Last night saw Real Madrid’s coronation as unprecedented twelve-time European champions. La Duodécima was the culmination of 18-months arduous and meticulous work by manager Zinedine Zidane and his staff. What it has showed however, is the change in philosophy Real as a whole have undertaken. Once lambasted for their cut-throat policies, Madrid’s recent success has come via methodical planning, smart business and a clear strategy. Below are four reasons why Los Merengues dominated the 2016/17 season.
- Isco over Bale
One thing that has defined Los Blancos over the years is the political influence of their numerous club presidents. When Gareth Bale was brought to the Bernabéu for around £77 million, he was Florentino Pérez’s man. Last night we saw Pérez finally release his stranglehold on team affairs. Bale had been injured in the matches building up to the final and his replacement Isco was in inspired form. Years gone by may well have seen the president take it upon himself to place Bale in the starting line-up for commercial over footballing reasons – as well as to satisfy his own egotistical persona. The fact Zidane was able to field Isco speaks volumes to the trust his employer has in him.
- The Importance of Casemiro
It was 14 years ago that Real opted to sell Claude Makélélé, a player generally regarded as one of the finest defensive midfielders of his generation. The Frenchman’s acrimonious departure was down to his request of a pay rise being refused. Whilst his Galáctico teammates raked in the big bucks, Makélélé’s importance in the team was often an afterthought. This was a team that wanted to attack with little regard for the art of defending.
Last night Brazilian Casemiro was awarded man of the match by WhoScored with a rating of 8.8. He comfortably made more tackles (7) than any other player on the pitch and allowed further advanced midfielders Modric, Kroos and Isco, licence to overload the attacking third. Not to mention scoring the goal that put Madrid into the lead. His impact was monumental and indicated the shift in mentality to how highly defensive play is now regarded in the Spanish capital.
- Resting Ronaldo
Cristiano has missed a total of 14 games this season, more than any other year since 2009. Now at the age of 32, it seems Zidane has found the perfect balance between satisfying the Portuguese’s relentless desire to play, and keeping him fresh for the big occasions. It would be so easy to play Ronaldo at every opportunity. He is by far the most marketable asset the squad boasts and as proved on countless occasions, is a constant goal threat. This more astute and measured approach adopted by the clubs hierarchy however has paid dividends, seeing Ronaldo hit his seasonal peak at the most opportune time.
- The use of Academy Products
Marco Asensio’s goal put the cherry on the icing of the cake but its significance ran much deeper than simply rubbing salt into the wounds of the Old Lady. In a similar vein to Guardiola’s early Barcelona days, Zidane has made use of his links to the clubs academy to promote youth from within. It’s a strategy one doesn’t stereotypically associate with Los Blancos but the results are there for all to see. Asensio’s strike was his apex in a breakout campaign and with the clubs new-found remit of youth-production, you can bet this won’t be the last time we’ll see a former Castilla man score big goals at senior level.