In front of the press, in the public eye, Florentino Perez is the ultimate diplomat. The Real Madrid president often says a lot while saying nothing at all, meaning he keeps his cards close to his chest. But a few years ago, a tabloid story claimed Perez had candidly answered a fan’s question in the street. “Who is your favourite Real Madrid player?” he was asked. Karim Benzema was his response.
That was a while ago, but Benzema has never been able to shake his image as the teacher’s pet. This season has been a tough one for the French striker, netting just five times in La Liga. Casemiro, the anchoring midfielder, has a better scoring record than that this season. Almost without exception, his appearance is now met with jeers and whistles.
Benzema’s relationship with the Real Madrid support has always been a difficult one. He has never truly been embraced by the the Santiago Bernabeu, but this season has seen the understanding break down completely. It seems unlikely that he will still be in the Spanish capital by the time next season gets under way.
Of course, Benzema isn’t the only player to have been targeted by his own fans at Real Madrid in recent years. Gareth Bale currently finds himself in a similar bind, with his appearance on the pitch frequently greeted by mumbles and grumbles from the stands. Just like Benzema, Bale has never truly been embraced by the Real Madrid support, despite the great success he has achieved at the club.
Even Cristiano Ronaldo, the greatest player in Real Madrid history, has been a target, with the Portuguese forward jeered from time to time. “It shouldn’t be the case that a player who always wants to give his best and give 100 per cent for this team, when he makes his first mistake people whistle,” Ronaldo said in reaction to the flak he and his teammates frequently find themselves subject to.
“It’s not correct. And when you are on a difficult run that is when you need extra support from outside not less. Sometimes we don’t have it. I spent a lot of years at Manchester United and it never happened to me. Not even once.”
So what is it about Real Madrid and their supporters that prompts them to behave in this way? They have won more European titles than any other club and are currently on course to clinch a third successive Champions League. Nobody in world football has had it better than Real Madrid fans over the decades, and yet still so many demand more. Why is this?
As much as Real Madrid have won over the past few years, many of their fans believe they should have won more. Domestically, their recent record makes for dismal reading, winning just one of the last five La Liga titles, with Barcelona winning the last four Copa del Rey championships. This has distilled a certain complex in the minds of many supporters.
The Santiago Bernabéu is only ever one match, one result, away from an uprising. It’s the most volatile venue in European football and the likes of Bale and Benzema have found that out for themselves. The pair have bore the brunt of the frustration held by the Real Madrid support over the way this season has gone, with Barcelona out of sight at the top of La Liga before winter had even set in. They have become scapegoats, essentially.
This is the illustration of a certain culture that exists at Real Madrid, and to a lesser extent across Spanish football as a whole. Fans turn up to games equipped with white handkerchiefs. In times of strife, they are waved as a form of protest. Demonstration is a part of the Spanish game and as the establishment club, this manifests itself in Real Madrid and their fans. Bale and Benzema deserve better, but if not them, it would be someone else.