We all thought Real Madrid’s season had finished after that infamous week in which we lost all hope with three negative results at the Santiago Bernabeu. Every Madridista started to think of who the summer reinforcements should be, and also chose their favourite targets to sell to the highest bidder. In my case, it was no different.
However, the season was far from over. Even though we lived vicariously the last few matches through the victories and especially the defeats of other teams, the brutal implosion of Barcelona made me realise of a painful fact: the outcome of this year could have been so much better if just a few things had worked out differently. And that thought led me to another: I needed closure. I needed to leave this awful season behind me once and for all.
Nothing better than a column listing the ten worst Real Madrid-related memories of the last ten months to feel liberated from this recent past. Mind you, the original draft had over 30 items, but that wouldn’t have been closure, but obsession. Be warned, to achieve closure you have to let go, so I’ll allow myself to scream a few times during the article. Let’s start:
- The signing of Julen Lopetegui: it all started off the wrong foot. The quick summary: after 30 years suffering an openly hostile president of the Spanish FA, a new guy comes in. Rather than trying to develop a good rapport with the newcomer, we sign the coach of his national team two days before the opening match and two weeks after he extended his contract with the aforementioned new president. We managed to become his top enemies in record time – this is the man in charge of the refs, remember – only to hire an average manager who was summarily fired from their post in Spain to then losing his Real Madrid job in a matter of months. Dumbfounding decision-making by our management team. If you want a proper, full-length rant by yours truly, click here.
- The exit of Cristiano Ronaldo and the lack of a replacement: first, 100 MEUR for Ronaldo, one of the best scorers in history, is almost equivalent to a bag of crisps. Second, we had a full summer to find a decent striker, and although those are rarely available, it’s simply mindboggling to see that, given Ronaldo’s record, there was no plan B ready to replace him. Again, this was poor management at its worst. Because you’re not telling me that you thought Bale and Benz would cover for Cristiano’s 50 goals, are you?
- Marcus Absentius’ interview. Adding insult to injury, and just when it was obvious that many players – not only Bale and Benz – would need to chip in to cover for Ronaldo and aspire to any silverware, here comes our biggest talent, the feelgood story of the previous season and a half, and spits this. Not the type of mindset required for such a tough season, indeed. It’s hard not to think that this mental frame led him to perform as abysmally as he’s done this season.
4. The discovery of Thibaut Courtois as a sexual icon: I’m well aware of the unintentional comedy element to this topic, but it only made me smile once. I never thought of Courtois as a womanizer, and seeing him on the cover of a gossip magazine did make me smirk for a second. Then I remembered a few previous cases of footballers making the cover of that type of publications, and the smile went away. That has never helped anyone’s career, and judging by what we’ve seen this year, it hasn’t helped Courtois’ either. Most of our first team players date or are married to models, actresses and generally well-known women, but in no small measure because of the way the club directs their communication strategy, their private lives are mostly kept private. In the case of Thibaut, I just hope he takes that road in the offseason. Focus on the pitch, please.
5. The fall of the best midfield trio in world football: Kroos recently extended his contract, which proves that the club has been generous after a very poor season in which he’s cost the team dear in top-level matches. Modric has also extended his for another season, due to the Ballon D’Or clause. Case’s contract runs until 2021, therefore my hunch was completely wrong. But even if it was, the analysis wasn’t. One more season of Cristiano may have covered some holes, but this season’s failure was that of our midfield, the midfield that took us to that memorable Champions League streak.
6. Ramos’ card in Amsterdam: in a season packed with dumb moments, this is arguably the dumbest. Our skipper thought we were so much better than Ajax that not only he provoked a yellow to get a suspension for the second leg and clear his record for the semis, but he also recognized publicly that he did that on purpose, which got him an extra match of suspension. The team missed him dearly in the second leg at the Bernabeu, and the supporters have also missed him in the last few matches of the season. When we add the yellow card fiasco to the fact that he openly rejected Conte’s candidacy to the bench and wholeheartedly supported Lopetegui, the skipper’s responsibility in this failed season is huge. If it’s true that he’s asking for more money and threatening to leave, this could be the last straw for such an unforgettable team legend. Once more, it would be a sad ending for a huge Real Madrid icon.
7. Solari’s line-ups in the key week of the season: the Argentinean manager did bring some things to the table, especially a bunch of youngsters who played very well. I’m not including Vinicius in that group, as he only gave him a chance when there was no other options available. That said, Solari drove the team to the ground in the most important week of the season, the one with two matches against Barcelona and the return leg against Ajax. Not surprisingly, we ended up with a few injured players and none of the results we needed, as the team collapsed physically and mentally. I just can’t believe he didn’t plan for the three matches, but just kept going until players fainted.
8. The club’s public statements: this is silly, but I do believe it’s a sign of how things are inside the T4, which is how the media call the floor in which all decisions are made at the Bernabeu. Club management’s responsibility with the ailing, scoreless squad was so blatant that when they fired Lopetegui they added that there was a large disparity between the quality of the players and the results to date. The señorío went down the drain, I suppose. It wasn’t the only instance in which the club went out of its way to say something they didn’t need to say. Among other examples, the most recent and bizarre is the answer to Pochettino. Really, what are they thinking?
9. Marcelo, in general. There hasn’t been a single full match in which he’s looked like a footballer. Of course, there’s always glimpses of his class, but he’s managed to spend an entire season out of shape, which is simply unacceptable. Others have some excuses: the World Cup, injury trouble, problems at home… Marcelo simply did not care.
10. The whole match in Vallekas: I know there has been a number of embarrassing defeats during the season. In La Liga alone, the team lost 12 times. But if there’s a match in which I thought all records of indolence and lack of intensity were surpassed, that’s the 1-0 defeat in Vallecas. Rayo were bottom of the table, his best player could not participate due to one of those fear clauses – Raúl de Tomás, on loan from Real Madrid – and we had to endure a miserable performance in which Rayo not only won, but took more shots and looked like a much more accomplished side. I’m red with rage as I write these lines.
Enough bile vomited. This closes the season for me.
On second thought… any other I’ve missed?