Brace yourself. It’s time to resurrect dark memories that have been buried behind the success of the last decade. The 2008 - 2009 season was eerily similar to the campaign Real Madrid have put together in the 2018 - 2019 season. It was a dark year, marred indefinitely by two results: a catastrophic Champions League round of 16 exit, for the fifth consecutive year. In 09, Madrid pleaded for mercy against Rafa Benitez’s rampant Liverpool. The men from Merseyside ran riot with Ferando Torres and Steven Gerrard leading a 4-0 smash and grab win at Anfield in the second leg. The headlines were bleak: “Liverpool humiliated Real Madrid from minute 1 to 93”, “Casillas avoided an 8-0” “RM Sporting Director, Mijatovic: “I apologize”. A few months later came the next season defining result. A 6-2 masterclass by Messi and Barcelona at the Santiago Bernabeu. Again the headlines were far from uplifting: “It’s over. The scandalous win, marks a dark age for Madrid”, “The Calderon Era culminates in the ultimate humilation” “Messi and Barca run riot at the Bernabeu”. It was a season without silverware and a team without a heartbeat. Ramon Calderon’s presidency had been laced with controversey and illegitimacy. Madridista’s were yearning for Florentino. The emblematic former president answered the call, and sparked a revolution with his “second coming”.
Who can forget the summer of 2009? Florentino said the best would come and so they did: Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka, Karim Benzema, and Xabi Alonso among the big names brought in to reignite Madrid’s lost soul. The eloquent Xabi Alonso summed it up best in a recent interview with Nico Rosberg, “That year we signed Benzema, Cristiano, Kaka, and it was a massive new project. It was the second time with Florentino as president. It was a special project, and the pressure was huge, we had to perform”.
We remember the big names arrived, but what really happened with the squad? What did the overhaul truly look like? In total, 10 new players were signed that summer for a total of €261 million. But much of the media speculation during the final months of the season had been around who Florentino would keep and who would be discarded. Sound familiar? From that squad in 08/09, no less than 14 players were sold (excluding De La Red who sadly had to retire due to a heart condition). €88.5 million was racked in from their sales with veterans, and starters, Ruud van Nistelrooy (33), Fabio Cannavaro (35), Gabriel Heinze (31), and, the lone non-starter, Michel Salgado (33) all making way. In addition to the clear out of most veterans, former key starters Arjen Robben (25) and Wesley Sneijder (25) were controversially sold to balance the books. The revolution meant replacing five starters and adding some depth with players like Alvaro Arbeloa, Ezequiel Garay, Esteban Granero, and Raul Albiol.
The average age of Florentino’s new galacticos was 23.5 years old. The president was laying the foundations for a new core: Cristiano Ronaldo, Sergio Ramos, Marcelo, Karim Benzema, Xabi Alonso, and Pepe. Those key cogs eventually supported by Luka Modric and Gareth Bale would be the corner stones of an unprecedented 4 Champions League titles, 2 La Liga titles, and 1 Copa Del Rey in the following 9 seasons. Marking one of the most succesful era’s in Real Madrid history, including three consecutive Champions League titles under Zinedine Zidane and the first double (Champions League + La Liga title) since 1965.
This season, like in 2008 - 2009, has been scared by two results. The 4-1 loss to Ajax at the Bernabeu in the second leg of the Champions League round of 16, and the 3-0 loss to Barcelona in the Bernabeu, all within days. Zidane has been brought in and his “second coming” has ignited the start of another potential revolution to the squad, some ten years later. But what conclusions can be drawn from history and the previous revolution under Florentino? This will likely be Florentino’s third and final act— his final squad revamp led by Zizou. With the recruitment of young talents and the major investments placed in the youth academy, Madrid have already been preparing for this transition. There is no knowing what changes Zidane and the president have planned, but what is known is that there will be changes. Will as many as 14 leave and 10 arrive? Possibly. It has been done before, and history has a funny way of repeating itself. The market for players has radically changed since the Neymar to PSG transfer which has inflated the value of nearly every player in the professional game. The Whites will need to be quick and cunning in their pursuit of top talent. The club must tread carefully, the decisions made this summer and the squad construction could very well lay the foundations for the next ten years — be it for better or for worse.
Even after the overhaul in 2009, Madrid failed to secure silverware that season. They reached a historic feat and secured 96 points in the 09/10 league season, but fell short of surpassing Barcelona’s 99 points. And for the sixth consecutive year, Madrid crashed out in the round of 16 of the Champions League. Let us not forget the infamous “Alcorconazo”, a 4-0 win by third division side (Segunda B), Alcorcon, occurred that season in the Copa Del Rey. Needless to say more, it took another couple transfer windows with a new big personality, Jose Mourinho, at the coaching helm to eventually secure the first bit of silverware— a Copa Del Rey title. It was not until 2011/2012 that Madrid secured the league title from Barcelona’s tight grasp. That was a full two years after the summer revolution of 2009. Even with the rumors of Hazard, Jovic, Pogba, and the confirmed arrivals of Militao and Rodrygo— Madrid may require a few years to reap the rewards of their investments and their trust in Zidane. Change is certainly coming for Madrid, as difficult as it is to predict, we can look to the past to give us an idea of what to expect.