One of the big rumors of the 2015/16 season was that Real Madrid's best players-particularly Cristiano Ronaldo-were not playing their best football because they didn't like or respect manager Rafael Benitez. Especially in the wake of the Vikings' 0-4 defeat at the hands of Barcelona in November, soccer pundits everywhere were speculating that Ronaldo was trying to orchestrate an exit from Real Madrid, in favor of a return to Manchester United.
Similar stories have abounded in other parts of the European soccer world. At Chelsea, for instance, as the reigning Premier League champions dipped further and further into an insurmountable rut, speculation abounded that the club's players were unhappy with the leadership of Jose Mourinho. The Portuguese manager did have a notable row with star player Diego Costa in late November and was reportedly snubbed by several players when he returned to Stamford Bridge to address the team one last time after he was sacked.
Players: Looking out for Their Own Best Interests?
If the players for Real Madrid and Chelsea were feeling animosity toward their coaches-enough animosity to not play their best-they were ultimately the ones to get the last laugh. Both Benitez and Mourinho were cut loose at the season midway point.
At least at Chelsea, it seems obvious that there was some problem between the players and Jose Mourinho. Immediately after the Portuguese manager was sent packing, the Blues saw their form improve, winning games against the likes of Sunderland and Crystal Palace, forcing a draw with Manchester United, and slowly but surely beginning a climb back up the Premier League table. We'll have to wait and see what Zinedine Zidane does at Real Madrid.
These two scenarios do beg the question, though, of whether or not football is becoming too self-oriented, with more of a focus on the individual players and what those players want than on the overall concept of a "team." Granted, this notion isn't a new one for the soccer world. Individual awards like the Ballon d'Or put a good deal of focus on individual player accomplishments, and stars like Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi tend to get as much discussion in the press as the football clubs to which they belong.
Losing the Idea of a "Team"
In some cases, the idea of a "team" shines through. FC Barcelona has been a shining example of this concept over the past year and a half. On any other team, Messi, Neymar, and Suarez would all be the star. With Barca, they've all swallowed their egos and learned to play together (and with the rest of the squad). The result has been one of the most impressively consistent football teams we've ever seen-a reminder of what can happen when you assemble some of the best players in the world and push them to become a family.
With Real Madrid, though, this concept of "team" doesn't seem to be there at all. Between Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, James Rodriguez, Karim Benzema, Luca Modric, and several others, the club has a goldmine of some of the best and most expensive talent in the history of the game. Together, though, these stars haven't learned to mesh as a team. Real Madrid didn't win a single trophy in 2015, and from the looks of it, they won't in 2016, either.
Part of the issue can be linked to president Florentino Perez and his insatiable trigger-happy habit of firing managers. Ronaldo and several other members of the squad were reportedly very upset after Carlo Ancelotti was unceremoniously fired last spring while Gareth Bale was so devastated about the Rafa Benitez sacking that rumors quickly sprang up about his departure from the club. But therein lies the problem: Real Madrid's players seem to have allegiances to themselves or to their previous managers; not to their club, their club's fans, or their teammates.
Can Real Madrid and Chelsea find their way back to the team mentality by the end of the season? Or are they destined to be fractured and distant this year? Stop by Soccer Box today to support the teams with a Real Madrid jersey or a Chelsea shirt 2015/16. Look out for special offers and discount codes on site to save on your purchases.