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What now for Real Madrid’s €250-million flops?

Early elimination from the Champions League for Ronaldo, Kaká and co. has left the plans of Real president Florentino Pérez in tatters.


Ronaldo and his teammates now have only the league to fight for. Photo: Gordon Flood.

Legend has it that on one of the several occasions that Real Madrid was wooing Arsène Wenger in the hope of persuading him to become the team’s new coach, he visited the Bernabéu to meet with senior club officials. After the meeting, as the unimpressed Arsenal boss drove away from the stadium, he said to his translator: “Real Madrid thinks it’s a big club, but it behaves like a small one.”

When Real crashed out of the Champions League at the last-16 stage after drawing 1-1 against Lyon at the Bernabéu, the gap between the club’s lofty ambitions and reality was plain for all to see. This year, of all years, was when the nine-time European champions were supposed to return to the top of the continental pecking order. New club president Florentino Pérez had spent €250 million on players in the off season; he’d brought in beautiful game exponent Manuel Pellegrini as coach; even the Champions League final would be played in the Bernabéu. Everything was right to win that 10th trophy. The stars were aligned.

Until Miralem Pjanic blasted Lyon’s equaliser past Iker Casillas to give the French team a 2-1 aggregate lead on March 11, that is. For a while, Real had looked perfectly in control, Cristiano Ronaldo scoring early to settle nerves and the hosts generally producing one of their finest 45 minutes of European football this season. The second half could not have been more different, however, as Lyon successfully rearranged their midfield to start pressuring. Ronaldo started going down cul-de-sacs, Kaká was as ineffectual as he has been for much of the season, while Guti looked increasingly like an over-the-hill, floppy-haired dandy rather than the world-class playmaker he can appear to be when facing lesser opposition.

With the score still 1-0 (for a 1-1 aggregate), the locals needed to calm down and play their game as they sought the decisive goal. It’s easy to make the comparison with the vintage Barcelona side of last season, which would simply pass and pass and pass until the opening came. But Real panicked and instead of looking like prospective European champions, started to resemble headless chickens.

“We didn’t look for the second goal collectively,” said Pellegrini afterwards. “We erred on the side of individualism.”

Clearly, Pellegrini failed to respond to the tactical changes made by his counterpart, thus exposing Real as rather one-dimensional. Sport daily Marca, which started campaigning for the coach’s sacking as early as November, ran the headline: “Goodbye Champions League, Goodbye Pellegrini.”

Brittle and hasty

But is it really the Chilean’s fault? Only to a small extent. On the pitch he needs players who can keep their heads and lead by example and at Real Madrid, the coach doesn’t buy players, he just uses what he’s got. Without the suspended Xabi Alonso, the midfield – and the team overall – looked brittle and hasty under pressure.

So what now for Pérez’s white vision? This elimination follows Real’s much more extraordinary humiliation – for a 4-1 aggregate – at the hands of third-division Alcorcón in the Copa del Rey, also at the last-16 stage. Now, there is only the league to play for.

It’s fortunate then, that Real recently wrested leadership of the league (albeit on goal difference) from Barcelona. With no cup competitions to distract them, Real can knuckle down and continue their mainly impressive league campaign, while Barcelona, barring a major upset, will have to continue to think about its Champions League plans. (Of course, if Barcelona reaches the final, it will be salt in the wounds of all Real fans.)

So now the only way forward for Real Madrid is to make sure it wins the league – and in better style than the title-winning teams of Fabio Capello or Bernd Schuster. But even then, this season will be seen as a failure, if only for Pérez’s hubris and quarter-of-a-billion-euro outlay.  Inevitably, new players ­– and quite possibly a new coach – will be sought. Already there is talk of José Mourinho arriving in the summer – a coach who represents the antithesis of Real’s traditional stylish play.

Unfortunately, the quietly spoken, cultured Pellegrini came from Villarreal, a club where he was given relatively free rein for five years and was able to implement his philosophy of blending South American technique with European tactics to impressive effect. At Real he is just another pawn, there to take the flak when players bought by the president underperform and the impatient and often unhinged madridista press take aim.

“I don’t think that this Real Madrid project is about just one year,” Pellegrini said as he batted off questions about his future after the Lyon debacle. “It’s much longer term than that.”

It sounds like you’ve forgotten where you are, Manuel.

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Published: Mar 15 2010
Category: Sports
Republication: Creative Commons, non-commercial
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2 Comments for “What now for Real Madrid’s €250-million flops?”

  1. José Mourinho,Arsene Wenger not to mention Alex Ferguson of yore would not touch Real Madrid as they wouldn´t take interference from such a hubristic pompous ignoramous like Wenger said the other day,in addition to your above-mentioned comment,the basic truth:you cannot buy success.And no Marca is not a sports daily it´s a Madrid inhouse rag that just shows the usual fickle nature of their supporters.

  2. Of course you can buy success. Or didn't Abramovich do that? Where was Chelsea before him? And what about Zenit St. Petersbourg?

    By the way, the successful Barcelona has spent since 2005 400 millions signing players, Liverpool 360, Manchester 230, Milan 200.

    Let's not be naif.

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