it’s one of those times, as a fan, that i would rather not tell anyone who i follow. if i did, this is how i would imagine the conversation going…
other guy –“oh, you support madrid? aren’t those the guys who spent 93.2 gazillion dollars this summer on like five players?”
me – “yes. something like that.”
other guy – “and didn’t you break the world transfer record in the process… twice? they signed two of the best players in the world.”
me – “yes. can we just drop thi…”
other guy – “and didn’t you also already have one of the highest payrolls in the world before you spent like the u.s. pentagon to make those signings?” me – “yes. look, i know where you’re going wi…”
other guy – “well, how in the name of sepp blatter do you get knocked out of the round of 16 in the champions league after all that?! for SIX years running?!?!?!”
me – “i don’t know. now please excuse me, i need to go stab myself in the eye with this spoon.”
these conversations happen in real life. and this is why whenever madrid get past the group stages, i stop making ludicrous claims about madrid progressing any further. it’s not like i don’t want them to go any further. it’s just there is no point in having my hopes crushed. it’s like expecting john mayer to stop whoring around hollywood; it’s just not going to happen.
with the amount of money they spend, this shouldn’t be what we all expect. i want to feel like i could expect a group of galácticos to advance against lesser competition. no offense meant to lyon, who have proven themselves to be one of the finest clubs in europe year after year, but their payroll this year is around a fifth of madrid’s. and while players like sidney govou, lisandro and miralem pjanić (who, by the way, is going to be a baller… mark my words) are great players, they aren’t exactly the ronaldo, kaká or sergio ramos.
the way the big heads at madrid see it, if it were piles of cash playing against one another, madrid would role over everyone. unfortunately for the real hierarchy, football results don’t give a damn about the value of he players on the pitch.
it’s sad when you live in a world where you don’t have to worry about crushed hopes, as life has continued on as expected. madrid have crashed out early, well before they should. mayer continues to plow through hollywood’s weak and vulnerable.
after thinking everything over for the last few days, i think madrid’s problems can be assessed and solved by asking two questions:
- why does this keep happening?
- how can we fix this?
let’s take some time to answer both.
why does this keep happening?
there are probably endless amounts of problems at madrid, a majority of which we probably haven’t even been aware of. but if you ask ten fans of the game what they think real’s biggest problem is, you’ll probably get ten different answers. that’s how big of a mess this club is.
the easy way out with this question is to state the obvious, yet hardly convincing, answer: karma.
this answer is ripe for the papers, as the haters out there eat this up like kids and lindsay lohan around coke. they say things like, “madrid deserve this after all of tapping up ronaldo for so long,” or “that’s what they get for thowing money around like a recent divorcee at a strip club.” and in some respects, they’re right.
but if tapping up were the cause for this bad karma, you would think manchester united would be falling victim to it too (helloooo berbatov). and if throwing money around at strippers were a bad thing, then avram grant wouldn’t be having such a successful campaign at portsmouth… okay, so that’s a bad example for oh so many reasons. maybe i should have used chelsea instead. this is what the average fan of the game thinks though. and as my buddy milky put it, this is what real madrid get for spending “250 million to buy traitors and fags with stupid haircuts.” fair enough.
and as easy as it would be to go with karma as the answer to this question, the honest answer runs far deeper than the club generally being an asshole. the problem is culture.
the club’s culture is all wrong, and it’s been wrong for quite some time now. the bad culture stretches back to the far happier days of the the turn of the millenium, when the club fired manager vicente del bosque after he won the champions league in 2003. yes, you read that right. they fired a manager after he won club football’s biggest prize.
it was during this time, under the first reign of president florentino pérez, that the club’s primary focus became “expanding the brand.” the initial galácticos era wasn’t started before pérez took office, it was under his stewardship that the club completely embraced the “zidanes and pavónes” policy. spend loads of money on a big name player, print and sell new jerseys with their names on them, go on a worldwide preseason tour, print cash, repeat.
and while the financial reward was great, it’s this policy of seeking increasingly bigger returns that has lead to the culture that is currently ruining the club.
with the big time signings come big time egos. add too many type A personalities into a squad, and you’re bound to have some problems. it’s been speculated as a possible problem in the bernabéu dressing room for years, but it wasn’t until recently that any (former) players confirmed it.
del bosque had the ability to reign in the big egos within the club, getting a true team effort out of a side the included megastars such as raúl, zidane, roberto carlos and figo. but after his departure, the story has been completely different. the managers that followed were either: ineffective in corralling the egos, unsuccessful in getting results out of the team, not given enough time, or a combination of those.
current england manager fabio capello is well known for being extremely authoritative. he’s very good at controlling the egos (mostly by not allowing them to exist). yet he was twice fired after one year spells because he couldn’t produce the champions league crown the club so desires, despite the fact that he won la liga titles in both those seasons. “we know most teams would kill to win the league title, but we’ve already won 30 of ’em, so it’s not that big of a deal to us. we wanted the champions league title this year, and there is no way you could get this group to build on their success next year. sorry fabio, pack your bags.”
this goes to show that club’s policy of blaming the coach is another big part of the cultural problem.
there is also another draw back to bringing in big name players. each of these players were brought in to the club for their amazing success, talents and exploits at their former clubs. ronaldo was a revelation at united. kaká was the fuel that lead a.c. milan to back to the pinnacle of european success. xabi alonso was a vital clog in the liverpool framework, evidence being his absence on mereyside has resulted in the club being worthless this season.
