Does Real Madrid's Slow Start Mean La Liga Is Getting Stronger?

By Eric Imhof
Detail of Real Madrid crest – Photo by Eric Imhof


I told myself I was going to stop caring about Real Madrid, at least until Cristiano Ronaldo leaves, considering that they had already accomplished the goals I had set out for them (if only in my mind): they threw a monkey wrench in Barcelona’s tiki-taka-industrial complex, made the Clásicos worth watching again, and helped clean, minimalist kits once again return to style (and Swansea said “thank you very much”). With everything checked off the list, and with Madrileños successfully distracted from the state of Spanish affairs, I felt confident shifting my attention back to belovèd wildcards like Bilbao and Real Sociedad, hoping that they and other teams (just within the capital, even) would make things more interesting this year in La Liga.

But just when you think you’re out, well, you know how the rest of the line goes. After initial reticence, here I am again, sucked back in to Mourinho’s wizardly world, full of paradoxes and enigmatic plot twists. Is Cristiano Ronaldo still sad, or was he ever sad in the first place? With enough gold to make King Midas blush, why is everyone so jaded in the locker room? Can the team pull together in time for their Champions-League opener against Manchester City? Is Mourinho right to pit the match as new money vs. old honors? Does a team that owes its current dominance in large part to a fascist dictator really want to use tradition as its trump card? And so on…

For the past two or so weeks, every headline regarding Madrid seemed like it introduced an article that could just as well finish with “Tune in next episode for the thrilling conclusion!”.

And yet, as reinvested as I suddenly am in the goings-on of Los Blancos, I’m actually glad to see them start so poorly. Not only does it add to the intrigue, but it also means that maybe, just maybe, other teams in the league are tired of being pushovers and are starting to learn how to attack Madrid’s (many) weaknesses. (It would be better if they simultaneously learned how to attack Barça’s, but I’m confident that will come in time.)

Even if Barcelona runs away from the pack, which looks ever more likely, the rest of the field will be more open, creating a window for Atlético Madrid, Málaga, Valencia, and others to carve out new beachheads. Just last month I wrote about how La Liga was becoming a league of two teams, to vapid and detrimental effect. Any other team that weakens that hegemony is not only making things more compelling but also doing a service to the entire country. If Madrid dropping eight points is what it takes for that window to be opened, if only ever so slightly, then despite my annoyance at the azulgrana’s ipod-generation-identifying, U2-listening supporters (at least, here in the States), I’m willing to admit that Real’s slump is very much worth it.

I’d still like for them to beat City, though, if only because it propels the story.

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