Real Madrid are a club on the rise. After winning the Champions League three times in four years, most clubs would face the burning dilemma of having a bunch of older players that are most likely to begin declining.
For Madrid, the opposite is the case since the club have a young core of world class players that look set to lead them to a series of glorious years in the future. While the club possess youth in abundance, they also have the right amount of experience to top it off.
So, what changed? It was only some years that Barcelona were dominating both Spain and Europe and it felt like the Blancos wouldn’t be able to get out of their arch-rivals’ shadows—but they did. And here are the five changes that allowed it to happen
#5 Signing Cristiano Ronaldo
Cristiano Ronaldo was actually acquired by Ramon Calderon and was one of the very few things that the former president did right.
The Portuguese star was signed for a then world record fee of €94 million – a sum that baffled many. In the same transfer window, Kaka and Karim Benzema were also bought, but Cristiano Ronaldo’s contribution to the club far exceeds the other two’s.
After eight years at the Madrid club, everyone unanimously agrees that this was a masterstroke of a signing given the success both the club and the player have enjoyed in this marriage. In these eight years, the Portugal captain became the club’s record goalscorer, won three Champions League, three Ballon d’Ors, two La Ligas and two Copa del Reys to cement his place as one of the club’s best ever players, if not the best.
But these are the on-field aspects that he brought the club. What is less talked of is the sheer determination and diligence that he oozes and that rubs on his team-mates as they see him put maximum effort week-in and week-out.
Real Madrid signed a winner. And now they are winning. Both are.
#2 Hiring Jose Mourinho
A lot of Madridistas might frown at this point given the negative aura that Jose Mourinho left behind during his time at the capital club (more on that later). However, what can’t be denied by even the staunchest Mourinho critic is the progressive change that the club saw after he took over the reins.
After toppling Barcelona with Inter, Florentino Perez regarded the Portuguese as the one who could dismantle the Catalans’ dominance in Spain and Europe. And so he signed the former Porto boss and the self-proclaimed ‘Special One’.
Now, his tenure didn’t bring much success, except for the league title in his second season and the Copa del Rey in his first, but what he did infuse in the team was the unbreakable mentality that can still be seen in the players.
The ghost of elimination from the Round of 16 of the Champions League kept haunting Real Madrid for more than half a decade and it was the former Inter boss that exorcised them. His ‘us against the world’ mentality might often get on the nerves, but it was what truly gave the Madrid strength and determination needed to succeed.
#3 Firing Mourinho
However, things became ugly after Jose Mourinho took it too far in the power struggle. His treatment of club legend, Iker Casillas, and key figures, Sergio Ramos and Cristiano Ronaldo, saw most of the fans grow disillusioned of his tenure.
Indeed, by the time he completed his third season, most fans wanted to see the back of him. Such was the pressure from the fans and the toxicity of the dressing room that Perez was forced to sack the now Manchester United manager.
He was the only manager in the modern history of the club that enjoyed so much freedom over club matters and faith of the president despite not winning many titles. However, since most of the senior players were reluctant to work with him for a fourth season, causing an ‘us or him’ scenario for the president, Perez had to let go of the Special One.
And it was one of the best decisions since what happened after that has been the most successful time in the club’s recent history.
#4 Again putting faith in Zidane
Carlo Ancelotti’s name should be on this list given that he was the one under whose management brought the much-awaited tenth Champions League title to the best club of the 20th century. The years’ wait of the fans was finally worth it when his team won the Decima in 2014.
Beside him, someone who is also credited for the glory, was Zinedine Zidane. The Frenchman was as key a component in training sessions and helped the Italian maintained a harmonious background in the dressing room.
And it showed. With Zidane by his side, Ancelotti won two major titles. Without him by his side, he could win nothing major which led to his much-criticised sacking in 2015. Rafa Benitez came and went and then Perez promoted the French legend as the first team’s manager.
Two Champions League, one La Liga, one Spanish Super Cup, one European Super Cup and one Club World Cup, the Frenchman’s 19 months at the club have been nothing but spectacular as the club now find itself in a position where they have the best squad in Europe that is likely to be strengthened even more with shrewd signings.
Zidane has shown that what Real Madrid really always needed is a manager who understands the players and balances the egos in the dressing room. The Frenchman’s rotation has kept almost everyone at the club happy and the club is reaping the fruits of that.
#5 Change in transfer policy
Long gone are the days when the Blancos splashed the cash for every kid on the block. After a record window in 2009, Perez once again smashed the record in 2013 with the signing of Gareth Bale at the expense of Mesut Ozil.
The following year, the club’s most tactically important player, Angel di Maria, was sold off to make a place for the star of the 2014 World Cup, James Rodriguez. After that, however, things have been quiet in the capital.
According to some internal club members, Perez has realised that wielding the cheque book isn’t really an elegant solution to problems. Indeed, the club’s most important players of last season were the usually the ones signed for a lesser price.
And so, there has been shift in transfer policy as talented players are being signed at a very young age so that spending big could be avoided once they become stars. Jesus Vallejo, Marco Asensio, Isco and Theo Hernandez are all proofs of that.
Also, the influence of Zinedine Zidane also works here as the president always lends a ear to what his once-Galactico signing has to say. This is a club that sold its most crucial players right after winning the Champions League in 2002 and 2014, but if the recent quotes by the construction magnate say anything, it is that he has learned.
And only fools would repeat the same mistake thrice.