Today, at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium, Real Madrid, who had been leading its match since the 25th minute, found itself down 1-2 to visiting Girona at the 75th minute. The referee would add another five minutes of stoppage time. But in that remaining twenty-minute span Real could only muster but two credible goal scoring chances, both smothered by the Girona defense.
The Madrid side was so complacent after obtaining its lead that by the time Girona reacted in force the hosts had nothing to counter with let alone have the will to win. Sergio Ramos’ double-yellow red at the 90th minute had no bearding on the final result. Girona avenged their Copa del Rey elimination in style, probably costing their hosts any realistic chance to overcome the nine-point gap with leaders Barcelona, given the caliber of the 14 matches Barcelona still has remaining in the competition.
Since the second Florentino Perez era began (2009), the team has had Jose Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti, Rafael Benitez, Zinedine Zidane, Julen Lopetegui, and now Santiago Solari—a new coach every 19.5 months, on average, for a decade.
The constants over that period of time have been Perez, the great salary, benefits and perks of being a member of the squad, and the pervasive feeling that but a handful of players have any job security let alone guaranteed playing time during the coaching span of each successive manager.
You could be ex-best player on the planet Kaka, then-current best goalkeeper in the world, Iker Casillas, World Cup 2014 revelation James Rodriquez, record transfer Gareth Bale, record-breaking assist man Mesut Ozil, current best player on the planet Luka Modric, or newcomer sensation Marco Asensio, and if Madrid’s coach-of-the-moment did not like you, you did not play.
Similarly, if you were Perez’ pet (Karim Benzema) you could count on playing most games regardless of past performance, while if you had fallen out of favor it did not matter if you were the club’s all time scorer and arguably the best player to have ever put on a Madrid uniform (Cristiano Ronaldo), you were simply sold.
With that combination of uncertainty and cushy employment conditions, is it any wonder that players feel little personal urgency or motivation to succeed at any one given moment? Sure, they all gear up for the UEFA Champions League, or the big matches against big rivals, but otherwise, why sweat it when the perks, salary, and benefits keep flowing regardless of accomplishments?
Ironically, the galactico theory of football (put the best players on the planet on your team, field them simultaneously, and they will win you games) has worked for Madrid since the generation of Francisco Gento, Ferenc Puskas, and Alfredo Di Stefano won five successive European Cup Championships, the predecessor of the UEFA Champions League. But in an era where Ajax, Leganes, Real Sociedad, and Girona can outplay you at home and abroad, and the likes of PSG, Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Manchester City, Juventus, Liverpool, Atletico Madrid, and Manchester United, to pick a few, can challenge you any time you are at home or abroad, can you really afford to let your guard down regularly and expect consistently positive results? Or do you have to pick your competitions and focus on the ones where your efforts can more easily garner results?
Today, Girona wanted the win and Real could not have cared less. The Barcelona-based side needed the points to avoid relegation and remain in contention for a better-than-top-ten finish in La Liga.
With Champions League and Copa del Rey matches to play, competitions where the merengues can play do or die matches, their specialty, why work hard to reach a goal that seemed elusive weeks ago and would require twice the effort of either of the aforementioned tourneys at this stage?
So, expect Real to use their La Liga matches to fine tune their appearances in the two competitions they really want to win this year and expect them to be competitive in both, if not necessarily successful.