In winning their 10th European Cup this past summer, Real Madrid seemed to have found its ideal strategy under Ancelotti. With the work rate and skill of Di Maria, the intelligence of the midfield, and the goal scoring ability of Bale, Ronaldo, and Benzema, the club was able to defend, counter, and attack with skill, precision, and intelligence.
The players knew what was expected of each other and formed a very cohesive team. On paper then and with the turnover and problems at Barcelona and Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid was the clear favorite to win this year’s La Liga crown. However, after their first three games, the club has only 3 points. The reason behind Madrid’s awful start is simple and has been around since the ancient Greeks—those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
As his past has proven, Real Madrid President—Florentino Perez— can’t let well enough alone. So instead of being happy with proven success built on certain invaluable players, the President brought in the biggest new name of the summer—James Rodriguez— and forced out Di Maria and Alonso, the two players who were the framework for the team’s identity and success last year. Not surprising then, positive results followed those players out the door.
In fairness to Perez there is nothing wrong with bringing in new players to refresh the team and increase the options available for each situation.
In fact, such addition is necessary to ensure the team doesn’t become predictable and won’t succumb to winner’s malaise. Yet getting rid of one of the most important players in your championship side and letting one of the team’s most intelligent and experienced player leave, helps create a gap that is impossible to fill—as recent domestic results have shown.
Beyond the slaughter of last year’s strategy for success, Real’s recent moves also levels the playing field in La Liga for Madrid’s two biggest rivals—Barcelona and Atletico Madrid. Both teams are dealing with new and important squad members and for Barca even a new manager and strategy. New players take a while to fit into the squad and new tactics take weeks to be implemented successfully (or longer if they need to be altered).
Thus it’s not surprising that both of Real Madrid’s rivals will (and have been) struggling out of the gate—despite Barcelona’s record, they have been less than convincing on the field. These obstacles for their biggest rivals should have given Real Madrid a massive advantage early in the domestic calendar as Ancelotti would know his best eleven, would know the best line up and formation for each game, and would be able to successfully balance the team during Champion’s league weeks.
Yet, because of Perez and his desire for stars instead of results, Real Madrid is in the same position as their rivals. Ancelotti now needs time to not only find the way to get the best out of his players but also a way to ensure the team is capable of winning domestically and in Europe. Something he wouldn’t have needed with the same (or similar) squad as last year.
Furthermore, all three top La Liga teams will be playing in the Champions League this year. Thus, each team will be using numerous different line ups to rest players for the bigger matches.
This means that both Barcelona and Atletico may have a few road bumps domestically as the clubs struggle to find the right combinations to ensure their squad remains strong in both competitions. Here again, is where Madrid should have had a massive advantage.
But due to the upheaval of their championship side, they too will be altering their lineups constantly to find their ideal formation and lineup. Therefore, instead of using lower level Champion League’s game or “easy” domestic games to rest top players, these games will be needed to organize the team’s strategy—something both Barcelona and Atletico will be doing as well.
Thus, Real Madrid loses the advantage of being a cohesive team which knows how to balance themselves throughout the year. If the club was able to follow a similar framework as last year, it would be conceivable they could build up a healthy margin domestically while also remaining competitive in Europe. Now, not so much. Each game will be a strategic session on which players play best with other each, which formation is best for the players available, and a test on finding the team’s offensive rhythm.
Lastly, the timing of the signings and departure is foolish when you consider the shape of Madrid’s two rivals. Barcelona is now forbidden to sign any new players till January of 2016. Meanwhile, Atletico, as usual, has to be consensus of their budget and can’t afford to throw money at players. This leaves Real Madrid as the only team in La Liga capable of signing big name players. Therefore, there was no rush to sign players that then forced the exit of last year’s stars—Di Maria and Alonso.
The club could have waited to see how the season started and then used the winter transfer market to sign James, if needed or another midfielder to help Alonso. This would have been the smartest move. Their rivals would be forced to sit on their hands, unable to improve their team while Madrid would have the pick of the litter to ensure their faults would be covered and would remain a step ahead of Barcelona and Atletico.
Now, any winter signing will probably be used to cover up the damage caused by this summer. In short, Madrid’s best option this winter may be to try to re-set to this past summer, again losing out on what could have been a huge comparative advantage.
After the way the club became European Champions this past summer, combined with the woes of Barcelona and Atletico, Real Madrid was the team to beat in Spain.
They had everything going for themselves—a cohesive team, a successful strategy, and a league ripe for the taking. Yet for no good reason beyond his own obsession, Perez rolled the dice and took a gamble that not only didn’t need to be taken but also ensured any comparative advantage the club could have had, is now nonexistent.
If history is any indication, Perez and his club will suffer for his stupidity, short sightedness, and his love of stars over results. He may be the president of Real Madrid but his biggest supporters are found in Nou Camp and the Vicente Calderon Stadium.