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Spanish Press Show No Mercy After Real Madrid's Worst Week in Their History

Richard FitzpatrickSpecial to Bleacher ReportMarch 6, 2019

MADRID, SPAIN - MARCH 05: Marco Asensio of Real Madrid shows his disappointment after Ajax beat Real Madrid in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 Second Leg match between Real Madrid and Ajax at Bernabeu on March 05, 2019 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
Denis Doyle/Getty Images

There has been no blood spared in Spain. The reaction to Real Madrid's humiliating exit from the UEFA Champions League to a young Ajax team 5-3 on aggregate in the last 16 Tuesday night has been brutal.

Marca, the country's biggest-selling sports newspaper, ran with a picture on its front cover of a half-empty Santiago Bernabeu Stadium on the 90-minute mark. Those fans remaining in their seats sat glumly under the 1-4 scoreboard while the newspaper's headline declared: "Here lies a team which made history."

It has been the wrong kind of history—three defeats in a week at the Bernabeu, including two losses to eternal rivals, Barcelona, have effectively ended Real Madrid's season.

Barca knocked them out of the Copa del Rey and opened up an unbridgeable 12-point gap in the league title race with only 12 games left to play, before Ajax's 4-1 dismantling dropped Real out of Europe at the earliest stage since 2010.

The condemnations have been widespread. Mundo Deportivo summed up Real Madrid's disastrous last six days at the Bernabeu as a "total shipwreck." La Vanguardia declared a "monumental crisis" in the capital city. El Pais, the country's newspaper of record, abandoned its normally sober tone by using a post-match quote from one of Real Madrid's vanquished players, Dani Carvajal, for the lead headline on its sports pages: "We've had a s--t season."

Real Madrid Info @RMadridInfo

Marca’s Cover | “Here lies a team that made history.” https://t.co/PKEf626prk

The fury outside the Bernabeu stadium after the match ended was palpable. In a video montage recorded by Diario AS, Real Madrid's fans vented their anger. One woman in the clip was shaking with rage, her fists scrunched in balls and her eyes dilating as she screamed: "Florentino has to go!"

Calling for Real Madrid's president, Florentino Perez, to resign was a common theme with the interviewed fans, particularly his "arrogance" in selling the team's best player, Cristiano Ronaldo, to Juventus without adequately replacing him.

The fans were in no mood to show mercy to those Real Madrid players who were left to pick up the baton from Ronaldo. One guy spat: "[Gareth] Bale out onto the street! [Karim] Benzema out onto the street!"

In between the calls for Perez to resign were chants for "Jose Mour-in-ho! Jose Mour-in-ho!"

According to former Real Madrid president Ramon Calderon, the Portuguese manager—who managed Real Madrid from 2010-2013—is "90 per cent" likely to return as Real Madrid's coach next summer. It's unknown whether he would be part of the solution or further aggravate the club's problems. He is, however, popular with a section of the club's more radical fans.

A picture shows the frontpages of Spanish sports newspapers in Madrid on March 6, 2019, a day after Ajax beat Real Madrid 4-1 in the UEFA Champions League round of 16 second leg football match at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium. - The reign of Real Madrid i
GABRIEL BOUYS/Getty Images

Santiago Solari, Real Madrid's beleaguered manager, is on borrowed time. He has been brave in his decisions—in promoting youth such Sergio Reguilon and Vinicius Junior, who have proved a success, and discarding established stars like Marcelo and Isco—but his fate is inevitable.

Before the defeat to Ajax, he laughed off reports linking Mourinho with his job, which Solari is contracted to until 2021, with a reference to a Hollywood star: "Real Madrid has more suitors than Julia Roberts!"

Solari's players let him down. Or perhaps he has been unable to motivate them. When his predecessor Julen Lopetegui was sacked last October, the club cited a disconnect between the performances of the team and the quality of the squad at his disposal, which included eight players on the Ballon d'Or list for 2018, a club record.

It was notable how those players—excluding the suspended Sergio Ramos and discarded pair of Isco and Marcelo—underperformed against Ajax. Only Luka Modric showed some fight. Thibaut Courtois will have nightmares about the decisive, long-range free-kick Lasse Schone scored past him.

In Mundo Deportivo's player ratings, the other three Ballon d'Or contenders were dismissed witheringly: Bale, who was jeered by his own fans when he came onto the pitch as a first-half replacement for the injured Lucas Vazquez, was criticised for being "non-existent." Raphael Varane was described as "toothless" in defence, while Benzema, who slipped when the goal was at his mercy in the second half, was simply "rubbish."

