Through over 100 years of history, Real Madrid has become one of the most recognizable names in world football. But how did they get there? In partnership with Howler magazine, The Center Circle is embarking on a multi-part journey from the roots of this historic club to the Cristiano Ronaldo era it enjoys today. If you consider yourself a Real fan, or really just a soccer fan in general, this is for you. Finally, do you see that “Hala Madrid” graphic right above this? You can click on that to open up Howler’s incredible Real Madrid timeline, replete with informative tidbits, pictures, and some cool graphics. Scroll through each section, zoom in to read, and enjoy.
Part XI: Darkness Before the Decima
If the 2000’s started with a bang and ended with a whimper, then the second decade started darkly but built up to a high note. Real Madrid returned to their high profile signing ways, but, unlike the Galacticos era, hired a coach for the mid-term. There was just one problem: his name was Jose Mourinho.
A brilliant man-motivator? Yes. A skilled technician? Clearly. A shrewd deal-maker in the transfer market? Always. Able to handle a media circus? Probably. Jose “Mou” Mourinho checked all the boxes for the Real Madrid gig but one: he has never been wed to attacking football. In fact, when his Inter Milan side beat FC Barcelona in the semifinals of the Champions League and then won the final in the Bernabeu, they hardly set a foot in the opponent’s half for most of the game. Some called them “anti-football.” Others cried “catenaccio.” Still, after Pellegrini failed to lift a trophy, Perez set his sights on the man who had recently beaten the Barca juggernaut.
That summer, Mou immediately brought in young and promising talent like Sami Khedira and Mesut Ozil. He also signed veteran centerback Ricardo Carvahlo and dazzling Argentine winger Angel Di Maria. At the start, the defense looked light years better but the team couldn’t buy a goal. They also suffered a humiliating 5-0 shellacking at the Camp Nou to FC Barcelona. Where other managers would have caved, Mou stood his ground. In the end, Madrid knocked off FC Barcelona in a dramatic King’s Cup final and chased Guardiola’s magical side up until the end of the season in La Liga, falling just short. In the Champions League, Madrid reached the semifinals for the first time in years before getting edged out by FC Barcelona.
While any other manager who played defensive football and only won a King’s Cup, Mou was retained for another year. Even if the trophies did not add up, the team looked coherent, dangerous, and well-drilled. They counter-attacked with lightning speed and tackled with conviction. Nobody could question Mou’s intensity and dislike for rival FC Barcelona, which was a plus for some fans and players. Still, in the Super Cup, Real Madrid lost to FC Barcelona in a tense two-game series and Mou crossed all lines of decency by poking FC Barcelona’s assistant coach Tito Vilanova (R.I.P.) in the face.
Still, face poke aside, Real Madrid had another solid season. In the 2011 season, they won their 32nd La Liga title in barnstorming fashion: Messi won thepichichi, but Ronald netted 46 goals, Higuain 22, and Benzema 21. They lost in the King’s Cup quarterfinals to FC Barcelona, but reached the semifinals of the Champions League again. This time, they fell on penalty kicks after two games and extra time could not separate the teams. On his knees, Mou could only watch and shudder as Ronaldo and Kaka both failed to score on Madrid’s first two kicks.
While Jose has been called a coaching genius, he has this habit of moving on after two years. His spells at Chelsea, Porto and Inter were successful but 720-day stays. Madrid started off the 2012 season on a high note, finally besting rivals FC Barcelona in the Spanish Super Cup. Mou even apologized beforehand to Tito. However, soon thereafter, the season unraveled. By that winter, FC Barcelona had ran away with La Liga. Mou admitted that La Liga was lost and focused on the cup competitions. Madrid beat Barcelona in the King’s Cup semis, including a memorably 3-1 win away at the Camp Nou. However, they lost to Atletico, at home, in extra time on a Diego Costa header.
They again reached the semifinals in the Champions League, but lost the opening leg in embarrassing fashion 4-1 to Borussia Dortmund. Inexplicably, Mou had moved Sergio Ramos to right back in the first half, and striker Robert Lewandowski absolutely destroyed Pepe. So, Madrid endured a trophy-less season. Even worse, Mou had disrespected the players. He said that Casillas had lost it and replaced him with Diego Lopez, a new signing from Sevilla. When Pepe defended Iker, he was banished to the bench in favor of Raul Albiol for King’s Cup final. Mou even proclaimed that Pepe was past his best and second best to Ralph Varane. Of course, both statements were true, but Mou’s theatrics rubbed the entire team the wrong way. He left for Chelsea and few miss him.
In his place, Florentino Perez signed Carlo Ancellotti, the affable Italian manager who guided AC Milan to glory in the early 2000’s. Perez also offloaded Mesut Ozil and Gonzalo Higuain, and signed Asier Illaramendi, Isco, and Gareth Bale from Tottenham Hotspur for over 100 million euros. Under Carlo, the team retained the attacking speed of Mourinho, but, in true Carlo fashion, defended with fewer numbers and was better at keeping the ball than under Mou. The results speak for themselves: they chased Atletico Madrid until the second-to-last match of the season, won the King’s Cup over Barcelona with a great solo goal from Bale, and beat Atletico Madrid in the Champions League final, in extra time, with Bale heading in the go ahead goal off a rebound. At last, la decima fue nuestra.
Thus, Real Madrid fans can breath easy: Carlo has the player’s trust and, equally important, has them playing at the highest level possible. Is this the start of a new era? Will Madrid learn to keep faith in its coach, giving him the same space afforded to Mou (and, gasp, Miguel Munoz so many decades ago)? Only time will tell. But for now, only Madrid has double-digit Champions League trophies. And we can smile until August.