The veteran captain has hardly been in great form during the last few weeks, and the team’s problems during Wednesday’s 4-1 defeat clearly ran much deeper than the presence of just one player would have been able to solve.
However, the fact that Ramos was absent due to a self-inflicted suspension was highly significant from another perspective, because it is symptomatic of a casual complacency which has served to spectacularly undermine the team’s season.
Whatever you think lies behind the wretched campaign endured by Los Blancos, one thing is for certain: you cannot say the players aren’t good enough.
This is more or less the same squad that won the league and European double in brilliant fashion just a couple of years ago, and there have even been a few games this season – as recently as last month in the Madrid derby victory over Atlético, for example – when Los Blancos have looked capable of beating anyone on their day.
The fact that ‘their day’ has rolled around with increasing infrequency cannot be explained by a lack of talent, but in large part by an attitude of arrogance which is perfectly illustrated by the sight of their captain deliberately missing a Champions League knockout tie because he took it for granted they were already through.
Other instances of this attitude can be cited, starting at the very top of the club with president Florentino Perez blithely assuming he could get away with poaching the manager of the Spanish national team on the eve of the World Cup.
Or you could point to the club’s entirely self-serving attitude towards the introduction of VAR – criticise it when decisions go against you, praise it when they work in your favour – as an indication of a club which, at all levels, appears to have lost a sense of responsibility and sacrifice, expecting success to come easily, assuming that something, anything, will eventually come along to save the day simply because ‘we are Real Madrid’.
Trophies can do that. When you win all the time, as Real Madrid did with an incredible run of three consecutive Champions League titles, it’s easy to start assuming that silverware will continue to be accrued automatically, as a matter of course.
There are plenty more examples of sporting teams suffering dramatic implosions after losing their edge, and the biggest secret of Sir Alex Ferguson’s remarkably consistent success at Manchester United was his ruthless determination to repeatedly break up his title-winning teams before the rot could set in.
At Real Madrid, the opposite has happened: nearly everybody has remained from the peak of the club’s recent glories in 2016, and the competitive spark which allowed that success to be achieved in the first place has been gradually eroded to create an apathetic state of entitlement.
Not everybody has stayed, of course, and no consideration of Madrid’s current campaign would be complete without mentioning Cristianao Ronaldo and Zinedine Zidane.
The two most iconic members of the Bernabeu house left for their own and different reasons, but the key thing is what happened next: neither were adequately replaced. Entering the new season with a manager who had never enjoyed meaningful success at club level and a squad lacking a potent goalscorer speaks volumes to the carefree, take-it-for-granted attitude which prevailed, and it’s unavoidable that they have been missed when nobody was recruited to take their place.
Zidane, of course, saw all this coming. Upon his departure, the Frenchman openly admitted he did not know how he could keep the team successful. He knew the rot had set in. And, unlike Ferguson at Old Trafford, he knew that he would not be given the power to carry out the necessary surgery.
Real Madrid don’t necessarily need sweeping changes in personnel, but they need a change in culture. In the end, their complacency caught up with them.
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