Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Show Life as Super Club Ain't Always All That

Tim Collins@@TimDCollinsFeatured ColumnistOctober 13, 2016

Barcelona's Uruguayan forward Luis Suarez gestures during the Spanish league football match RC Celta de Vigo vs FC Barcelona at the Balaidos stadium in Vigo on October 2, 2016. / AFP / MIGUEL RIOPA        (Photo credit should read MIGUEL RIOPA/AFP/Getty Images)
MIGUEL RIOPA/Getty Images

It was the ultimate in killer blows, comical and brutal at the same time, and for such a significant goal, that felt weirdly fitting.

With characteristic audacity, lingering on the ball, Marc-Andre ter Stegen invited pressure before attempting to find Jordi Alba with a chipped pass to the corner flag. Pablo Hernandez closed him down enough for the goalkeeper to kick it straight into Hernandez's head and back into his own net.

The goal proved to be the winner as Celta Vigo defeated Barcelona 4-3 prior to the international break. It meant that for the second time in two visits the Catalans had conceded four at Balaidos, and Celta had claimed a victory over Barcelona for a third season running.

It also edged "Ter Stegen" a little closer to being a two-word term used to describe the audible sucking of air through teeth.  

"It's clear that the fourth goal killed us," said an exasperated Luis Enrique afterwards. "But given how the game was going, it didn't surprise me, either. The third was an own goal and I can't even tell you about the fourth."

That fourth was more than just a winner, though. Hernandez's noggin being in the right place at the right time confirmed this particular weekend as a unique one in this decade.

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Only hours earlier, Real Madrid had been held to a draw by Eibar. The day before, Cologne had done the same to Bayern Munich. It was the first time Europe's hegemonic trio of super clubs had all dropped points on the same weekend since May 2009. 

That's a long time ago. To put it into perspective, to understand how rarely these behemoths slip up all at once, the last time it happened the HTC Hero was the biggest-selling phone around; Barack Obama was a new president; Oasis were still together; Facebook had only just overtaken Myspace as the world's biggest social networking site; David Moyes was still ginger; Rio was actually happy it had been awarded the Olympics; Manchester City had Mark Hughes, not Pep Guardiola; hashtags were brand new; you could still remember a time when Adam Sandler movies were funny. Yeah, that long. 

There's a simple explanation for this. These giants rarely drop points together because they rarely drop points at all. The current decade has seen them become wrecking balls that few in history have ever matched, soaring to a point of excellence from which there's nowhere else to go. Sometimes, though, such an existence ain't all that. 

In a broad sense, for everyone connected to it and not just those within it, life at the super-club level is a paradoxical thing. Wins, trophies and brilliance are common occurrences, but satisfaction isn't. 

Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern have all already claimed silverware this season and will almost certainly add to that in the coming months. As ever, they remain the leading candidates for the Champions League and own the vast majority of the world's elite talent between them.

And yet, every hiccup and every chink must be explained. Every mistake must be paid for. Every blip is a catastrophe. Right now, a certain concern or dissatisfaction reigns at each.

The appeal is easy to understand, but the existence, in a way, concurrently baffles. These clubs have become the equivalent of EuroMillions winners concerned that €170 million might be a few bucks short. There are no simple joys to be had and few moments to really savour in this pursuit of the unattainable. 

"Perfection is such a nuisance," the famous French novelist Emile Zola once said, "that I often regret having cured myself of using tobacco."

At Real Madrid, the talk is of crisis. After a bright start, Zinedine Zidane's team have drawn four straight games, three of them in the league against sides they're expected to brush aside in Villarreal, Las Palmas and Eibar.

Concerns exist on numerous levels. Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema look short of fitness. The injuries to Casemiro, Marcelo and Luka Modric are being stressed over. A transfer ban is being fretted about. Zidane's tactical acumen is now being questioned, with the Frenchman even admitting to RMC (h/t Omnisport, via beIN Sports) that his sacking is, one day, inevitable. 

Of course, this is the hyperbolic world of Real Madrid, where lip reading is a full-time job for some, where Marca once made a pig fly (sort of) and where Ronaldo swallowing his food incorrectly could be interpreted as evidence that he's a great/horrible bloke depending on which side of the divide you sit. It's always been this way inclined but perhaps never to this extent. 

Madrid are the reigning European champions, fresh off La Undecima. They're currently joint top of the table in La Liga. The manager is well-liked. The president's meddling is rather restrained. The squad is stacked. Major players have their futures secured. The club has lost one league game this calendar year. One

When that constitutes a crisis to those attached through emotion or obligation, there's a part of you that wonders what the point of all this is. 

At Barcelona, defeats to Alaves and Celta have stirred something similar. Having rotated heavily, Luis Enrique has come under heavy fire.

The Asturian is never shy in accepting that—"I'm the first person responsible for this defeat. We all lose and we all win, but when we lose I'm culpable first," he said after the Celta loss—but he hardly hides that the ton of hysteria brought out on a forklift annoys him. 

Luis Enrique, after all, is the manager who delivered a treble in his first season and a double in his second. In total, he's steered Barcelona to eight of the 10 trophies they've contested in his time there, helping to reignite a club that had gone stale in the year prior to his arrival.

You'd think that would spare him some of the grief, but this is Barcelona, a super club. No chance. 

Questions of the club's identity suddenly linger. Sport's Lluis Mascaro dubbed Luis Enrique's decisions at Balaidos "the inventions of a crazy professor." Mundo Deportivo published a leaked tactical document. Completing the 90210 episode was Sport's report that Luis Enrique is looking for a mole. 

Of course, perception is often very different from reality. But, as the saying goes, perception is reality, at least for enough of those connected to Barcelona in one way or another to count. 

At Bayern, the neurosis rarely seems so acute, but the super club-ness still blurs the picture.

After an early blitz, Carlo Ancelotti's team fell to defeat to Atletico Madrid and then drew with Cologne before the break. "I'll need a night at least to get over it," said Manuel Neuer. 

Following Guardiola, Ancelotti's unshackling was supposed to be an odd sort of relief—apparently winning relentlessly is tiresome—but the sense is that Bayern are now lacking a degree of structure.

"Bayern remain worryingly far away from the machine-like precision of Pep Guardiola," wrote the Guardian's well-connected Raphael Honigstein after the draw with Cologne. "The much vaunted freedom ushered in by his successor has translated into a distinct lack of order. Privately, the senior board members are far more concerned than they let on."

The Bavarians have become a unique case. They've taken 16 points from 18 in the league this season, but scepticism exists for now. This is a club that can only satisfy itself in the Champions League; a club at which Guardiola's hat-trick of league titles was deemed by many as failure without the European Cup; a club without a domestic measuring stick and thus lacking a reference point for normal. 

Perhaps the takeaway here is that when you eat Michelin star every night, eventually it all begins to look like McDonald's. That's relevant for Madrid and Barcelona, too.

In recent weeks, each of these behemoths has shown in an odd sort of way that excellence isn't always that much fun. Being a super club ain't always all that.  

Zola might have been right. "Perfection is such a nuisance."