Real Madrid are the world’s richest football club and their failure to make a contest of the Liga title race reflects badly on the coach
All across Europe, predictability rules. The biggest clubs, with the largest fanbases and incomes bolstered by multiple seasons in the Champions League, have won their domestic league titles at a canter.
The only notable exception has been in Spain where, by all known measurements, Real Madrid are the country’s biggest club yet the title will be claimed, probably this weekend, by Barcelona. Given the size of the Catalan giants – Europe’s second richest club behind Madrid, according to the Deloitte money list – this is hardly a shock but the ease with which it has been achieved is a damning indictment on everyone associated with los Blancos.
Let us not forget that, from a financial perspective, Real Madrid have everything in their favour when compared to all other Spanish sides, with the exception of Barca: domestic TV deals skewed heavily towards the big two; two decades of Champions League revenue; a vast global commercial income; and the highest wage bill in Europe.
Playing in attack is the planet’s most expensive footballer, Cristiano Ronaldo, and alongside him a host of world stars at the peak of their powers. In transfer fees alone, the squad cost in excess of €475 million, comfortably the priciest in the world – around €71m more than Premier League “super spenders” Manchester City.
So, with all these inherent advantages, why on earth are they 11 points behind Barca having given up the ghost on the title before Christmas?
There are mitigating factors, but ultimately the finger of blame must be pointed at the coach, who has failed to deliver this season.
In his favour, Mourinho will point to the fact that he is up against Barcelona, hailed by many in the game as the greatest team of all time. But, as Goal’s Carlo Garganese wrote last week, there are significant flaws in this argument and it would certainly be difficult to place Tito Vilanova’s current side on this pedestal. Champions League defeats at Celtic, AC Milan and, most emphatically, in Munich at the very least indicate a vulnerability away from home.
The root of their domestic trouble lies in an appalling start to the season – four points from the opening four games against unfancied opposition – and a mentality that La Liga is so uncompetitive in matches against the top two that Barca were already out of sight.
It’s effectively a two-team title race so it is true that a couple of mishaps do matter in Spain and, given he had won the league 2011-12, perhaps it could be argued that a blip for Mourinho is forgivable in these circumstances.
All was heading for meltdown at that point until, to his credit, Mourinho galvanised the club around the pursuit of the fabled “Decima”. This was his get-out: being mauled in the league would have been acceptable if the 10th Champions League/European Cup title was secured and who better to win it than a coach who has done so twice before?
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But, crucially and crushingly for Mourinho, the Champions League quest did not go well either. The €475m squad finished behind Uefa’s fourth potted team Borussia Dortmund in the group stage and ended up playing Manchester United in the last 16.
It should be remembered that had Nani not been sent off in controversial circumstances in the second half of the Old Trafford leg there was a very real possibility that Madrid would have exited the competition in early March.
Instead, they went on to convince against Galatasaray in the first leg and limp over the line in the second before Dortmund – a club with an annual income €300m lower than Madrid’s – proved the group matches were no fluke in the semi-finals.
Mourinho staunchly defended his record at a press conference last week, saying: “The record league title is mine; I have played in three Champions League semi-finals.
“Twenty years without winning the Copa – and we won it. The records of [100 points, 121 goals] is mine, it can’t be deleted.”
Indeed, and the record turnover for any football club also belongs to Madrid, as does the record transfer fee paid for a player and the record for the most expensive squad in the game’s history.
Given the comparative wealth of other Spanish and European rivals – Barcelona notwithstanding – Madrid should be expected to win or come close to the domestic title every season and they should be making the last four of the Champions League. The financial gulf between the haves and have-nots in football has never been greater.
In England, Chelsea, with their €356m squad, feared doing the same in autumn and their Champions League-winning coach, Roberto Di Matteo, paid the price. Roberto Mancini faces an uncertain summer at Manchester City despite finishing second and reaching a cup final with a €404m squad.
Likewise, the Mourinho era ends on a low note and his position would (and should) have been under intense scrutiny even if Chelsea had not come calling.