Some believe Real Madrid have been lucky. Others will go further than that, pointing to the number of penalty kicks and contentious VAR decisions awarded to Los Blancos’ as proof of a greater conspiracy. Whatever the truth is, Zinedine Zidane’s side clinched the Spanish title on July 16 with a victory over Villarreal.
This, of course, is an achievement worth celebrating. While Real Madrid struggled for consistency earlier in the season, their form since the restart has been remarkable, winning all nine of the matches they have played, conceding just three times in the process. There is little doubt they are the best team in the country at this moment in time.
And yet Real Madrid’s celebrations may well be tinged with a hint of embarrassment, at least for those who have been at the Santiago Bernabeu for a number of years. This is a club that prides itself on being the most successful in Spain. That status as Spain’s club is central to Real Madrid’s very being, but they have been far from the country’s most successful side over the last decade or so.
In fact, this season’s title will be Real Madrids’s second in eight years. In that time, Barcelona have been crowned Spanish champions five times, dominating an entire era of domestic football in the country. One might call it ‘the Lionel Messi era.’
Of course, those of a certain persuasion might point to Real Madrid’s superior record in the Champions League, with the capital club winning the competition four times since 2014, but as much as Los Blancos rightfully hold their European record in high regard, the lack of domestic success has been a source of humiliation.
Even in this title-winning year, Barcelona have managed to push Real Madrid all the way despite suffering their worst season since the Frank Rijkaard days. The Catalans changed managers midway through the campaign, went through political turmoil and have been hit by a number of bad injuries to key players and still they head into the final two fixtures of the season within touching distance of their fiercest rivals.
This fact can be largely credited to Messi. The Argentine might not be as mobile as he used to be and his future at the Camp Nou might be up in the air following his decision to break off contract talks with Barcelona, but he is still capable of conjuring up a moment of magic to save his team’s skin. He does it more often than is reasonable.
It says a lot about the structure and team unit Zidane has built at Real Madrid that they have been able to come out on top against a rival side that boasts Messi. They might now have as high a ceiling as Barça, but Los Blancos are a better balanced outfit and that, in the end, has shone through in the league table.
Zidane will want more than just one league title to show for his second spell at the club. Having spent the last decade or so watching Barcelona clean up the domestic honours, this must be the start of an era of dominance for Real Madrid. Everything is in place for them to build even more on what they have achieved this season.
Real Madrid’s transfer strategy is, at this moment, more coherent than anything in place at the Camp Nou, with the capital club specifically targeting South America to find their next generation of superstars. Rodrygo, Fede Valverde and Vinicius Junior are already key first team figures, while January signing Reinier Jesus will almost certainly be introduced into the senior squad next season.
From the boardroom to the dugout to the pitch, there is far greater harmony at the Santiago Bernabeu right now. In Sergio Ramos, Raphael Varane, Casemiro, Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and Karim Benzema they boast a spine of experienced figures who, even at this stage of their career, have plenty more to offer. Unlike Barcelona, Real Madrid have managed their aging stars well.
This season’s La Liga title race wasn’t a vintage one. Both Barcelona and Real Madrid have been deeply flawed as teams, but 2019-20 may be looked back upon as a significant moment in recent Spanish soccer history. This might be the start of something bigger for Real Madrid, the dawn of a new domestic era. At least, that’s what Spain's club is aiming for.