Real Madrid have had a week to forget. Two defeats at the hands of their arch rivals, Barcelona, meaning Barca have now moved ahead of them in all time El Classico wins – a small fact but it’s more dirt in the face for the die-hard Real fans – out of the Copa Del Rey, out of the title race and out of the Champions League following a true demolition job inside the Bernabeu by Dutch side Ajax. A defeat that shocked the footballing world as Ajax put four goals past Real keeper Thibaut Courtois to overcome a first leg deficit. The past week has simply been a microcosm of Real’s season and if they don’t act soon it really could be the end of an era.
Cast your mind back to the end of last season, former player Zinedine Zidane stood in his technical area in Kyiv as his side, starring Cristiano Ronaldo, defeated Liverpool in the final of the cup they’ve just been knocked out of, to lift their third consecutive title – the first team to ever achieve that feat – and the fourth Champions League in five years. The season ended and Zidane was gone. Ronaldo gone. A new manager, Julen Lopetegui, arrived under a cloud after backing out on Spain just days before the World Cup and it’s an understatement to say things haven’t gone to plan since.
Lopetegui lost his first match in charge, the UEFA Super Cup, to cross city rivals Atletico and followed that up with an appalling six wins from the first 14 league games, which left Madrid closer to the relegation places than it did to Barcelona, who just hammered the final nail into Lopetegui’s coffin with an emphatic 5-1 victory at the Camp Nou. Lopetegui was sacked and replaced by Castilla, Madrid’s B Team, coach Santiago Solari on an interim basis, which became a permanent appointment following an initial uplift in performances but consistency has been an issue and, following a disastrous three games, their season is effectively over in early March and it will take a cosmic shift in results for Solari to keep his job come the season close.
In prior years, Ronaldo was the star, he took the brunt of supporter’s criticism when things were not going well but he could handle the pressure. More importantly, the other players, many of whom have indeed stellar quality – but not on Ronaldo’s level – were able to play without scrutiny and now they are out of the Portuguese’s shadow and they cannot handle the limelight. A team that was once full of ‘galacticos’ is now full of egos, all vying for the spotlight but, in truth, none of them are up to it and, unfortunately, Solari himself doesn’t have the ideal character or experience to whip them into shape.
Club legend Raul currently heads up Juvenil B, which is a Madrid youth side and whilst he lacks coaching experience there is a thought process that says his status as a player could have serious sway over Madrid’s current stars but can Florentino Perez, Madrid’s president, put his faith in an unproven manager at this critical stage? Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino is another option. He’s proven he can build a competitive team on a relative shoestring and it’s likely he’d put Real in a position where La Liga isn’t a one horse race but does he have what it takes to get across the line as winners? To date, it doesn’t look that way.
Throughout the Ajax embarrassment, fans made their feelings clear singing former manager, and serial winner, Jose Mourinho’s name and, whilst he left Manchester United without his usual success it wasn’t all disastrous. He delivered them two trophies and a return to the Champions League during his reign, and if anyone has an ego to match the Real players it’s him. The only catch with Mourinho would be that serious investment will be needed as there is no way he’ll look at the squad and think they’re good enough for what he’ll want to achieve, which will be to triumph on all fronts; mind you, if this year is anything to go by that might not be a bad way to go and if history tells us anything it’s that Real Madrid are winners and so is Jose.