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The Golden Generation of Real Madrid

Sun 20 February 2022 | 11:30

Real Madrid has been one of the giants of European football from its early days. As a highly decorated club, the Spanish side had so many great squads throughout its history. But the following article, is about the best of the bests: the golden generation of Real Madrid.

The club was founded in the spring of 1902 in Madrid as Madrid Football Club. The first major trophies were four consecutive Copa del Reay championships from 1905 to 1908. They won the tournament one more time in 1917 and then in 1920, King Alfonso XIII bestowed the title “Real” -which means royal in Spanish- to the club. Since then, the club’s named changed to Real Madrid and the famous royal crown was added to their emblem. In 1928, Real Madrid alongside Barcelona, Athletic Club, and 7 other Spanish clubs, was one of the founding members of Spain’s national football league as known as La Liga.

Real Madrid was also the main figure in the designing of a European club competition. Then-president

Santiago Bernabéu

created a tournament which the champions across Europe would participate in it annually. Over the years, that competition evolved and became what today we know as UEFA Champions League. As one of the most successful clubs in the sport’s history, Real Madrid has always been considered as a title contender in every competition that they took part in. 34 La Liga, 13 Champions League, and 4 FIFA Club World Cup are just a part of club’s glorious trophy cabinet. But when was the golden generation of Real Madrid and what they achieved? that’s the question we are going to answer.

When Was the Golden Era of Real Madrid?

For an elite club like Real Madrid, it is a rare occurrence if they don’t win at least one trophy in a time span of two or three seasons. But still there are some particular eras that stands out in the club’s history as they managed to dominate the European football for more than one season. Judging by European championships, the best Real Madrid team was in the mid-1950s. The European Cup tournament was introduced in the 1955-56 season and Real Madrid has managed to win the first five editions of the tournament from 1955 to 1960.

Some of the greatest

Real Madrid legends

was a part of that unbeatable team including Alfredo Di Stéfano, Francisco Gento, and Ferenc Puskás. But in the recent times, the golden generation of Real Madrid was somewhere between 2013 and 2018. We’ll start by looking at how this generation came together, what made the unstoppable in European football, and then who were the key players in it. stay tuned!

The Galacticos Failure 

Real Madrid won their 9th Champions League title in the 2001-02 season with Vicente del Bosque being at charge. In that final, they defeated Bayer Leverkusen thanks to that iconic volley goal from Zinedine Zidane. But then after that, the club didn’t have any European success for more than a decade. Even going through a Galactico era didn’t help them to reach another European final. The term Galactico era is referred to a time frame when Real Madrid started to pay huge amounts of money to sign world class players from all over the world.

Superstars like the original Ronaldo,

David Beckham

, Michael Owen, Robinho, Fabio Cannavaro, and Ruud van Nistelrooy were among the names who joined Real Madrid after 2001 but surprisingly enough, they were not the golden generation of Real Madrid that we are looking for. Three La Liga titles and two Spanish Supercups was all that the Galacticos could get their hands on from 2002 to 2010. Certainly, for a club in the Real Madrid’s caliber that’s not enough and today everybody will agree that despite their big names, the Galacticos underperformed in terms of winning silverwares.

To get an idea of how much Real Madrid was struggling in that era, here is a fact for you: from the 2004-05 to 2009-10 season of Champions League, Real Madrid couldn’t reach to the quarter-finals of the tournament for six straight years. Six consecutive eliminations in the round of 16 of Champions League had absolutely frustrated Real Madrid fans and they were desperate for a change. That change was the arrival of Jose Mourinho in the summer of 2010. The Portuguese coach had just won the treble with Inter and now was ready for a new challenge in Spanish football. 

The Start of a New Era

On Mourinho’s debut season, Real Madrid finally managed to go higher than round of 16 and progressed to the semi-finals of UCL where they lost to Barcelona. In the same season Real won the Copa del Rey title for the first time after 1993. In his second season, Mourinho won the league by setting a record of 100 points in a single La Liga season. He also led Real to the semi-finals of Champions League for the second time but lost the tie to Bayern Munich only in penalty shootouts.

