Deciphering whether 2018 was a good or bad year for Real Madrid is difficult. On one hand, they claimed their third successive Champions League title, taking the club’s total number of European Cups to 13 – almost double the number of their nearest competitor, AC Milan (seven). And yet on the other hand, 2018 witnessed a dramatic unravelling of the club.
On the face of things, this started with Zinedine Zidane’s shock resignation as manager at the start of June. From that came the drama around Julen Lopetegui’s appointment, his subsequent sacking and the hiring of Santiago Solari. On top of this was the sale of Cristiano Ronaldo to Juventus. But in truth, it started well before that.
Real Madrid came close to sacking Zidane around the turn of the year. Had Real Madrid been knocked out of the Champions League at the round of 16 stage by Paris Saint-Germain, he would have been gone. With every round Real Madrid progressed through, going all the way to win the competition, they masked the fundamental problems that exist at the club.
And so 2019 must be a year of transition for Real Madrid. A complete overhaul of the playing squad and identity of the team should have happened last summer. For whatever reason it didn’t, but now the Spanish giants must waste no more time in shifting comprehensively into a new era of the club’s history.
The last time Real Madrid did this was 10 years ago, when Florentino Perez rebooted the ‘Galacticos’ policy with the signing of Ronaldo, Kaka, Karim Benzema and Xabi Alonso all in the same window. They also managed to ship out Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder, Alvaro Negredo, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Gabriel Heinze, Michel Salgado, Fabian Cannavaro and Ruud Van Nistelrooy that summer. Such an overhaul was drastic, but needed and kick-started a new generation for Real Madrid.
10 years later, something similar is required again. Real Madrid still boast one of the most talented squads in world football, but they are ageing. Their team has grown stagnant and is desperate for reinvigoration. That isn’t to say that they should start from scratch. After all, in the likes of Marcos Llorente, Dani Ceballos, Marco Asensio, Vinicius Junior and Alvaro Odriozola, they have a strong platform of youth.
For players like Benzema, Marcelo, Sergio Ramos, Toni Kroos and even Luka Modric, though, the argument for keeping them on is weakening. Some might even argue that Gareth Bale should be sold, with Isco expected to be out the Santiago Bernabeu exit door by the end of the season. Clearing these players out would allow someone to impose a new identity on a team in desperate need of one.
Under Zidane, Real Madrid’s identity was winning. It wasn’t as a philosophy as easily definable as the one professed by Pep Guardiola at Barcelona, or what we have seen from Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool, but there was a spirit around the Santiago Bernabeu that saw them driven to win trophy after trophy. That spirit now seems to have vanished.
It might just be that Real Madrid’s current crop has been so successful, have won so much, that their innate motivation has been blunted. This is why an overhaul of the squad is required. Whether they sign Eden Hazard or Neymar or Harry Kane or Raheem Sterling or someone else, there must be a recognition that no one signing, no matter how expensive, will fix things. The signings must be a means to an end, as they were in the summer of 2009.
Even if Solari somehow leads Real Madrid to silverware this season, Perez must recognise the need for an overhaul. That might include a change of manager, but even that would not be enough. 2018 was the year Real Madrid lost their way. 2019 must be the year that they rediscover some sense of themselves.
Odds are provided at time of writing, please check your betslip to confirm they have not changed before betting.