Los Blancos’ chances of winning the Champions League, Copa del Rey and La Liga all ended in eight dramatic days, but their collapse is no surprise

When Real Madrid scraped past Juventus in the quarter-finals of last season’s Champions League, Marcelo laughed off the idea of them crashing out.

“What happened to Barcelona wasn’t going to happen to us,” the Brazilian smirked, referencing their rivals’ dramatic 3-0 defeat and subsequent exit to Roma the night before.

Why? “Because we’re Real Madrid.”

Fast forward less than 12 months and that same Real Madrid, who only recently celebrated 1000 days as European champions, are missing from the Champions League’s quarter-final line-up for the first time since 2010.

Within the space of eight days, Los Blancos crashed out of the Copa del Rey and Europe’s elite competition, with a Liga defeat to Barcelona sandwiched in between to all but mathematically end their title challenge.

“I’ve never had this feeling before,” said a bemused Dani Carvajal. “I don’t know how to explain it. It’s so bad. In a week we lost it all.”

He’s not alone. For Real Madrid, one of the most successful clubs in world football, failure is rare. However, their downfall has certainly not come without warning.

For those looking from the outside in, a stench of arrogance is clear. For those in and amongst it, it goes unnoticed.

It’s that which led to Florentino Perez appointing Julen Lopetegui, a man whose only managerial honours are the under-19 and under-21 Euros, as the replacement for Zinedine Zidane, a man who won three Champions League trophies in just two and a half years.

Unsurprisingly, things did not work out, with Ronaldo’s departure and lack of a replacement leaving the former Spain boss to fight a losing battle.

“They have stolen 50 goals from my son!” Lopetegui’s father protested after the coach was sacked in October, and he was right.

Arrogance led to the club’s over-reliance on Ronaldo and, as a result, the dilution of Florentino Perez’s ‘Galacticos’ policy. It’s almost five years since his last marquee signing: the €90 million (£71m/$101m) arrival of James Rodriguez, widely regarded as a transfer flop. 

Money has been splashed in that time, but not like in the past. This is a club who, in a pre-Neymar economy, spent a combined €222.5m (£192m/$250m) on just four players at the turn of the century by signing Luis Figo, Zidane, Ronaldo and David Beckham. Since signing James, they have spent €400m (£343m/$448m) on 18 players.

To allow Ronaldo to leave without recruiting was a crime, particularly for a club with the ability to sign almost anyone – be it the dazzling talent of Eden Hazard, the ruthless finishing of Mauro Icardi or the exciting potential of Luka Jovic.

“Cristiano scored 50 goals and you can’t find someone who scores so many,” Luka Modric said. “Some had to take a step forward and, not scoring 50, but for three players to score at least 15-20 or 10 goals. And we don’t have that. That’s why I think [scoring is] our biggest problem this year.”

But that pressure is unfair on a squad that lacks natural goal-scorers, with it seeming to have in fact have hampered those most likely to step up – such as Marco Asensio, who referenced his lack of experience when he said: “I don’t think it’s for me to carry the team.”

As a result, both Lopetegui and Solari have been left relying on goals from confidence-shy players shivering in Ronaldo’s shadow – see Vazquez’s post-Ajax comment of: “We had clear chances at their goal but didn’t know how to convert them.” It’s incredible to believe those words come from a Real Madrid forward.

But every sign was ignored and would come to a head when Sergio Ramos, the supposed leader of this team, got himself deliberately suspended for the second leg against Ajax.

Despite Madrid’s struggles this season, he felt a 2-1 win in the first leg was enough for his side progress at the Bernabeu without him.

After UEFA extended his ban to two games as a consequence, Ajax rubbed salt in the wounds by thrashing Los Blancos in a night that Marca would dub the club’s ‘worst on record’.

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“Without talking badly about any of our players, of course we missed our captain,” Solari said in the aftermath, having just watched Rafael Varane and Nacho, who was sent off in the final moments, be torn apart by Dusan Tadic’s inspired performance.

Perez’s words were not as complimentary. Ramos believes the president has blamed him for the team’s poor performances; the captain hitting back by blaming the club’s poor planning.

His future has now been thrown into doubt to pour further fuel on a fire which is already burning fiercely – and promises to only continue to do so as Jose Mourinho, a man whose poor relationship with Ramos in his previous spell is no secret, prepares to return.

Chaos at the Bernabeu has certainly unfolded very suddenly, but it is an inevitable situation that has been worked towards gradually by the very people who built one of the finest times Europe has ever seen.

When Zidane left last summer, he told the media: “A change is needed. I’m not going to get involved in these things.”

The footballing world thought his decision was crazy, but he will be pleased this week – not to see the collapse of his former club, but that he was right to get out when he did.

The question is now, how many more will follow?