The European Championship quarter finals are upon us and there are only two Real Madrid players left in the tournament.
Belgian duo Eden Hazard and Thibaut Courtois are the lone survivors from the six European Madridistas that travelled with their national teams when the tournament started at the beginning of the month. Given Hazard’s injury record since he joined Los Blancos, Courtois is realistically the only Madrid player left at Euro 2020.
It’s grim reading and it’s made only worse when one flicks through the record book for precedence. Since UEFA introduced quarter finals to the competition’s format in 1996, Real Madrid had contributed at least 4 players across the eight nations until this year. Heading into the tournament, Real were already breaking unwanted new ground. In the 11 tournaments where Real Madrid have had players present, only two editions (1980 and 1984) had less Real Madrid players playing in it than Euro 2020 in 2021.
For weirdos like me, all this is interesting in a vacuum, however, there is certainly a debate to be had on if any of this means anything. Naturally, that not a single Spaniard from Real Madrid made it into Luis Enrique’s team prefaces all of this rather niche chatter. In Spain’s long European Championship history, this is the first time that a Real Madrid player didn’t make the finals squad. The six tournaments in which Real Madrid didn’t have players present were also the ones Spain didn’t qualify for. The international fortunes of the club are inextricably linked to the Spanish national team, but, perhaps not as much as they once were.
Before Florentino Perez came to power, Real Madrid contributed a German, a Dane and a handful of Spanish internationals when the European championships rolled around. Since he was elected in 2000, the squad has diversified to a point where Spain has only had an outright majority on Real Madrid internationals in three of the last six tournaments, something that would have probably been unthinkably to fans of the 1980s and 1990s.
If you can move past the Spanish elephant in the room, its then a question as to whether a international squad is proactive ( shows us players that go on to be successful after the tournament) or reactive ( shows us players that were already successful before the tournament). Based purely on the club representation present across all the most recent squads, it’s a mix of both. Take 2012 as an example where Real Madrid contributed the second most players behind Bayern Munich. It’s undeniably that both sides had been successful across the four years preceding the tournament. Bayern had reached two Champions League finals while Real Madrid had overturned Barcelona in the league, breaking several records along the way.
However, they enjoyed even greater successes following the end of the tournament, Bayern broke their two year league drought and won the Champions League the following year. I don’t need to tell you how Real Madrid fared. Liverpool topped the charts in 2016 having reached three cup finals the preceding season. In the four years since that, Liverpool have won the Champions League and Premier League. On the flip side, the recipient of the inaugural young player of the tournament award, Renato Sanches, has probably not kicked on as one might have expected four years ago.
It also should be said that the early exits and surprise exclusions will allow key members of Real Madrid dressing room to rest and prepare for the next season, a gift for a squad that has largely competed all year round since lifting La Undecima in 2016. All in all, only time will tell if Real’s 2020 European championships lows in 2021 were a blessing in disguise or indicative of how far one of Europe’s traditional powerhouses has fallen.