anyone else. Maybe one more, but at a very low price.” Schuster told Marca in April.
“But of course, if he didn’t come we could bring someone else in, someone who we really needed.
“The thing is we didn’t need Cristiano, that was more a theme the club had going. We knew that with him alone we wouldn’t solve other problems because he can’t defend nor play on the wing.”
I’m not sure about the he can’t ‘play on the wing’ bit personally, he has looked all right there whenever I’ve watched him race down a flank but the comments show something disturbing. Schuster describes the quest for Ronaldo’s signature as a ‘theme for the club’ suggesting it is less about what is good for the team and more about the prestige of having the best player in the world at the Bernabeu. This is something that has been a part of Real’s way for a long time but it really seems to be having a detrimental effect on their success at the moment.
In fairness Real have not been a great side for some years now, perhaps since Zinedine Zidane and Luis Figo left the Bernabeu. Their current playing squad is frankly fairly poor, Iker Casillas is still probably the best keeper in the world but I’m less convinced about their defence. In midfield they just didn’t have anyone who could stand up to Barca’s engine and their attack failed miserably in front of goal.
Raul has been a stalwart of the side for many years but the striker is aging now and Real need a replacement. They may have found one in Gonzalo Higuain who plays in a remarkably similar style but just because a player plays in the same style does not necessarily mean he is an adequate replacement. Though to be fair to Higuain he did show some exceptional skill to skip through three Barca players and set up Arjen Robben early on in El Classico but the Dutchman couldn’t find a way past Victor Valdes.
In Schuster’s interview he also claimed Real were not willing to back him in the transfer market and would only free up money for Ronaldo. He said: “They said they had no money. (There was money for Ronaldo) but not for the others.” If this is true this is absolutely ridiculous for a club like Real, or indeed any club, if they need players surely they need to identify a few targets in case they miss out on their first choice. Can you imagine Alex Ferguson deciding he wants a centre-half, making a move for John Terry and getting knocked back then deciding if he can’t have Terry he won’t have anyone? Nope, me neither. This is a frankly crazy when running one of the world’s top sides and if this is true it comes as little surprise that Real have failed in their hunt for silverware this season.
Historically Real have played exciting, flowing attacking football but whenever I’ve watched them this season it simply hasn’t been the case. They may occasionally display some great stuff but this Real team has been more defensively minded than any Real side I can remember. This is simply not the Real Madrid way and it must be doubly upsetting for their fans with Barcelona playing such exciting football.
If Real are to challenge for the Spanish League and Champions League next season they need to address these (and any other) issues. They need at least a few top-quality players to come in and without doubt they need a creative force who can unlock an opponent’s defence. In Lassana Diarra they might have found a suitable replacement (finally) for Claude Makelele and that was definitely something that was missing but there are obvious problems for Real to address before the start of the next campaign, I just wonder if they will.