It may have taken extra-time against Kashima Antlers to cement their status as World Champions, but Real Madrid have undoubtedly earned that title after an extremely successful 2016 – which has been accompanied by more trophies than defeats for the Spanish giants.
The catalyst for much of this success has been the appointment of Zinedine Zidane in the managerial hot-seat as the French legend has instilled a ruthless winning mentality into his players – one that has allowed them to produce results in crunch situations, even if unconvincingly. And the club’s 37 game unbeaten streak is testament to that.
Every game has not induced chants of Olé from the crowd, but the sheer grit and determination of the side has shone through. Goals from the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, and Sergio Ramos in key matches have helped as well – with Los Blancos often mustering up success by the slimmest of margins.
These are not qualities typically attributed to the club either, but they are a welcome antithesis to the volatile reputation the team has acquired since the start of the Galácticos era. Real Madrid’s obsession with becoming a larger-than-life brand has seemingly been their undoing for the last decade, and Zidane’s structured approach to management has restored normalcy to a certain extent.
Most importantly, however, the club has rediscovered a sense of identity – one that has nurtured competitiveness within the squad and crushed the notion of any player being indispensable. Zizou’s refusal to spend exorbitant amounts in the summer has also reinforced this culture, with the Frenchman opting to focus on the club’s younger players rather than facilitate an influx of oversized egos.
The likes of Lucas Vazquez, Casemiro, Nacho, and more recently, Alvaro Morata, have displayed the kind of selflessness that allows the team to thrive as a whole – and subsequently demands more of their seasoned counterparts. After all, no player should produce half-hearted performances when someone else can give their utmost to the cause.
Of course, Real Madrid are still far from perfect – and by no means have they consistently been playing the best football in Europe, let alone the world. But we all know that there is so much more to the beautiful game than what meets the eye, and in that respect, Madrid are worthy champions (finally) living in a state of contentment; limited in growth only by their own unpredictability.