Hassan Chamas


Almost a full year has drifted by since Barcelona handed Real Madrid one of their most humiliating Clasico defeats of all time: At the Santiago Bernabeu no less, Madrid's magnificent run under Juande Ramos came crashing down as the would-be sextuple champions decimated their hosts 6-2. Now, almost twelve months later, having lost the latest Clasico, albeit by a more respectable 2-0, Real Madrid are facing up to what is being described as a failed campaign.

When Florentino Perez regained the Real Madrid presidency last June, Madridistas knew they were in for a summer of transfer treats. In the end they weren't disappointed as Kaka, Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Xabi Alonso, amongst others, all landed in the Spanish capital, taking Los Blancos' summer spree to a frightening quarter of a billion Euros.

With such lavish amounts of cash being sprinkled over the team in order to emulate Barcelona's 2009 success, the prospect of winning La Liga, the Copa del Rey and the Champions League seemed like kids' ABC. With such a squad Real had to win at least one trophy, but now the previously whispered “what if” has risen to a deafening chatter, and coach Manuel Pellegrini is staring at the prospect of an empty trophy cabinet come the middle of May.

Despite being at opposite ends of the rainbow in every possible way, one thing that the Blaugrana and Los Merengues relish and share is their passion for superstars, whether homegrown or already established. As Perez won his hot-seat back, the president realised that he could only fight fire with fire, something he learned from watching his predecessor Ramon Calderon: Calderon had boycotted the transfer market at the end of Real's successful 2007/08 campaign and paid the price.

As such, for Barcelona’s Xavi, Perez lured Liverpool’s Xabi Alonso. For Andres Iniesta, it was Kaka from AC Milan. For the colossal Gerard Pique, entered Valencia’s up and coming Raul Albiol. And for Barcelona’s crown jewel, it couldn’t be anybody but Cristiano Ronaldo.

But perhaps the greatest decision of them all was just who to put in charge of this dressing room of egos. As Perez’s first choice Arsene Wenger refused to take the Madrid job, the boss’ second choice was Manuel Pellegrini, renowned for his achievements with Villarreal.

Flash forward ten months, and with seven fixtures remaining at the time of writing, Real Madrid have failed to tick any of the boxes on their lists of objectives for this season: They were humiliatingly dumped out of the Copa del Rey at the hands of third-tier Alcorcon, outplayed by Olympique Lyonnais again in the Champions League, and given yet another crash course by Barcelona on how to play football – the kind of football that the Bernabeu faithful hope for from their team.

So does that make the 2009/10 season a failure? From purely a trophy standpoint it is hard to argue it is anything but. However, the experience an array of newly arrived superstars have gained from playing together may just, in the long run, prove priceless, provided there are not huge changes.

Florentino Perez and Real Madrid go hand in hand like wine and cheese. Yet one thing that the president failed to comprehend during his first tenure is that continuous meddling in the team’s sporting issues could have dire consequences, something that eventually happened as Los Blancos endured an unprecedented three-year trophy drought.

At that time, Perez chose the coach, superstars, formation, all the way down to starting line-up, and if anybody had a problem with that, he’d tell them to clear their desks by the next morning. Ramon Calderon did learn from Perez’s on-pitch mistakes, but it was the mistakes off it that turned his tenure into a black period in Real Madrid's books. 

Although a raging debate in modern money-based football, it has been proven time and time again that while a vast mountain of cash is of great benefit it can only get a team so far. The most recent El Clasico starting eleven stand as evidence to that: Taking homegrown players as costless, Real Madrid fielded €233M worth of talent, in contrast to Barcelona’s €77M.

That is not to say that Perez will soon turn his attention towards the youngsters training at the Valdebebas pitch anytime soon. Real Madrid will always have their philosophy, while Barcelona have theirs. An abundant luxury in Perez’s empire, the issue of money does not seem to be a problem. The issue instead resides with whether or not the Madrid kingpin acknowledges or not that despite everything, he can only do so much for his team, and that a great deal of confidence has to be placed in the people around him, mostly the coach.

While the coaches in Perez's first reign came and went like the weather, this time the president and his right-hand man Jorge Valdano have rushed to their coach’s aid whenever assaulted by the hectic and merciless Madrid press: Calls for Pellegrini’s head transpired seconds after the referees blew the whistle on the Alcorcon and Lyon sagas.

But this thirst for blood seems only shared by the financially-minded newspapers too: In a recent poll conducted by Marca – one of Pellegrini’s fiercest detractors – after Real’s Champions League exit, nearly 75% of the voters indicated their confidence in the Chilean coach, citing the players as the main culprits behind a sixth year of drought in Europe's showpiece competition.

While this shows that the Santiago Bernabeu crowd is becoming more patient and understanding of the delicate job of being Madrid coach, and is granting more and more time for their team to please them the way it should, the call at the end of the day stays with Florentino Perez.

Pellegrini perhaps found an unlikely ally prior to the Clasico as Barcelona president Joan Laporta stated that were any of the clubs in a different league then they would surely be champions. Praise perhaps for the Chilean coach who has dropped just 16 points in La Liga and gone head to head with what is possibly the greatest team the Catalans have ever fielded.

The Real Madrid president has himself declared on a number of occasions that he works on “projects” at the Bernabeu. Indeed, Perez could very well hire Jose Mourinho for next season and then, after a series of 1-0 wins, fire him for being too Capello-like, such is the wacky world of Los Blancos.

Of course, Real Madrid's squad still requires some tinkering over the summer, and while Pellegrini may not necessarily be essential, what is essential is time. If Florentino Perez has learnt that then his crazed spending spree last summer might not have been that fruitless after all.


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