Real Madrid's Belgian goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois reacts as he concedes a fourth goal during the UEFA Champions League round of 16 second leg football match between Real Madrid CF and Ajax at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid on March 5, 2019. (Phot
GABRIEL BOUYS/Getty Images

Diario AS suggested Toni Kroos was the team's biggest culprit, maintaining he was "overrun" in midfield by Ajax, and that he was at fault for the Dutch side's first goal. Marca anointed Marco Asensio, who replaced the injured and tearful Vinicius Junior after 35 minutes, as "The Hope" for his goalscoring performance.

And there was also a lot of media focus on the team's captain Ramos, who was missing in action. The Spain international had to sit out the game owing to his own stupidity—he picked up a deliberate yellow card in the dying minutes of the sides' first-leg encounter in Amsterdam, believing the tie was in the bag at 2-1.

In a further act of hubris, he incurred an additional game's suspension for admitting afterwards that he got intentionally booked.

Ramos has had a huge impact on the team's fortunes in Europe, most memorably with his injury-time equaliser against Atletico Madrid in the 2014 UEFA Champions League final in Lisbon.

This season, for example, he has missed three UEFA Champions League games; Real Madrid have lost all three. In the five games he played, the team scored 14 goals and only conceded two.  

The 32-year-old dropped into the team's dressing room for a pre-match pep talk. He then took his place in a personal VIP box emblazoned with SR4 insignia and surrounded by family members as well as—gallingly for Real Madrid fans—a documentary production crew.

As Ramos watched his team dumped out of this year's Champions League, three videographers trained their cameras on his face, as part of the filming for an eight-part Amazon Prime documentary series. Outside his glass cage, Ajax's 4,000 travelling fans in the stadium chanted: "Well done, Ramos!"

B/R Football @brfootball

Kings no more https://t.co/rDUuqOZPxb

The consensus is that the bulk of the blame for Real Madrid's troubles this season lies with the club's president, Perez. In a scathing editorial for Diario AS, the newspaper's editor Alfredo Relano argued that "what has passed has been foreseeable."

Perez allowed Ronaldo to leave the club in the belief that his two "proteges," Bale and Benzema, would be able to fill the 50-goal-a-season void left by him. That gamble has failed.

Ronaldo's nominal replacement, the guy who took his iconic No. 7 shirt, was Mariano Diaz. He watched the Ajax game from the stands, as he was unable to make it into Solari's matchday squad.

According to Relano, Perez passed up the chance in the summer of 2017 to replace Bale with Kylian Mbappe, a thrilling striker who led France to a FIFA World Cup title 12 months later.

Perez has steadily denuded the squad, letting key depth players such as Pepe, James Rodriguez and Alvaro Morata depart without adequately replacing them, all because of his vanity in upgrading the Santiago Bernabeu at the same price it cost "Atletico [Madrid] and Athletic [Bilbao] combined" to recently build their new stadiums, as Relano put it.

Tuesday night, minutes after the embarrassing 4-1 defeat to Ajax, Perez's predecessor Calderon, who won two league titles in three seasons at the helm, as many as Perez has won in the last decade, tweeted an artist's impression of the Bernabeu's new stadium, with its metallic skin and retractable roof, without any accompanying words. The picture said it all.

In Catalonia, Barcelona's fans are exultant. In a guest column for Diario Sport, Ruben Uria, a director of Goal.com, rejoiced at Ajax's symphonic performance, maintaining "[Johan] Cruyff would be proud," an allusion to Barcelona's great ideologue.

Elsewhere in the Catalan sports newspaper, one of its articles hailed Frenkie de Jong's mastery of the midfield for Ajax. De Jong was signed by Barcelona for a reported fee of €86 million a few weeks ago.

Ajax's win was the playmaker's "first gift" to Barcelona, according to De Telegraaf (h/t Mundo Deportivo), as the young midfielder was following up on a request made by Barcelona's directors at the time of his signature to knock Real Madrid out of the UEFA Champions League.

Several members of Real Madrid's squad will be on tenterhooks for the rest of the season. They will be unsure of their futures at the club as they battle to secure a UEFA Champions League spot for next season. Last night's heavy defeat has the feel of the end of an era, as Real Madrid's 1,000-day+ reign as kings of Europe came to a crushing halt.

         

Follow Richard on Twitter: @Richard_Fitz

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