Saturday, 21st November – Real Madrid kick off with a single aim. Reduce a three point gap with Barcelona to zero. A couple of hours later, they were booed off the pitch by their own fans. In between, the current treble holders produced a sublime performance. And this with the world’s best player, Lionel Messi, on the bench. For 90 minutes, the Madrid players looked disjointed, overwhelmed, disinterested and downright petulant. Never have I sat and watched a Los Blancos side this unbothered while facing their eternal rivals. A lot of factors combined to see the collapse of Real Madrid at the hands of the blaugrana. Here are a few of them.
Florentino Perez – The guy is basically a businessman. Yes, he is passionate about football, but to him it is all about the bottom line. Buying the best attacking talents that sell the most official shirts and bring sponsorship millions to Madrid has been his tactic. This makes for a squad that is unbalanced and always under pressure to play flowing, beautiful football. It works in Manager Mode in FIFA. It does not work in the real world against a direct rival.
Cristiano Ronaldo – I love this guy, I really do. My respect for Cristiano is as much as a Messi and FC Barcelona fan can show. But Lord Jesus! Please just leave Spain already. With FC Barcelona doing what they do, perhaps even better than under Guardiola, you won’t ever win trophies here! Real Madrid’s record goalscorer with no one even close to breaking his numbers, Ronaldo should just leave if he wants to finish a glittering career with trophies and not second-place medals. Maybe go to PSG or Manchester United or Qatar or even Barca because at least then he might win!
The Madrid squad – A dressing room full of egos, all of whom loved their previous coach (get to him in a minute), playing under a manager they don’t respect. Result? Luka Modric, James and Toni Kroos go AWOL as Sergi Roberto literally slices the Madrid defence open with a diagonal run and pass to Suarez for the opening goal. Here is a player who is no doubt really really good. But the Madrid players made him look like Leo Messi. What the actual frak? And the faces of every man in the famous all-white kit? They should be ashamed to don that jersey!
Carlo Ancelotti – Oh Carlo! How they miss you at Valdebebas. How Florentino dreams of Italian summers where four trophies arrive every year and all is pink and rosy in the dressing room. Do you and Ramos still send each other love letters? Does Cristiano Snapchat you photos of his abs and say ‘Hey boss, what’s up?’ in the caption? Please, oh please, Carlo! Come back so this Madrid side are at least motivated to try to defeat Barcelona.
Neymar and Suarez – What do you do when you have 200 million euros to spend and you’ve already pretty much shored up every weak area in the squad? You spend it, almost equally on the signings of the two best forwards in world football, twelve months apart. Neymar, with all the tax evasion, misappropriation of funds etc. still brings masses of joy and a certain Brazilian flair to the Barca front line. Suarez brings a wicked turn, pace and an ability to make the ordinary situation with the ball at his feet turn into a goal. Both players, even without Messi, have flourished and banged in the goals. Carrying a team like Barcelona without the world’s best player is a mammoth task. These two have done it with aplomb!
Rafa Benitez – What do you get when an unwanted coach takes on the biggest job in world football? People throwing criticism at you, that’s what. When Perez decided to replace the super-experienced and well-liked Ancelotti with Benitez, the world seemed to conspire against the Spaniard. Boring football, defensive tactics, horrible media management all led to calls for sacking the gaffer. While his team are unbeaten in 15 matches, now they have lost two in a row in the league and his stay of execution only just came through. Reports from Madrid suggest the board decided the starting XI for the Clasico, not Benitez. Maybe they should make Cristiano Ronaldo a player-manager. After all, the Portuguese is probably more qualified in the minds of the Spanish media.
In retrospect, the weekend was a turbulent one for Real Madrid. Let’s hope they pull up their socks, keep their manager and also challenge Barcelona both at home and in Europe until the very end. Otherwise well it’s Benitez who’s going to face another blot on his CV.