Exactly two years ago yesterday, Real Madrid beat Schalke 6-1 away from home in the Champions League first leg tie. It was just one result of many on their route to the final that season which ended with them claiming La Decima alongside the Copa Del Rey.
Fast forward to today and Real have fallen to yet another home derby defeat to Atletico, ultimately ending any faint title hopes they had to begin with in the process. They are also out of the domestic cup due to fielding an ineligible player, but do find themselves in firm position to progress to the quarter-finals of the Champions League.
Despite this, the team is a shadow of the side people once believed could really kick on and dominate Europe after their 4-1 triumph over their neighbours Atletico that landed their tenth European trophy. Real Madrid are now a sinking ship and Perez’s lack of direction for the team is becoming a huge factor.
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Carlo Ancelotti led that side to two title honours in his first season, his position prior to that was still up for speculation from the board and should he not have won the Champions League, he would have been sacked that year. This still did not buy him a lot of time as he was sacked at the end of the last campaign and replaced by Rafa Benitez. An interesting appointment given the amount of time he lasted in the job this season.
Recently, the fans have been starting to believe the problems may stem from the owner, Florentino Perez, himself. Should the transfer of Sergio Ramos to Manchester United this summer happened, he would have found himself the subject to a lot more criticism. But Perez is very clever in the way he manages to divert their jeers and disappointments onto someone else.
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Carlo was a real fans favourite, player’s favourite, just not Florentino’s favourite. The squad this year was never going to be able to compete for the title and would be lucky to achieve any trophies again. So what does he decide to do? Bring in an unpopular choice of manager in Rafa Benitez. He became the scapegoat for all the problems happening at the club right now, taking the attention away from him.
This is not to say the team is not great, it is packed full of superstars, no one can deny that. Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale, Luka Modric, James Rodriguez and Toni Kroos is just a potential attacking six available to the manager.
But the team has no direction. It really is a case of “here are a selection of the finest players around, your job is to make them work”. Of course, not a bad situation to be put in given the choices there. The team has no depth and it appears to be stuck in two minds – do we focus on merging the youth players in, or keep buying big?
This is evident in some of the business they have been doing recently. The purchase of Martin Odegaard, one of the most sought-after talents in Europe, Marco Asensio, Mateo Kovacic, Danilo, Raphael Varane are a crop of players they have brought into the club, with hopes they develop into stars. Not only these, Dani Carvajal, who they sold to Leverkusen, was brought back a couple of seasons ago, the same happened this season with Lucas Vazquez.
Jese and Morata both broke through around the same time, but Real sold the latter to Juventus last season, who subsequently went on to score the goal that knocked them out of the Champions League that year.
What we are seeing now is a side that is suffering as a result of lack of leadership by the club’s owners. The ‘hire and fire’ policy is damaging the structure and foundations which has led them to just one La Liga crown in seven years.
Rafa Benitez was quoted as saying: "Barcelona has a style of football, a model of football and Real Madrid is changing managers every year so you have to start again and that's the reason why Barcelona has won five league titles.
"Barcelona has been in six cup finals in the last eight years. They have won double the trophies of Real Madrid - more than double trophies of Real Madrid during the time that the chairman is there so I think that is because they are consistent and that is the key to winning the league title."
A manager wants to purchase players who fit the style and system he wants to implement on the side. The consistent sacking of managers however, results in the current squad becoming a jumbled mess of unfinished projects which is then inherited by the next coach they hire. It becomes almost unthinkable that club legend Zinedine Zidane could find himself on the wrong side of the fans though, as for Florentino, time will tell.
The appointment of Zidane symbolises two things. One, is that he will be given time to restructure this side, as Real find themselves in something of a transitional period. Two, just the latest diversion of attention away from the owner himself. His thinking is that the fans love the former French international, so appointing him head coach brings a fresh reminder of just how good the side used to be, when in fact it is going through a difficult time.
Elaborating on the first point, the squad needs guidance and a rethink as to where it is going. With an impending transfer ban, the plan was to sell Ronaldo and Benzema but it looks as though that will not happen anymore.
No team can afford Ronaldo which means James is likely to become the player being sold and talks that Real will trigger the buy-back clause of Alvaro Morata, to then sell him on again (possibly to the Premier League) to free up funds for a new project. The idea is that they will make way, and Robert Lewandowski, Eden Hazard and David de Gea will come into the side.
It is understandable that the club believes it must buy big, ready-made superstars, as it fits their model of winning everything and with a certain style. But the truth is the model is flawed and there is no way it can sustain success. Teams can have billions of money, look at Manchester City, Chelsea and PSG for example. The money is there, but without a project, it becomes difficult to achieve regular success. Most of these sides are realising that achievements come from a solid platform and firm foundations. Much like Barcelona.
The issue with the ‘Galactico’ plan is that these stars will/should be at or near their peak at the time of purchase. It relies heavily on the player hitting the ground running or at least managing to find some run of form quickly.
Ronaldo succeeded whereas Kaka’ never quite lived up to the money they paid AC Milan for him. It’s a huge gamble, but what happens when these top players start to get old and start waning?
There needs to be some form of conveyor belt of talent running through the club, otherwise, it will become extremely hit and miss. Upcoming talents will not get a chance in the first team if the club is not patient enough to ease them in, which halts their progress.
Whatever the case may be, this summer will be huge for Real Madrid and it will be interesting to see what the club does in terms of deals. With Zinedine Zidane at the helm, he could represent a new age for the club, or he could just become another name on the list of managers Florentino Perez has sacked. It looks likely the club will end the season without a trophy again, but this could be a turning point.