point is, the big name players that real splashes millions on to bring in are used to being the main focus of their team’s attack. they want to be on the pitch for every game, they want the ball all the time, and they expect to be treated like the superstar that they are. it becomes part of their mentality. then they come to madrid, and they sit down in a room full of players that feel the exact same way.
watch a madrid game this season, and you’ll probably notice this on the pitch. the whites play like a collection of individuals 90% of the time, not like a true team. luckily, this is masked by fielding a side with extremely talented individuals. they are capable of producing enough against the lower sides, but it’s when the top talent is staring at them that the cracks in the foundation are exposed.
yearly, we go through this cycle:
- buy a collection of very good individual players, each of whom used to be the primary focus of their old side. march them in front of 40,000 screaming fans their first day in town, inflating their egos. crown them as saviors, telling them they are here to return the club to the glory days.
- bring in a manager who has a decent pedigree, and immediately make him realize that a gun is pointed at his head. make him fully aware that he is expected to win every trophy available in his first season in charge, and that he will suffer the consequences if they are not delivered.
- team does well enough, but obviously falls short of some sort of expectations. fire coach. coddle players, telling them you’ll bring in a better coach. finish year on some sort of high note, giving the fans and management the hope that next year could be different… but it won’t.
lastly, this culture has also taken on a personality of it’s own: elitism prevails in the white side of the spanish capital. it is partly due to the collective ego of the team’s individuals. but we can’t place all of the blame on the players, they are just following the head.
as with most organizations, bad culture is a top-down syndrome. and at real madrid, that is more than evident, and it’s one of the worst things about being a fan of the club. operating director jorge valdano and president florentino pérez are probably the worst of the bunch, and their snooty nature filters down to and justifies the snootiness that the players might already be harboring.
real are a bunch of pompous, pretentious, arrogant bastards that feel that they should demand respect and fear everywhere they’re team plane takes them. they think they’re the aristocracy, born into the elite and deserving to be treated that way.
winning nine european championships will do that to you, and it’s important to keep in mind that they should never stop believing that is there primary goal. but there’s something about being humble, and the club definitely lacks that.
how can we fix this?
1,700 words later, and i’m finally getting to the meat of this post. hang in there, this will be like a fillet; it shouldn’t take long to finish off.
so reading through the book i wrote above, it’s pretty evident that madrid are a hot mess. they’ve got problems oozing out of every corner of the club, and it seems a rather difficult and complex task to tackle with just a few answers.
but there you would be wrong. i think i’ve got a three part solution.
now i could even get very unrealistic, and solve this whole fiasco in one fell swoop. how you may ask? cut off the head and the body will die… metaphorically speaking. of course, i’m talking about getting rid of valdano and pérez.
but that solution is super flawed. since madrid are “owned and run” by the supporters club, they alone have the power to cut off the head (this happened ramón calderón before florentino retook the office). and as soon as there is a power vacuum, another mega-wealthy “supporter” (again, pérez) will appear to buy the vote fill the void. and then history repeats itself, unless the new president has the cojones and fortitude to realizes that the culture needs to be fixed and cleans house.
but because that will never happen, i’ve got three relatively easy solutions that can be implemented to get the train back on the tracks:
- minimize the coaching turnover: sounds easy enough, right? but remember, in spain, firing coaches is a national past time. the coaching carousel at real in the last few years has been a tad absurd, with six managers in the last five years. so with so much turnover, regardless of the quality of the players you have at your disposal, there is no way the players can find any consistency… in training, in philosophy, in strategy, in relationships with the manger. without this consistency, success is impossible. not to mention how hard it must be for the coach to perform when he is always has a gun pointed at his head and another manager waiting around the corner to take his job. so real, please don’t fire pellegrini, even if he doesn’t win a single trophy this season… he’s a damn good coach (look at what he did at villareal with limited funds!).
- if you buy a player, make sure he fits in your system: sure the ronaldo’s and kaká’s and benzema’s are all good and great, but how well will they play together? or how well will they play within your current squad? do you really spend money to land alvaro arbeloa (a right back) when you already have one of the best right backs in the world (sergio ramos)? i don’t think you should spend €30 million on benzema, a lone front striker, when you already have a blooming partnering striker up front in higuaín. short story long, perhaps buying for on field performance instead of off-field profits should be the rule of thumb from here on out. and i’m not saying we shouldn’t buy ribery… because we should.
- don’t sell off all of your youth team stars: every time i watch barcelona, with their silky-smooth, fluid team movement, i want to die. they play football the way it’s meant to be played, the way that madrid desperately want to replicate but just can’t. and honestly, i don’t think that kind of ball movement can actually be bought either. no, the reason why barça are able to move the ball around like in arsene wenger’s dreams is because almost half of their entire team came from the barcelona academy. HALF. no wonder xavi and iniesta always seem to know where the other is going to be, or how to link up with messi so perfectly; these guys have all been playing together for years and years. and not only is there that added benefit to holding on to your youth teammers, but they will cost you significantly less to develop than to sign down the road. a group of players coming up together will also go a long way to help create a more close-knit locker room.
ok, so those are my three quick fixes. are they perfect solutions? absolutely not. it’s going to take lots of time, that’s for sure. but applying them to real madrid’s current framework might be the lay the groundwork to eventually solving madrid’s horrid cultural problems.
or we could just take pérez and valdano out back, and get a nice fresh slate to work with. i think that will help to fix our problems very quickly, and hopefully i can people who i root for again.