Real Madrid had a reasonable start to their season. After losing their first game they won six out of seven, including the derby against Atletico, but things have gone badly wrong since Juventus beat them in the Champions League four weeks ago. A second defeat by Juventus and a narrow squeak at home to Malaga were followed by humiliation against Real Union in the Copa del Rey.
Cup games don’t matter in Spain, so they say, but 50,000 fans turned up at the Bernabeu last week expecting to watch them overturn a shock 3-2 deficit from the first leg.
The Madrid defence let in two more against their third division opponents, but a hat-trick from Raul put them 4-2 up with four minutes left — only for Eneko Romo to write himself into the history books with a last-minute header that took the minnows through on away goals.
After conceding eight goals in three games on their own ground the players were probably relieved to be playing in Valladolid on Saturday. But Valladolid love to upset the big boys and three minutes into the second half their Uruguayan midfielder Nestor Canobbio fired a rocket into the top corner and that was that.
Madrid’s German coach Bernd Schuster has a reputation for stubbornness, but even he seemed resigned after this defeat, the first time in eight months that his team have failed to score in the league.
“We changed the system a little because one or two players were missing. We had chances to score but didn’t take them. We have to carry on.”
Is it a crisis? Is his job on the line? “I don’t deserve such a question” he snapped, perhaps remembering that it cost him €480,000 to take the job in the first place, as he had to buy out his contract at Getafe when he replaced Fabio Capello.
Capello was walking a tightrope for most of his year at the club, despite guiding them to the title. Now Schuster is walking that same tightrope, only a few months after also winning the title.
Last night Schuster was given the dreaded vote of confidence by sporting director Predrag Mijatovic, who insisted he was “fully confident” in his coach.
Madrid’s fans have a reputation for being fickle, but the majority wanted Capello to stay on – and opinion polls suggest that they aren’t pointing the finger at Schuster either.
Only around 15% blame the coach for the team’s problems, according to a poll by Marca, the daily sports paper, and most of Arjen Robben is constantly missing games through injury, and with Ruud Van Nistelrooy out for the rest of the season there is a lack of a cutting edge up front.
The solution (according to the pundits anyway) – is to buy more players. It’s a painful contrast with Barcelona, now five points ahead, who are reaping the benefits of promoting talented youngsters.
But there also seems to be a long-term problem with the management of the club, and the lack of communication between the coach and the directors.
Back in February last year, when Capello was in difficulties, the story was leaked that he had offered to resign, only for the club to issue an embarrassed denial a few hours later.
Last July, as Madrid were busily tapping up Cristiano Ronaldo, it was Schuster’s turn.
“I am getting used to being the last to hear things,” he told a press conference.
“It’s not nice to hear it that way because later you will ask me about subjects I can’t give any answers on.
“I’m waiting for the president to come to talk and see how things are.”