Real Madrid are the most successful club side in European Cup/Champions League history, but their only claim to fame is their trophy cabinet.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s the only real thing that matters at the end of the day and if we shift the focus of football to somewhere other than winning, we completely dismantle the basis on which competitive sport exists. But to be ‘great’, you have to transcend a win/loss column and be remembered for more than results.
Barcelona did it. Their brand of football was so revolutionary that the entire next generation will be sick to death of us telling them how the greats of their time didn’t compare to that Barcelona team in the first decade of this century.
Real Madrid are a counterpoint to that. And that’s all they are. Think of the makeup of any stereotypical action film. The bad guy succeeds in spite of morals. With the Catalan independence struggle as a feisty, bitter backdrop, this battle was for the ages. Barcelona were the hero. They’ll be remembered as such. Madrid go down in history as a machine, but not a particularly likeable or memorable one.
For all the analytics in the world and the complete bias that creeps into football, supporters of this sport can collectively appreciate something special. The arrogance with which Madrid sides carry themselves is an indictment of what they stand for. There have been countless sides slightly worse than them at an elite level, but who will be remembered as era-defining.
Have they adopted a brand-new style of play that has changed the landscape of the sport? No.
They simply plan their approach around Cristiano Ronaldo.
Did they have a host of homegrown players to complement the Portuguese sensation? Let’s look at the youth careers of the starting XI: Saprissa, Real Madrid (but sold to Bayern Leverkusen and bought back after performances improved), Lens, Sevilla, Fluminese, Dinamo Zagreb, Sao Paulo, Hansa Rostock, Valencia, Lyon and Sporting Lisbon.
So, they just wipe Europe of its top talent, go about their systematic approach in a dull manner and win everything in sight. They’re a glorified Harlem Globetrotters. Maybe this current batch of Los Blancos can be wheeled out in twenty years for exhibition purposes. Sergio Ramos will probably steal children’s popcorn and spit at the women in the front row.
It’s a culture established around the club that people cite as their biggest asset. Whether that’s true or not has never actually been tested, though. They’ve had Europe’s best players for as long as most can remember and have never had to really look internally at themselves.
Until that happens, Madrid are simply going through the motions of buying and releasing for the sake of business. If their business is winning, we’ll have to put up with it – but it doesn’t mean they have to be considered great.
In fact, they simply act as a barometer for everyone else to enhance their credentials against – and doing so with far less resources and far more class.