The first instructions for Barcelona and Real Madrid supporters after their respective Champions League exits are to calm down and take some deep breaths. Use a brown paper bag if necessary. Breath in. And breath out. And again.
Your clubs still bring in hundreds of millions of dollars in income every year. There’s still one or two decent footballers kicking about the dressing room at both sides, and 99 percent of players would push their Porches off the Golden Gate bridge for a juicy contract to play at the Camp Nou or Santiago Bernabéu. Oh yes—you also have adoring media praising your pristine bottoms to the heavens, day in, day out. Basically, things are not that bad.
But in the context of what both sets of exceedingly spoilt and demanding fans are accustomed to in La Liga—which is a procession of victories week after week against hapless cannon fodder—defeats at the semifinal stages to Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund are events to cause heading-to-the-hills, hiding-in-your-bunker widespread panic.
Just two days after Real Madrid’s loss to Dortmund—a third successive failure at the same stage of the competition for José Mourinho—the front cover of Marca talked about "Operation Exit," calling for a departure of suspect footballers. The same footballers who won the league title last season with 100 points and 121 goals scored, it must be noted.
In the Catalan capital, it may well have been black ribbons and Martial music, such was the gloom after the humiliating exit to Bayern Munich which saw Barcelona looking like most opponents the team has played in La Liga for the past five years. Ordinary.
Clearly, for both teams to be seeing out the season in silence and a couple of German outfits to be playing at Wembley, something is amiss and a few changes need to be made. The question is which of these two clubs are going to have the more turbulent summer as the chase to catch up with the Bundesliga teams gets underway.
Unless José Mourinho is going to embark on the mother of all backtracks and see out another year at Real Madrid, the biggest change that Real Madrid need to make could be completed by the end of May - signing up a manager who does not rub everyone in Spain the wrong way.
Whilst the Portuguese coach was successful in pulling Real Madrid alongside Barça and making the Spanish side a potent force in Europe again, the goal of a tenth European Cup has been missed. What’s more, Mourinho has set off a dressing room rift with a longstanding battle against club captain Iker Casillas, admitting in the press conference ahead of the Valladolid game that he wished he'd signed his current replacement, Diego López, a lot sooner.
The starting eleven from last season is close to the starting eleven from last year’s imperious side who lost out on penalties to Bayern Munich in the semis of the Champions League. Yet for three quarters of the current campaign the team have lacked passion, fight, motivation and commitment—attributes that are he job of the manager to instill. However, it’s hard for the players to get behind a coach who gives up on the league title in December, as Mourinho did, and alienates the club captain.
A major overhaul of the playing staff is not required. A final choice of front man between Karim Benzema and Gonzalo Higuaín needs to be made, whilst a bit of pizzazz at right-back wouldn’t go amiss. The main fix is a change of coach with a manager who can heal the wound in the Real Madrid dressing room and make it a better place.
Barcelona are a team who also appear to be suffering from a lack of motivation, despite the club being on course to also pick up 100 points in La Liga this season, if the remaining four matches are won. However, Barça have to define themselves by European standards and the manner of the Bayern Munich defeat showed there’s certainly some tweaking to be done, but again there’s no need to go crazy.
The centre-back to partner Gerard Piqué really is a necessity this summer, along with a striker who has a bit of height to chip with some goals to help out Leo Messi. Fernando Llorente would have been perfect, but that’s a busted flush with the Athletic Bilbao forward off to Juventus. In fact, stature in midfield would also be a bonus with Barça perhaps needing to installing a height barrier in the dressing room, akin to those found at roller coasters.
Because of the sheer size of the media footprint made by Barcelona and Real Madrid, there’s a tendency for everyone to go a little overboard in regards to perceived problems. Certainly, there’s work to be done but if a judgment were to be made between which club had more wheeling and dealing to do this summer, then it’s Real Madrid, who perhaps need a bug fix download—but Barça requiring a complete upgrade in software.