Just about everybody who sticks around long enough at some point gets booed at the Bernabeu. Well, maybe Alfredo Di Stefano never got booed by his home support, but then, he’s Di Stefano. So the fact that the likes of Gareth Bale and Sergio Ramos got a barracking from their own fans during the 2-0 win over Valladolid isn’t surprising, particularly when you consider that until seven minutes from time, it was scoreless, and the visitors had hit the woodwork twice.
It’s not a function of Real Madrid fans as much as it is a function of the Bernabeu crowd or at least a significant portion. Their standards are higher than anywhere else and the second you fall beneath them, even if it’s temporary, you get an earful — even when you’ve won three straight Champions League crowns.
Yet in some ways, Saturday felt different.
After a decent start, Real Madrid played with fear and it was palpable. When that happens, you expect your stars to do something. Bale is Real Madrid’s most expensive player; Ramos is the club captain, dressing room leader, and resident lightning rod. And they were AWOL for much of the match.
You can find mitigating factors for Real Madrid’s form this season — from injuries like Isco’s during the Julen Lopetegui regime, to the fact that three-quarters of the back four were missing against Valladolid — but they don’t explain performances like this one and the fact they were ultimately saved by a teenage substitute, Vinicius Jr., who was supposed to spend the season at Castilla in the third tier.
Bale was angry at being substituted and appeared to reject Santiago Solari’s handshake. Casemiro wasn’t pleased when he came off, either. Toni Kroos pushed out this tweet, which lends itself to so many interpretations but ultimately underscores his malaise. Ramos says he’s willing to carry the burden — “I’m proud of the fact that people load my backpack with stones” — and that it’s up to the players to turn things around.
The overall snapshot is of a decidedly unhappy bunch. The question is where they channel that unhappiness. If it turns into finger-pointing and bad chemistry, they will implode. If they use it to stoke their inner fires and remember the unity they showed last season, then there’s plenty they can still salvage, but it has to come from them.
A guy like Bale has to understand that his behaviour matters. Maybe he did the best he could on the pitch and the fact that he endured a stinker is beyond his control. But what he could control was his reaction coming off the pitch, especially after the post-Champions League song and dance about wanting to leave if he didn’t get more playing time; now that he’s got it, he needs to show he deserves it.
It can’t come from the manager. Solari, especially as long as he has the interim tag, can only do so much in the time allotted to him. The most you can hope from him is to foster the right environment for his players to do a 180, although until the managerial situation is resolved, that won’t change.
For all his faults, Ramos isn’t hiding. It would be helpful if others followed his lead.