by Olayinka Okelana
After the last round of matches, I am of the opinion that it would take another extra-ordinary run from Real Madrid to win the La Liga this 2012/2013 season. Sitting eight (8) points behind their eternal rivals, Barcelona, Real Madrid have just 4points from 4 matches – their worst start in about a decade. And although that was in the year of La Novena (the club’s ninth UEFA Champions League title), that brings little cheer for true Madridistas like me. Barcelona have their noses in front and they must have learnt from last year’s campaign where they trailed Real for almost the entire season.
At the Ramon Sanchez Pijzuan, Real slumped to an early Piotr Trochowski goal (in the 2nd minute) and never recovered. Sevilla deployed an effective tactic; suck in pressure, play a very fast-paced, defensive game, and use Jesus Navas as an outlet for swift counter-attacks. It paid off, as the hosts could have won 2-nil, though Madrid’s strikers were also profligate in front of goal. That match summed up Real’s unimpressive start to the season. And Jose Mourinho, the self-styled ‘Only One’, did not mince words in his post-match remarks. “I do not have a team right now”, he said.
The 2011/2012 season was a successful one for Real Madrid; they got the ghost of Barcelona behind them with a 2-1 win away at the Nou Camp fortress of their rivals. And though the La Liga crown was already almost in the bag at that time, that win cemented it, and also endeared Mou to the ever-critical fans because the team did not play an ultra-defensive style on that occasion. A massive record-breaking 100 points and goals haul were testament to the team’s great season. La Decima (local coinage for The Tenth UCL title) slipped off after a Bayern Munich dumped Madrid out via penalty kicks at the world-renowned Santiago Bernabeu but it was a good run.
Real Madrid kicked off the 2012/2013 season on a shaky note with a 1-1 draw at home to Valencia. You can argue that Valencia is not a team you can dismiss with a wave of the hand, but Real’s players were lethargic on the opening day. The blistering start to the last season was not there. It was more of two points lost than a point gain. It was not a ‘Real Madrid-sque’ performance. Well, that could be explained away by saying the players were tired after a successful and hectic per-season. But, wait, which is more important?
Okay. Maybe any excuse proffered for the drab display versus Valencia was cogent, as Real went on to win the Spanish Super Cup on the away goals rule after losing 2-3 away and beating Barcelona 2-1 at home. But it was just a flattering display, because, to be sure, the festering sore was only dressed and not treated. This was evident with the subsequent 1-2 loss to city rivals, Getafe, a not-so-convincing win against Granada, and the Sevilla loss.
So, what went wrong? That is a matter for conjecture, but I can postulate on a few. See below:
1. Law of Diminishing Returns & Complacency: It is easier to get to the top than staying there. And human beings have that tendency to get complacent and content after a long battle. The run to the La Liga crown last season was hectic and took a lot from the players psychologically and physically. To be honest, I saw a bit of Super Eagles (in recent times) in Real Madrid from the first day of this season; they strolled on the pitch as if nothing was at stake.
2. Cristiano Ronaldo’s ‘Sadness’: This one is a bit funny, yet so true. After scoring a brace against Granada, Ronaldo was asked why he did not celebrate his goals. And boom! He let out the bomb. He said he was not happy and that the club knows why. His ‘sadness’ definitely unsettled the team as players were confused because nobody seemed to know what was going on as he did not state any exact reason why he was sad. More damning was the rumor that his sadness may have stemmed from the perceived theory that the club’s hierarchy may have decided too support Captain Iker Casillas for the upcoming Ballon d’Or.
3. Uncertain First XI: During pre-season, some players wanted to have guarantees about their roles so as to decide whether to stay or move on. Higuain, for example, was courted by Juventus, Chelsea, PSG et al. And he was tired of playing second fiddle to Karim Benzema. He was prevailed upon to stay and given assurances of more playing time. The imminent arrival of Luka Modric also meant very little playing time for Kaka (if he did not move on) and lesser playing time for Mesut Ozil and/or Angel di Maria. To keep everyone happy, Mou started rotating players and this is having an effect on the team’s output.
4. Poor Form: Most of the players came into the new season with suspect forms. Worst hit is the attack where both Benzema and Huguain have shown that they are not fit. Yes, Pipita, as Higuain is called, has scored three goals in four matches, but it is clear he has lost touch. He fritters chances away at will and is know to take one chance out of about 10. Benzema is worse now; his ball control is suspect, and he can hardly dribble past one, not to talk of two defenders.
However, the season can still be salvaged. And Jose Mourinho has a big job on his hands. As Manchester City comes knocking on Day 1 of the UCL, it is time to rally the troops and get their confidence and fitness levels up. Psychology is key here. Whatever he tells them to bring out the best in the players, this is the time to bring out the magic wand. The club also needs to make Ronaldo happy because his goals are very important for the team. There is no time to waste; it is time to save the season. Else, it will be a disastrous season. And the itinerant Jose Mourinho will move on. The nine UCL titles, the 31 La Liga titles don’t mean nothing now. Time to kick in the door. Hala Madrid!
Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.