These observations — where I look at Real Madrid’s history, its players on loan, Castilla, tactical tidbits, and other relevant thoughts — are now a regular thing. All previous editions can be found here.
Real Madrid have had to address the term ‘luck’ before. In fact, they are asked about it more than anyone, and that’s because they win more than anyone. Teams and fans are in desperate search to find the big secret. “How can we be as lucky as you?”
In reality, the question should be flipped on its head: “How can we be as good as you?”
The analysis typically is moulded around what you have won and what you haven’t won. There are teams who come up short in the Champions League prolifically. To them, the competition is not about being the best, it’s about being the luckiest. The most fair tournament, as the story goes, is the domestic title.
Of course, luck is more important than being good, right? The expression ‘it’s better to be lucky than to be good’ is something cynics can draw upon in times like this. What that expression misses entirely is that people who are good create luck, and ‘luck’ doesn’t mean what you think it means. Luck is simply the ability to put yourself in positions to win. If someone gives the ball away to you, that’s not ‘luck’ — it stems from a decision to press and make the ball-carrier uncomfortable. If someone misses a chance against you, that’s not ‘luck’, that’s a combination of great goalkeeping or poor finishing. If Real Madrid have scored more goals while creating less chances, that’s not ‘luck’ — it simply means Real Madrid have more lethal attackers than their opponent.
Real Madrid last season had the best goalkeeper in Europe, the best winger, the best striker, the best midfielder(s) and some of the best defenders. They were also psychologically superior to their opponents and dominated when it mattered the most: In the clutch. Karim Benzema led the tournament in goals; Vinicius Jr led the tournament in key passes, carries into the final-third, shot-creating actions and pressures; Toni Kroos led the tournament in passes into the final third; Luka Modric led the tournament in through balls; Dani Carvajal led the tournament in blocks; Eder Militao led the tournament in interceptions; Thibaut Courtois led the tournament in saves.
Yet here we are again, discussing something that we’ll never stop discussing: ‘Luck’.
In today’s pre-game press conference for tomorrow’s clash between Real Madrid and Shakhtar Donetsk, Dani Carvajal and Carlo Ancelotti were both asked to respond to Xavi Hernandez’s comments yesterday, where he said that the best team does not win the Champions League, and that La Liga is a more ‘fair’ tournament.
Carvajal explained his answer well, but one sentence in particular from his presser says it all, and sometimes a basic answer is all that’s needed to respond to a basic analysis that revolves around the word ‘luck’:
“Football is about results and the one who scores the most goals and the one who concedes the fewest wins.”
Of course, process does matter. Process often tells us whether or not something can be sustained over a long run. Yet, of course, calling Real Madrid’s victories purely ‘results-based’ is a disservice, and quite frankly, disrespectful towards a worthy champion.
In part, because the process was good. Was it flawless? Of course not. Was the margin of error such that Real Madrid could’ve also easily lost those ties before winning in Paris? Yes. Were Real Madrid poor for large stretches? Yes. But every champion has to grind it out. What’s important is how the team bounces back and deals with adversity. In this respect, no team — not one of Real Madrid’s opponents — could match Carlo Ancelotti’s men. Real Madrid had the talent, full stop, to win this competition. That was a huge factor in their run — but it also went hand-in-hand with their mental fortitude.
And I’m not sure it’s necessarily true that it’s more difficult to win domestic titles anyway. It does require consistency, but I would argue that playing seven games straight against the best teams in the world, with the season on the line, is a far greater litmus test of greatness. The best players of all time are great because of their ability to show up when it matters: World Cup and Champions League finals, and by extension performances in major knockout tournaments.
When teams consistently fail to beat Real Madrid who are running away with Champions League records, it’s easy to drag a champion by calling their success lucky.