The gap between Real Madrid and rivals Barcelona heading into this weekend’s El Clasico is more pronounced than it’s been in years – both in terms of literal points on the board and in terms of what’s being produced on the pitch. And while the 10 point gap separating first-place Barça from third-place Madrid (Atletico Madrid occupy second place), means even a Real Madrid victory is unlikely to be enough to see them make any real progress in the title race, the question remains as to what the capital club needs to do long-term in order to close the gap on its Catalan rivals?
In the past 10 years, Real Madrid has won three La Ligas, two Copa del Reys, and one UEFA Champions League. Not a paltry haul by any means. However in that same time, Barcelona has won six La Ligas, four Champions Leagues, and three Copa del Reys. A gap has clearly opened up and it’s about more than just 10 points on the table. Madrid has seemingly done everything in its power to try and close that gap – from amassing a collection of the most talented players money can buy, to changing managers eight times.
Barcelona meanwhile, has spent a fraction of what their rival has and has changed manager just five times – once because Pep Guardiola resigned and another time because his successor, Tito Villanova became too ill to continue.
Does it take a football genius or a master tactician to work out that the relative stability at Barcelona has helped the Catalans maintain an edge over the frantic unpredictability and seeming randomness that rule at Real Madrid?
It’s become a familiar tune, but it doesn’t really look like anything will really change at Real Madrid as long as Florentino Perez remains club president. This is the man who fired Carlo Ancelotti and replaced him with Rafa Benitez. This is the man who upset the balance in a Champions League winning side by selling off Angel Di Maria and replacing him with the underperforming, James Rodriguez.
Fans in Madrid are divided as to their opinions on Perez. Some love him for the unlimited amounts of cash he is prepared to lavish on bringing players in. But a great many others want him out for what’s viewed as a colossal mismanagement of the vast resources available to the club.
Unfortunately for Madrid fans, there’s little indication Perez intends to relinquish power any time soon.
Meanwhile, in Zinedine Zidane, the club has a manager who, despite being an all-time legend as a player, is still relatively inexperienced. Madrid’s marquee player, Cristiano Ronaldo, appears to be nearing the end of his time as a top, top player and is on tenuous grounds with the club over his future.
Of the other top players on the team, Karim Benzema remains under the cloud of a scandal and could yet face serious charges. Gareth Bale has been hampered by injuries and is generally seen as a disappointment. James Rodriguez is another big signing who’s underwhelmed and is rumored to be on the docket to be sold in the summer.
When you compare this to the relative stability and harmony that exists at Barcelona – Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, and Neymar are in their primes as players and said to be great friends off the pitch – it’s difficult to see a way forward for Real Madrid under the current leadership.
Perhaps a first step would be to give Zidane time to build on the good work he’s done so far at the club. Or even to let the manager make decisions on transfers based on what’s needed on the pitch, rather than the whims of a club president who collects world-class players like Panini stickers.