Ronaldo comments toward teammates misguided, but Real criticism spot on
Cristiano Ronaldo raised a few eyebrows with his comments in the mixed zone after Real Madrid's faltering title challenge was irrevocably derailed by Atletico Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday. The Portuguese appeared to suggest that some of his teammates were not up to his standard after the 1-0 defeat.
"It annoys me that they say that Cristiano has dropped his level, and that is why Madrid have dropped their level," he said, with third-person archness. "If they were all at my level, we would be first."
Ronaldo later clarified that he had been referring to the side's fitness issues this season, and that in singling out Mateo Kovacic, Jese and Lucas Vazquez, he was merely referring to the absence of key players for several games this season.
"I don't know if it is for bad preparation at the start of the season, but we are having many injuries and that is hurting us," Ronaldo said. "I don't want to knock anyone, no teammate, but when the best are missing ... I like to play with [Gareth] Bale, [Karim] Benzema and Marcelo. I don't want to say that Jese, Lucas [Vazquez] or [Mateo] Kovacic are not good players -- they are very good -- but ... to win a competition, you need to have your best players."
Whatever the true intention of Ronaldo's words, his frustration at Real's situation is evident and aimed at the institution as a whole. For "many injuries," see "Dr Stretch" Jesus Olmo, the son-in-law of Real director -- and Florentino Perez's personal physician -- Jeronimo Farre. This is the man who was entrusted with Jonathan Woodgate's fitness problems during the defender's spell in Madrid.
So far this season, Bale and Benzema have missed 17 Liga matches between them.
For "bad preparation," see the club's insistence on lucrative preseason tours with practically no sporting value whatsoever. As Luka Modric noted earlier in the campaign: "We spent the entire preseason in a plane."
Do Real Madrid really need the cash? Or would the time have been better spent ensuring every single player was fully fit on Day 1 of the season (a 0-0 draw at newly promoted Sporting Gijon)?
For "I don't want to say that Jese, Lucas or Kovacic are not good players," well, Cristiano, you essentially just did. And the simple fact is Ronaldo has a point. Jese's career has stagnated to the extent that he got on the pitch Saturday after 18-year-old Castilla striker Borja Mayoral, with Zinedine Zidane noting after the game that he had no choice but to throw the youngster into the fray as he "had no strikers on the bench."
That's pretty harsh on Jese, who can do a job there if required, but the broader question is, why do the richest club in the world not have options other than an 18-year-old with three minutes of La Liga experience for a derby match? Mayoral is a great prospect, perhaps the best to come out of the cantera this decade, but he's not a replacement for Benzema yet.
And Danilo isn't able to replicate Marcelo's contribution to the team. Vazquez is industrious rather than inspirational. Kovacic is a nice option to have off the bench, but with Modric and Toni Kroos as the undisputed first-choice midfield pairing, the €30 million spent on the former Inter Milan man would have been better used to strengthen areas of the squad that are glaringly understaffed.
Sergio Ramos picked up a yellow card suspension on Saturday and will miss the midweek game against Levante. With Pepe injured, that will leave Raphael Varane and Nacho to man the middle of the defence. If one of them gets injured, there is no one left in reserve.
About the only thing Real Madrid got absolutely right last summer was hanging on to Keylor Navas, and that was only because of a dodgy fax machine.
Perez's reluctance to employ a sporting director and his penchant for meddling in transfer business is doing irreparable damage to the club. Eduardo Alvarez covered the bizarrely differing approaches to the basketball and football teams by El Presi last week.
Zidane said after the game that there will be changes in the summer, "maybe even a new coach," which could also be interpreted as a swipe at the club's modus operandi. There was widespread resignation in the stands on Saturday, and plenty of calls for Perez to present his own.
Ronaldo is frustrated and angry, and he has every right to be, although his choice of words was certainly unfortunate. Since his arrival in the Spanish capital in 2009, Super Cup- and Club World Cup-shaped trinkets aside, Ronaldo has won one Liga, two Copas del Rey and a Champions League. In six seasons at Manchester United, he won three Premier League titles, an FA Cup, two league cups and a Champions League.
He will very likely have to wait until next season to have the opportunity to add any more silverware to his tally, but unless Real seriously overhaul their recruitment structure this summer, the now-familiar weaknesses will remain.
Perhaps the most telling of Ronaldo's post-match remarks was about the Champions League: "Psychologically, it is not the same to play in the Champions League as in La Liga, where your chances are already screwed."
That should strike at the heart of Perez's regime. Real have given up in the title race -- Zidane also confirmed this -- in February.
Rob Train is a freelance writer who lives in Madrid and covers Real Madrid for ESPN. Twitter: @Cafc13Rob.