Sealing the title at your near-empty home stadium which isn’t really your home stadium.
With only a bunch of photographers and substitutes there to see it.
Your joint-most expensive signing ever mills around awkwardly like he’s waiting to be introduced at a party.
The story Real Madrid’s 34th La Liga crown has been anything but ordinary.
Other than some of the more notably unique aspects of Real Madrid’s first title victory in three years, however, there was a distinctly new feel to Zinedine Zidane’s side, and a number of important aspects separate it and link it with some of the great Los Blancos sides of years gone by.
What exactly is new about this Real Madrid side, then, and what is there about them that can be traced from their legendary forefathers? Let’s take a journey backwards through the ages to work it out…
Zidane has often been regarded as one of the more tactically flexible coaches in Europe, with his Real Madrid sides having had no recognisable style of play over the years, adapting themselves instead to the glittering players that Zidane finds at his disposal.
What is especially notable when Zidane’s current triumph is compared to his last league victory in the 2016/17 season is the distribution of the goalscorers – three years ago was the era of the ‘BBC’, with Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo combining for 41 goals in total, with Benzema often a distinctly third fiddle as the wingers flew through the gears.
This season, however, you’d struggle to find anyone near Benzema on the scoring charts for Real Madrid in the league, with centre back Sergio Ramos on ten league goals coming closest to matching the Frenchman’s 21 strikes.
By comparison, the wide men in Vinicius Júnior, Eden Hazard, Rodrygo, Marco Asensio, Lucas Vázquez and Bale can only boast of a combined 12 league goals between them. Clearly, Zidane has managed to find areas of efficiency elsewhere, which brings us on to our next comparison…
It’s hard to believe sometimes when you’re watching Tottenham struggle to muster a single shot on target away at Bournemouth, but José Mourinho at his best was once in fact extremely good at coaching elite attackers, and no more so than in his 2011/12 ‘Centurion’ season at Real Madrid.
During ‘La Liga de los Récords’, Los Blancos amassed 100 points under the Special One, as well as scoring a record 121 goals during the season, with Cristiano Ronaldo amassing an obscene 60 goals in all competitions.
Zidane’s side are setting their own decidedly different records, and in doing so show us how the Frenchman has atoned for the lack of firepower up top. They are well on course to break the club record for fewest goals conceded in a 38-game La Liga system, with their 23 goals allowed three less than the 26 of the 1987/88 season.
Though Ramos certainly has a mistake in him these days, the experience of Dani Carvajal, the goalkeeping might of Thibaut Courtois, the midfield steel of Fede Valverde and Casemiro, and the relatively quick adaptation period of the brilliant Ferland Mendy has made the Real Madrid goal a true fortress.
Any title win is often defined by how hard you were chased by your main rivals, and a cynic might say that up against a dishevelled Barcelona side failing to respond to Quique Setien and an Atletico Madrid side who at one point didn’t even look set for a Champions League spot, Real Madrid were left with very little excuse not to win the league.
On the other hand, for a relatively young and transitional Real Madrid side to upset the applecart in the age of Barça and Lionel Messi’s dominance is worthy of much credit, and with Real clinching the title with a game to spare, it’s important to be reminded that it wasn’t always so easy…
In the 2006/07 season, up until the 80th minute of the final game of the season, Madrid looked like they’d let the title slip away from them and into the hands of a Barcelona side who they’d been chasing all season, with Los Blancos having lost just one of their final 16 games to get to that point.
By the 81st minute, Madrid had the title, with Mahamadou Diarra’s deflected header giving them a priceless late victory. With Barcelona having dropped points in four out of a possible ten matches since the restart, Madrid’s task was much easier this time round.
2002/03 saw one of the most lavishly-assembled title winners of the La Liga era, with ‘El Fenomeno’ Ronaldo’s 23 league goals firing Vicente del Bosque’s side, which featured his fellow Galacticos Luis Figo and Zidane himself, to the title.
Florentino Pérez has remained Florentino Pérez across the 17 years which separate then from now, and last summer in true fashion the GDP of a moderately-sized country was spent on bringing in Eden Hazard and Luka Jovic to bolster the attack with some of Europe’s brightest stars.
The only issue is that this time, the attackers have been more Luis Garcia than Luis Figo, and Hazard’s fluctuating weight and injury status, alongside Jovic’s failure to catch Zidane’s eye, have seen Madrid’s manager increasingly rely on the ‘old guard’ of Ramos and Benzema to lead Madrid through crunch time.
Since the restart, Zidane’s faith has been rewarded, with Ramos rather symmetrically scoring five goals and keeping five clean sheets, while Benzema has been talismanic in adding seven goals and two assists to Madrid’s efforts in the run-in.
Without insinuating too much, it might even be said that the experience of both men when it comes to occasionally practicing football’s dark arts may well have helped Madrid accrue an extraordinary quantity of penalties on the way to their league victory. Three cheers for Real Madrid’s slightly less expensive footballers!
At the beating heart of the dominant Real Madrid team which won five league titles in a row in the 1980s was the extremely coolly-named ‘Quinta del Buitro’, or ‘Vulture’s Cohort’, so named for the young core of players of which Emilio Butragueño was the (baby) face.
By the time of their fifth straight win of 1990 under John Toshack, four of the five in the ‘cohort’ were now established players in Butragueno, Manolo Sanchís, Rafael Martín Vázquez and Míchel, with a young Butragueno having famously made his mark on debut in 1984 by scoring twice in a 3-2 comeback win.
What’s exciting from a Madrid perspective is that another such cohort is coming through now, and the Butragueno figure leading it all could well be the electrifying Vinicius, with his colleagues in Brahim Diaz, Rodrygo, Valverde and Eder Militao all promising to usher in a new, dominant and sustainable era at Real.
Zidane’s current Real Madrid side are good, but the mark of a truly great one is connected to your ability to combine domestic success with glory in Europe’s main continental competition, one that has always been kind to Los Blancos.
By the time of their fifth consecutive European Cup triumph, Real Madrid had on two of these occasions won the competition alongside the league in the same season, but since then it has ‘only’ been done once more – spookily enough, the last time Zidane won the league.
With Real Madrid needing something pretty special to overturn a 2-1 deficit against Manchester City in their Champions League round of 16 second leg tie on 7 August, the gloss which their season needs to become truly memorable seems a long way off.
But should they succeed against their old foe Guardiola, the Lisbon mini-tournament, where the games will be total one-offs and the likes of Bayern Munich and PSG are likely to be lacking in match sharpness, could be an invaluable chance to put the cherry on the icing on the La Liga cake.