After Tuesday night's 4-1 Champions League humbling by Ajax, which brought Real Madrid's European reign to a close after a total of 1,011 days, the not unjustified verdict is that it's the end of an era. The final knockings for the side that won three straight continental crowns, and four in five years: an achievement bettered only by Madrid themselves, back in the far-off days of Alfredo di Stéfano, who led Los Blancos to five in a row. Yes, it's the end of an era. But for me the end came - or at least I felt it was on the way - when Florentino Pérez flogged Cristiano Ronaldo in his eagerness to save money for his autumn-years pet project: suping up the Bernabéu. Madrid's club chief kidded himself that 'his' players, Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale, could fill the void left by Cristiano, who he had never had much feeling with. The Portuguese was really his predecessor's signing, after all.
Real Madrid fall behind European rivals in player investment
In today's AS, we have stats that show Madrid have slipped to 17th in Europe's player-investment table in recent years. Well behind not only Barcelona and Atlético, but also many others. Yes, they've bought bodies in, but they've also been very active in shipping them out, most notably Ronaldo - and for a knockdown fee, too, to get his salary off the wage bill. And the players they have brought in haven't sufficed. The last marquee signing under Pérez - who in the past had something of a transfer-market Midas touch, snaring the likes of Luis Figo, Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo and David Beckham - was James Rodríguez. Now he picks up mid-range buys such as Jesús Vallejo, Theo Hernández, Dani Ceballos, Álvaro Odriozola, Mariano Díaz and Brahim Díaz, or the odd more exciting prospect: Isco, Marco Asensio, Vinicius... On Tuesday, only the Brazilian was a starter. Several weren't even on the bench.
Pérez has taken apart a squad that had two good teams in it
Also in the XI was Thibaut Courtois, a man whose signing belongs in a category of its very own: namely, Pérez's inexplicable lack of faith in Keylor Navas. A fax machine away from swapping him for David de Gea, foiled by Zidane in his bid to buy Kepa Arrizabalaga, he finally got his wish when he signed the Belgian. All in all, what we've seen is the demolition of a squad which, two years ago, was two good teams: remember Madrid's 'Plan B', which filled its boots throughout Spain? From that high point, it's been a downhill slide capped by Cristiano's sale and the failure to even come close to replacing him. No, what's more important is turning the Bernabéu into a kind of futuristic Noah's Ark on which, one day, the poverty-phobes in Pérez's presidential box can, with the help and all their cronies in tow, escape this climate change-beset planet.