Almost 30,000 empty seats at the Santiago Bernabeu on Sunday night told the story of the season so far.
Santiago Solari has lost the aura of the confidence he had a couple of months ago. He was chastised by Marca last week for saying:
‘We mustn’t underestimate the draws’.
On Sunday night everyone at the Bernabeu would have taken a draw as 10-man Madrid slipped to their sixth league defeat of the season.
‘Is this the end of an era?’ Sergio Ramos was asked after the game. ‘Well we won another trophy,’ just over a week ago,’ the captain replied.
But the World Club Cup is never really a trophy in the truest sense. It’s the lap of honour for a race run months before, often with others since departed putting in the leg-work.
Cristiano Ronaldo scored the lion’s share of the goals to get Madrid to the Champions League final last summer in Ukraine. Beating the champions of Japan to pick up another piece of silverware will not save Ramos or Solari from the criticism.
When Solari’s name was announced before the game on Sunday there were a few whistles from spectators. Certain sections of the Spanish media — notably close to the president — turned on him after the team failed to beat Villarreal in the first game back.
Some of Jose Mourinho’s most ardent supporters took the opportunity to call for his reinstatement in the comments sections under the anti-Solari articles. They make up a minority of the Real Madrid support and are unlikely to be listened to just yet despite the president still holding a candle for his former employee.
It’s debatable whether Mourinho would even want the job right now. Barcelona are 10 points clear with Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez showing no signs of slowing down having scored more goals between them than 16 other sides in La Liga. That includes Madrid, whose paltry return of 26 goals is their worst in over a decade.
Why come back for more Barca humiliation? He could concentrate on the Champions League and the Cup perhaps but he would have to build his defence around Sergio Ramos – because there are no alternatives – and the Madrid skipper has already made it clear he doesn’t want the club to turn back the clock to 2010 and hire the Portuguese coach.
Madrid are a mess defensively. Ramos has at times had to hold the back four together. Raphael Varane is still suffering from a World Cup winners’ hangover. And Marcelo has gone to seed – still occasionally effective going forward but a constant liability in defence.
Rival coaches now make no secret of how they are targeting him and he gave the ball away inside three minutes for the move that led to Real Sociedad winning and converting their early penalty.
In other eras Madrid would have flashed the cash and bought their way out of trouble but even that escape route from this awful season seems to be closed to them.
They opted not to buy Eden Hazard last summer because the money was being banked for Neymar in 2019 and because there was every confidence Marco Asensio and Isco would push on and possibly mean there was no need for the Belgian anyway.
The two Spanish youngsters have gone backwards and even the Neymar trail has gone a little cold with Perez being advised against spending so much on such an unreliable asset. He remains convinced Neymar is the commercial golden goose that will help the club into a new era with a revamped stadium and a team of young prospects.
The youth of the current squad is another reason why Mourinho is considered by many to be unsuitable. The squad – boosted by the arrival of Brahim Diaz from Manchester City – looks like it’s being hand-crafted to suit Mauricio Pochettino’s taste.
Then again, Roman Abramovich once built a team that he thought Pep Guardiola might want to come and manage and he ended up having to hire Mourinho to take charge of it because he could not persuade his first choice.
Brahim comes having barely played for City but such is Madrid’s current state he could be straight into the team. Bale, Asensio and Mariano are all injured and Lucas Vazquez is suspended.
Brahim will not carry the weight of responsibility alone. Madrid’s best player at the weekend was 19-year-old Vinicius Junior.
‘We are in the hands of an adolescent,’ moaned one columnist on Monday.
For the moment that looks to be a fairly accurate summary.