Real Madrid Have Forgotten That Winning Is The Only Way To Be The Biggest Club In The World


Back in the late 1950s, when Real Madrid were properly proving why they are one of the world’s grandest clubs and Alfredo Di Stefano was showing why he will always be their greatest ever player, the Argentine turned to one of the lavish new signings.

The player had to pull on the pristine white shirt for a photo opportunity. Di Stefano, however, would in this case show that a few choice words meant a lot more than a thousand such pictures.

“You’ve got to earn the right to wear that crest, sonny.”

It was no throw-away jibe. It was just one of the ways in which Di Stefano - more than anybody else at the club - set a certain standard at Real. It was a standard that every player had to live up to, so that they could keep doing what their best player loved the most: winning; winning everything.

“He just loved it,” defender Jose Santamaria once said. “He was a winner. Always a winner.”

That attitude created the greatest club dynasty football has ever seen - over 15 years from 1955, they won five European Cups with that immediately followed by nine domestic titles out of 10, and another European Cup for good measure.

It is something the modern Real Madrid - and especially Florentino Perez - seem to have forgotten.

As so many stories about club policy and taking marketing lessons from companies like Disney indicate, they seem to think that winning should by now be a by-product of their effective marketing campaign, rather than realising that winning is the best marketing in and of itself - and what the club’s entire legacy is built on. They have the identity they do because they are the most successful club in history, little else.

That crest Di Stefano so valued has now become a brand in the most capitalist sense of the word, however, rather than a symbol of what the club is supposed to stand for.

It is just one of many inversions of Real’s history, and contradictions within the modern institution.

Consider the following: even though the Madrid side now operate in an unbalanced era when they and Barcelona can win more matches than ever before, it has still led to Real winning fewer major trophies than at any point since the early 1950s.

For all the money spent and transfer records broken since Perez’s return in 2009, they have only won two pieces of silverware they actually value in that time (domestic cups don’t, at least not in the way the big two though). All of Cristiano Ronaldo’s goals should surely have brought more than one league title and one Champions League.

This is not to blame the Portuguese, since you’d wonder where Madrid would have ended up without his goals in that time.

At the same time, the way in which he effectively demands that they play to him is part of the issue.

It’s been a long while since Real were constructed according to the best team-building principles. They are an assembly of hugely expensive not necessarily well-fitting parts.

It is why we have ended up at the situation we’re in now, with those parts strewn all over the Bernabeu pitch after a dismantling by Barcelona.

Manager Rafa Benitez had a shambles in that game and it does look like he is well past his 2004-09 best as a manager, now somewhat left behind by the more open approach of the modern game, but it still beggars belief that he could be just placed on top of a squad that is so out of synch with his approach.

It is why a previously winning team has started to break down.

Luka Modric’s error in that 4-0 drubbing was so symbolic because it was just another individual mistake made inevitable by a systematic issue in the club.

Real really need to re-adjust their priorities and their perspective but it seems that is impossible under Perez.

It is also why the 2014 Champions League was just another contradiction, but so in-keeping with the modern game.

Given their entire institutional approach, given that they finished third in the league that season and given that Atletico Madrid were deservedly in the lead going into stoppage time in the Stadium of Light, Real’s 4-1 final win must go down as one of the most undeserved European Cup victories in the last 15 years.

It allowed the club to temporarily gloss over a multitude of issues, with the greatest distraction of them all.

It meant they haven’t had to confront the huge inefficiency they’ve displayed.

Of course, that’s the nature of the modern Champions League too.

If you have enough money, and cram in enough good players, you can eventually win a cup competition like it by getting them to perform for three properly good games in any given season. It may well happen this year.

Just by having the cash and hanging around, the super-clubs will always have a chance, no matter how dysfunctional they are, or how badly they use that cash.

It’s just that they are far more reliant on chance itself.

Winning comes about more by coincidence rather than design.