Real Madrid aren’t a mystical club. That isn’t to say that the Bernabeu isn’t a heralded place where plenty of dreams come true, or that the blessed blanco shirt isn’t incomparably iconic.
Real Madrid is a “special” club, no doubt. But it’s also a club that tends to solve its problems with hard, material things like cash and ink-from-a-pen rather than ingenuity. Idealism doesn’t reign at the club like it does at their crosstown rivals or even their cross-country rivals.
Every solution comes with a price tag at the Bernabeu, and more often than not, it’s one Florentino Perez can afford. It’s hard to argue with the method, because it’s proven to bring glory. But with the intermittent glory comes some hard times. We’re in one of those hard times right now.
For the last few weeks, Real Madrid have been playing catch-up with both Barcelona and Atletico Madrid in La Liga. After their embarrassing 0-4 loss to Barca in last month’s Clasico, Real responded positively by stringing together five straight wins in all competitions. However, public ridicule swiftly arrived after Real’s recent Copa del Rey win over Cadiz, a match that saw the Merengues tossed from the cup competition for fielding an ineligible Denis Cheryshev.
The rain continued to fall into last Sunday. With Barca having already dropped points earlier in the day to Deportivo, Madrid failed to capitalize, succumbing to defeat (their third this Primera campaign) at Villarreal by a 0-1 scoreline. Despite a gallant offensive effort consisting of 20 shots, Benitez’s Galacticos failed to truly threaten Alphonse Areola’s net, only forcing the Frenchman into one save. The defeat put them in third place, five points behind both Barcelona and Atleti.
And as if the Villarreal loss wasn’t enough, just days earlier, ESPN had aired an Associated Press interview with Cristiano Ronaldo, wherein the Portuguese superstar lamented the current state of the club. CR7’s most damning quotes involved Madrid’s erratic transfer dealings.
“I don’t like when they change or buy or sell players every year, or they change the coach every year…I’m not a fan of when they change all the time.”
Ronaldo then expressed the possibility of one day suiting up for Manchester United, or even *gulp* Barcelona. These bits of candidness from Ronaldo transformed the previously speculative proposition of him actually leaving Madrid into what now feels like an impending likelihood.
For this club, nothing can be a worse than the prospect of Ronaldo jumping ship, particularly for a rival like Barca (who may or may not even be interested in such a move). There’s simply never a good time for a rumor like that; in fact, smack dab in the middle of the season might just be the worst time.
But while the Villarreal loss and the Ronaldo interview both came at perhaps the most inopportune time for Real Madrid, this weekend presents a conversely godsent chance to get back on track.
As Rafa Benitez’s team trains for the visit of Rayo Vallecano on Sunday, league leaders Barcelona are kicking about on the other side of the planet at the FIFA Club World Cup in Japan. The global prestige competition will allow the Catalan club to further cement their status as the world’s greatest football team, a moniker not many would disagree with even if for some unforeseen reason they don’t return to Spain with winners’ medals.
For obvious logistical purposes, Barca’s Week 16 match has been rescheduled for February to avoid conflicts with the CWC. This veritably means that both true title contenders — Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid — will have the chance to temporarily gain ground on — or in Atleti’s case, surpass — the champions, who currently sit atop the table (via goal-differential) on 35 points. Although that advantage may be an illusion, it might just be enough to trick these cursed Merengues into fixing themselves.
Of course, there’s much more to reclaiming power than simply throwing a party while the parents are out of town. But this is a vital time of psychological warfare that Real currently find themselves in. Whether or not phenomenon like momentum actually exists is neither here nor there.
For any damaged competitor, intangible barriers are as real as they make it in their minds. Free falls do happen in sports; we’ve seen them occur far too many times to disregard. To paraphrase French philosopher Rene Descartes: If we think it; it is. Though these things may be unquantifiable, they’re there, and they’re heavy.
To re-right their wrongs, Real Madrid need to not just win on Sunday, but also next week, and the week after, and the week after, and so on — that much is 20/20.