What goes up, must come down as the saying goes. Just ask Real Madrid. The Spanish giants are having their worst season of the last two decades, if not this side of the millennium. Nine points behind league leaders and nemesis Barcelona, seven defeats and a change in manager have brought reigning Champions League holders back down to earth with a nasty bump. However dig a little deeper and their current predicament is hardly surprising, in fact it’s amazing that this run of results took so long to find them.
To put it simply, Real have been a victim of their own success. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it seemed to be last season’s manager, Zinedine Zidane’s motto. The club’s starting line-up has barely changed in five years and why would it with unprecedented success in Europe and the league? However, time catches up with us all and it seems to have ravaged this current squad. Combine that with the sale of Ronaldo and lack of a world class replacement has born expected difficulties. No club can lose 35 goals a season and carry on regardless and it’s not just the goals which have gone.
A defence that was once the pride of Europe now looks like any side with speed can rip it apart at will. Sergio Ramos seems intent on ending as many careers as he can before he inevitably gets shown the door, which he would probably kick on the way out. Marcelo obviously feels guilty about all the trophies he has won and is doing his utmost to help his opponents in their quest for silverware by forgetting how to kick a football.
Luka Modric deservedly broke the Messi-Ronaldo stranglehold on the Balon ‘d Or but is paying for his efforts with exhaustion robbing him of his best form. Isco and Asenscio have gone backward since Zidane’s departure and Santiago Solari has yet to drag the players out of the slump. Both of the Spaniards were widely tipped to become the core around which the next Madrid team would be built but it seems likely that they will be sold in the summer.
Up front is a hornet’s nest of problems. Bale continues to be linked away as injury and inconsistency have seen him fail to replace Ronaldo as Madrid’s superstar and whilst Benzema has played well he is also on the wrong side of thirty. I can’t even remember the chap’s name who had the audacity to take over Ronaldo’s number when he arrived from Lyon. The only bright moments for Madrid this season have come from the Brazilian, Vinicius Jr. However as talented as he is, the young man cannot carry a club the size of Madrid by himself. Which begs the question of what next?
The current board of directors will have to shoulder majority of the blame for the clubs current predicament. Why have they waited so long to invest in the next generation? Where is Hazard or Neymar and why were either of Ronaldo and Zidane allowed to leave so easily? These questions have been asked for years and still go on unanswered. If Madrid are to compete for future European honours then serious investment must take place but where will they get the money whilst the Bernabeu gets redeveloped? In a market where a decent centre back costs £50 million then the next manager will need a war chest of £300 million minimum and that’s without a player like Neymar.
Real’s situation reminds me strongly of AC Milan at the end of 2007 when their golden generation bowed out with the Champions League title. The job of replacing the likes of Maldini, Inzaghi, Dida, Cafu, Shevchenko and Pirlo proved too difficult and the club slipped into mediocrity and has yet re-join the European elite as debt and poor recruitment crippled the great club. Madrid are financially better off than AC were and so should avoid such a dramatic fall but make no mistake that the next transfer window will shape the clubs future for years to come.