Hala Madrid Part IX: Stagnation and the Septima

Hala Madrid

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.

Previously: Part I – Part II – Part III – Part IV – Part V – Part VI – Part VII – Part VIII

Part IX: Stagnation and the Septima

Real Madrid 1998

1998 Champions League winners

For well over two decades, Real Madrid had dominated Spanish soccer but, to the chagrin of merengues, failed to lift another European Cup. Even worse, the tournament had changed formats: earlier editions were straight knock-out rounds like the NCAA tournament, but, in the late 80’s, a group stage was introduced. It was harder to win, and Real Madrid’s six trophies, all earned in the 50’s and 60’s, seemed like a record easily broken one day by AC Milan or another rival. In the 1990’s, the Vultures flew away and trophies dried up, but the foundation was laid for three Champions League titles. Today it looks so simple, but, back then, it was anything but.

The Quinta del Buitre was a beautiful group of players, but, ultimately, all things come to an end. The first half of the decade Madrid only won a single King’s Cup. Instead, they watched with envy as Johan Cruyff returned to coach FC Barcelona to title after title. A prime example was the 1992 season, when Madrid lost the King’s Cup final to Atletico and then, on the last day of the season, lost to lowly Tenerife thereby gifting the title to Barcelona. It was painful to watch and still hurts. However, with the limits of the Quinta now exposed, changes could be made.

Real's Raul

Raul

Eventually, Hugo Sanchez returned to Mexico (with Club America), Martin Vazquez, Butragueno and Michel eventually left the club. However, they were replaced by youthful players like striker Raul (poached from Atletico), hard man central defender Fernando Hierro, workhorse holding midfielder Fernando Redondo, and Chilean striker Ivan Zamorano. In effect, Real Madrid had reloaded: but who would be the ideal man to take back La Liga from Barca and guide this youthful group?

Enter Italian disciplinarian Fabio Capello. For a team built on attacking and scoring goals, why did Real Madrid hire the Italian? On the field, his teams can be effective but boring. However, off the field, he’s not afraid to clean house, put players in their place, and instill a collective work ethic. He also has credibility as a winner, and Madrid were able to sign Roberto Carlos, Davor Suker, and Clarence Seedorf. Madrid won La Liga in that first year with some very dry and boring football, but the respect and discipline were restored. Capello, of course, was shown the door (despite winning).

Then, in 1998, the drought ended. German Jupp Heynckes arrived with a much more attacking philosophy than Capello. He also loosened the grip on the locker room and the players. Relaxed and able to express themselves, Real Madrid rocketed through the Champions League. They easily won their group (while Barca finished last in Group C, ha ha), beat Bayern Leverkusen home and away in the quarters, didn’t concede a goal while coasting past Dortmund in the semis, and, in the final, got a clean sheet vs. Juventus and won 1-0 thanks to a Mijatovic goal (he reacted quickest to a deflected Roberto Carlos shot/cross).

Thus, the 1990’s started sour but ended optimistically. A youthful and talented team brimmed with promise and had already tasted success at the highest level. The septima was nuestra. We fans believed the sky was the limit: but we were wrong. The galaxy above was……

Next:

Part X: The Galacticos Rise & Fall

 

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About the author: Elliott Turner

 

Elliott blogs about soccer at Futfanatico.com . He has written for The Guardian, Yahoo Sports, Fox Soccer, The Blizzard, and Howler Magazine. He is the author of "An Illustrated Guide to Soccer & Spanish".

Website: http://www.futfanatico.com/

 

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