Hassan Chamas

Even before it actually got underway, and less than six months after what was hyped as being the second coming in football history, started to crumble the neo-galactic dynasty that Florentino Perez so anxiously – and expensively – sought. A 4-0 defeat at the hands of Segunda B side Alcorcon was the assertion that  the ruthless Spanish press have whispered in the past weeks, but few had the “cojones” to declare: Real Madrid are officially a club in crisis.

For a team that could usually only be collected in the Fantasy Football team, comprising heavy signings such as Karim Benzema, Xabi Alonso, Kaka and Cristiano Ronaldo – more on the latter duo later – to lose to a third-tier side that has never even known what it is like to play second-division football, by such a wide margin, is truly astonishing. But who is the culprit? Is it the players? The president and his men? Or the coach as is most often the case?

One thing is for certain, and irrefutable under no circumstances, is that this Real Madrid team have developed a severe case of “Cristiano-Ronaldo-dependency”. As of the loss to Alcorcon, the team has only recorded a single victory in five competitive matches, including three defeats against the likes of AC Milan, Sevilla, and Alcorcon. Whenever the Portugal captain was present, the team averaged a little more than three goals per game. When he was absent, the team scored approximately one goal per match.

The evidence speaks for itself: President Perez may as well have splashed the cash just on the former Manchester United star, kept the rest of his squad intact, and results wouldn’t be much more different: Ricardo Kaka is no longer the player he was back in Serie A, Xabi Alonso’s long passes are futile in the absence of chance-grabbing men, and Karim Benzema still thinks that he is playing against Ligue 1 opponents. The only time that Los Blancos have dazzled is when CR9 was running the show. Things couldn’t be more different now.

Another important problem at the Casa Blanca is the everlasting enigma of the defence. Raul Albiol’s arrival was supposed to cover the return of Fabio Cannavaro back to Juventus, but after a strong start in a white shirt, Albiol’s performances have conspicuously dipped: One example is the game against AC Milan, where the Spain international stood tall for the first hour, only to mysteriously – and ridiculously – crumble, along with the rest of the Madrid back-line every time they were challenged by Alexandre Pato’s genius.

Yet Albiol’s lapses remain small compared to those repetitive errors of the side’s full-backs, which can be summed up in one phrase: Brilliant in attack, terrible in defence. The fact that a good number of goals that Madrid have conceded by came via touchline crosses says it all about a team whose full-backs forget that another part of the job is to come back and clear their lines, as Marcelo and Sergio Ramos have found themselves all-too often snoozing on the counter-attack. As for Royston Drenthe, the Dutchman has no right whatsoever to be included in the defensive quadruplet. Drenthe was made to look stupid on numerous junctures against Alcorcon, of which two goals were conceded due to his serious lapses in concentration. The former Feyenoord man runs with tremendous stamina, never seems to tire, but the Bernabeu faithful can’t help but notice that he has that I-don’t-know-what-I’m-doing look. The bottom line is that the Drenthe has a long, long way to go before being worthy of playing for Real Madrid.

Over in midfield, the only player that seems to hold the strings and produce week-in week-out consistent performances is Frenchman Lassana Diarra. The ex-Portsmouth man is fast developing into Real’s new Claude Makelele, and his absence was truly felt in the frustrating 0-0 draw against Sporting de Gijon and against Alcorcon too, as he was unavailable due to family issues. With Kaka not even near full capacity, it is taking a colossal effort to get this Madrid midfield machine to start working as it is meant to.

Up front, the constant inclusion of Karim Benzema in the starting line-up has truly troubled the pundits. The Lyon youth-teamer is not rushing to become accustomed to his new surroundings, but in case the French-Algerian hasn’t noticed yet, this is not a luxury afforded at a club that prides itself on being the very best. The reason behind last year’s top scorer Gonzalo Higuain’s continuing exclusion remains a puzzling mystery.

And lastly, there’s the issue of the coach. Manuel Pellegrini has implored his detractors for more time, as the team continues to adapt – so the Chilean says. But the “need time to gel” argument is getting really old, really fast. His superiors might have assured him that his job is safe, but no-one should be under any illusions, there’s no such thing at the Santiago Bernabeu. Pellegrini needs to start winning, and he needs to do so very soon.

It’s been torrid times for Los Merengues as of late: Completely crucified against Seville, embarrassingly beaten by Milan at the Bernabeu, and preposterously – and ominously – humiliated by Alcorcon. Their Copa del Rey exploits look like a re-run autumn movie, their league form is under the microscope, and most importantly, their dreams of a tenth European Cup crumbling faster than a cookie dunked in a Starbucks coffee. Pellegrini’s team needs to gel, for his sake more than anybody else, as rumours spread that sporting director Jorge Valdano is dusting off his tracksuit for a return to the bench. For now, when it rains, it pours in the Spanish capital.   

Related Articles: