Real Madrid- A Hopefully Concise Summary

June 26, 2007

Real Madrid Club de Fútbol. 30 La Liga titles, 9 European Cups- that is what you think of when the name of the current Spanish title holders is mentioned. Synonymous with tapping up, big name players and a succession of sacked managers, Real Madrid is arguably the biggest, and certainly one of the most interesting clubs in the world of football. In the past seven years of football alone, Real spending in the transfer market for a who’s who of world football includes- £47m for Zinedine Zidane, £39m for Luis Figo, £26m for Ronaldo and £25m for David Beckham. These four were the main stars brought in as part of president Florentino Pérez’s Galáctico Era, in which he promised to bring in one Galáctico, or star player , every year.

Vicente Del Bosque was the manager at that time under Pérez and renowned for his calm and emotionless demeanour. He created a team capable of outplaying and outscoring any team, and his star -studded team won trophy after trophy- the Champions League in his first season followed by two La Liga triumphs and another Champions League win in his four years in Madrid. During these years Real Madrid were not just the rulers of Spain , but of Europe as well. While all good things come to an end, it was a surprise how the end came about at Real. Del Bosque, the man who had so calmly managed the big egos at Real , was sensationally not offered a new contract just a day after he had orchestrated the club’s march to its 29 th La Liga title. Under Perez, Real had always focused on attack rather than defence- their belief seemed to be that they would always outscore their opponent and thus it did not matter how many the opponent scored as long as they scored more. This failure to view defence of major importance led to the departure of Claude Makalele to Chelsea, the best defensive midfielder in the world leaving after he was not offered the same wages as the Galácticos Real employed. Patrick Vieira, one of the world’s premier midfield maestros, also rejected Madrid’s advances because they refused to offer him the same salary offered to Real’s attacking players.

This blinkered view towards defence, a failure to let new managers have ample time to build a team and a series of bad signings led to four barren years at Real, during which not a single trophy was won. Seven different managers came and went in those four years and many signings failed to impress, such as Walter Samuel, Antonio Cassano and Julio Baptista. This unfruitful period reached it’s lowest point when Real’s squad of ageing superstars were thoroughly outclassed by a youthful Arsenal side in the Champions League, where Real were seen off due to a wonder goal by once targeted striker Thierry Henry. Finally, on February 27th, 2006 Florentino Perez resigned, ending the Galáctico Era and signalling the start of a new time for Real Madrid.

This new period started on July 2nd, 2006 when Ramón Calderón was chosen as club president. Calderón started off by putting Fabio Capello in control of Real’s squad . As Capello had led AC Milan, Juventus and AS Roma to title wins in the notoriously defensive Serie A, it was clear he would sort out the defensive issues Real Madrid had faced. Immediately going back to his old club to sign Emerson and Cannavaro, available on the cheap after a disruptive Serie A scandal, Capello also added Mahamadou Diarra from Lyon. These three defensively minded players were regarded as being among the best in the world in their respective positions. Lastly Capello went to Manchester United in the English Premiership and bought star striker Ruud Van Nistelrooy for a mere £10.3m- a bargain for one of the best goal-poachers in the world.

Season 2006/07 started off poorly, with the club’s dour style compared to prior years coupled with poor results left them behind Barcelona and the season’s surprise package Sevilla FC. When Real were knocked out of the Champions League on away goals by the also struggling Bayern Munich, fans of the club were calling for Capello’s sacking. With hindsight, they will be glad that their cries were not answered as Real’s performances improved in the second half of the season due to a return to form of their right winger David Beckham- even after Capello had previously said that the Englishman would never play for Real again. The partnership between Beckham and ex Manchester United team-mate Ruud Van Nistelrooy, contributed to many goals for Real; Beckham pinging the ball in from the right while Van Nistelrooy rose to power a header past a helpless goalkeeper was a common sight in Real’s revival. The club snatched top position in the La Liga standings for the first time that season after a late winner against Espanyol, coming from 3-1 down to snatch all the points in the last minute was coupled with a last minute equaliser by Betis’ Brazilian striker Rafael Sobis in the Barcelona-Betis match. A never say die attitude coupled with Barcelona’s complacency meant Real kept their position at the top till the last day of La Liga. Real Madrid were ahead of Barcelona despite having a weaker goal difference by virtue of a better head to head standing, which is how La Liga determines positions when two teams are level on points. Sevilla FC, just two points behind fell out of the race as they slumped to a 1-0 loss to Villareal. Barcelona started the day better, Puyol putting the Catalan side ahead as Valera gave Mallorca a shock 1-0 lead against Real. Barcelona’s 5-1 victory was proved to be all in vain by the end of the night as Capello’s inspired substitution, taking Beckham off for Jose Antonio Reyes, the winger on loan from Arsenal reaped rewards. Reyes fired in two goals to leave Real with their first trophy in four years while Barca nursed their wounds.

Even though Real have just won La Liga for the first time since the 2002/03 season, it would not be Real Madrid without internal disputes. Despite Capello’s success, Calderón has still not confirmed that the ex-Juventus man will be there next season, publically stating he had drawn up a list of four possible managers to replace Capello- Arsène Wenger, Michael Laudrup, Ronald Koeman and Bernard Schuster. One would have to be extremely overconfident to sack a coach after he has just won you a domestic title, and Real Madrid fans will point to the barren years that followed Del Bosque’s departure in the hope Calderón does what is best for the club.

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