Real Madrid's demolition by Liverpool has sent shock waves through the Spanish capital. Prior to the game, with the Spanish champions hoping to overcome a 1-0 reverse from the first leg, the biggest pro-Madrid sports paper Marca mocked: "This is Anfield - so what?" Marca wasn't mocking Rafa Benitez's side following Real's 4-0 hammering. Instead, the Castilians retreated, dazed and confused by the margin of defeat. For the fifth season in succession, the world's most successful football club have been unable to get past the Champions League first knock-out stage, a chronic underachievement given their record nine European Cups. Real have usually sort to right their wrongs by dismissing their coach, a flawed strategy they must now reflect on.
When coaches have been dismissed after winning the Champions League, as Vicente Del Bosque was in 2002, what hope is there for anyone? Real have gone through nine managers in six and a half years. They have sacked outstanding coaches season after season and are now paying the price against more stable foes. The managerial torch keeps being passed on, but the club's impatience and demand for instant gratification has resulted in a diminishing force in Europe. Neither have their eliminations been by narrow margins for Real have been well beaten by Roma, Arsenal and Liverpool.
For all his off the field troubles, Rafa Benitez has been given time to build a Liverpool team who are honed to the nuances of European football. Seldom pretty or assertive, they are doubtless effective. Spaniards cannot understand why the English persist with coaches if they don't lift the treble each season. For years they mocked as Spanish clubs enjoyed hegemony in Europe. The scorn has stopped, with English clubs consistently outperforming their Iberian cousins.
Whereas Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United knows every player inside out and his charges know their manager's formidable traits, Real's players have to adopt new coaches and egotistical presidents annually, an unsettling environment at best. It was embarrassing to watch Fabio Cannavaro, a World Cup winning captain and World Player of the Year in 2006 struggling at Anfield. Real's players have adapted domestically against clubs run on similar intolerant lines, but in Europe they look exposed and unsure.
Real have tried to spend to improve. Their galactico era under president Florentino Perez was a vanity project in individualism which yielded no major trophies. Under his successor Ramon Calderon, Real spent more than 300 million (Dh1,409m) on 22 players in two and a half years. Manchester United bought eight players in that time. Along with United, Real are the most popular and profitable club in the world, yet this position is threatened by continual under achievement in Europe.
Real boast of their global support, but children in Japan or Jakarta are attracted to success and glamour, not a side who consistently fail to reach the last eight of the Champions League. Consequently, the lure of the Bernabeu is diminishing. Whereas Real could cherry pick the finest talents in England, now they shop at Portsmouth and West Ham and appoint dismissed Tottenham managers. For the media maelstrom about Cristiano Ronaldo joining Real last summer, it would be professional suicide for the world's best player. Besides, if he didn't score six goals in each of his first six games, an impatient Bernabeu crowd brought up believing that winning the European Cup was their divine right would demand that Ronaldo was dropped.