Things went south in Mourinho’s third season at Madrid as his relationships with the Spanish press and even his team’s captain Iker Casillas got too complicated and ruined the club’s atmosphere. Although Real Madrid reached to another semi-final of Champions League, a masterclass from

Dortmund

’s

Robert Lewandowski prevented Mourinho to coach Real Madrid in a European final. Jose left Real in the following summer and the Italian tactician Carlo Ancelotti succeeded him in the summer of 2013. In the same summer, the 23-year-old Gareth Bale completed his move from Tottenham to Real Madrid for a record transfer fee of nearly €100m and the fans couldn’t get more eager for the start of 2013-14 season. 

La Decima

Jose Mourinho didn’t win a European trophy for Real Madrid but it’s hard to ignore his influence in turning the page for the club after years of struggling in the Champions League. Nonetheless, Carlo Ancelotti picked up from where Mourinho left and transformed from his 4-2-3-1 to a 4-3-3 scheme with the trio of Bale, Benzema, and Ronaldo aka BBC leading the attack. Ancelotti’s team was playing one of the most attacking footballs across Europe and you could sense that they can achieve something special it they could keep up their form.

Real finished the league with 87 points on third place three points less than Atletico Madrid who won its first La Liga title in 18 years. Ancelotti won his first trophy with Real in Copa del Rey defeating Barca in the final. But his masterpiece was on the European front. In the knock out phase of Champions League, Real had to deal with three Bundesliga clubs before reaching final. First, they crashed Schalke with a 9-2 aggregate score, then a close win against Dortmund, and a humiliating win versus Bayern Munich which sent them to the final to play against city rivals

Atletico Madrid

.

The final was being played at Estadio da Luz, Lisbon and Real was seeing themselves in their first UCL final since the 2002 championship. It was Atletico Madrid who scored the opener through Diego Godin in the 36th minute. Real couldn’t find the equalizer and just when everyone was losing their hopes, Ramos got himself at the end of Modric’s corner and made things level at the last seconds of the match. Real’s three goals in the 30 minutes of extra times meant that Real Madrid won its tenth Champions League title dubbed the La Decima. 

Zidane, The Perfect Manager

Ancelotti’s incredible first season was followed by a mediocre second season which led to his dismissal at the end of 2014-15. Rafael Benitez got appointed as the new Real Madrid head coach. But turned out that the Spanish manager was not the right choice for

the golden generation of Real Madrid

and he was replaced by Zinedine Zidane in the January of 2016. After being Ancelotti’s assistant at Real Madrid and coaching Real’s youth team, it was Zidane’s first experience as the head coach of a senior club. The French manager immediately made his impact and get the best out of his players.

His first European match was against Roma which Real came on top with two 2-0 wins. Coming back from a 2-0 loss at

Wolfsburg

by winning 3-0 at Madrid sent the to semi-finals where they eliminated Man. City with a sole goal. Once again, it was Atletico Madrid who faced against Real Madrid in another European final. After a 1-1 draw, the European champions was decided via penalties and Real Madrid celebrated their 11th Champions League title in Zidane’s breakthrough season as a manager.  

The Champions League Treble

 Winning the UCL title and finishing the league only one point less than Barcelona was a perfect start for Zidane’s career as a football coach. But that was just the beginning. He started his first full season at Real Madrid by winning the UEFA Super Cup against Sevilla. An impressive run of 16 straight wins in La Liga put them ahead in the title race and Real Madrid won the 2016-17 league title. The

best Real Madrid team

was the number one contender for that season’s UCL title as well. After knocking out Napoli and Bayern Munich, there was another Real Madrid-Atletico Madrid showdown but this time at the semi-finals.

Once again Real came on top against Diego Simeone’s side and got their tickets reserved for Cardiff’s final against Juventus. This time Real had an easier job compared to their last two finals and won the match 4-1 and became the only team that won the Champions League title on two consecutive times. But even that was not enough for the golden generation of Real Madrid. The 2017-18 season was kind of a deja vu for Real Madrid as they win both UEFA Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup just like they did in the previous season. 

They couldn’t replicate their La Liga championship as they finished in the third place. But Real Madrid was determined in their chase for the third UCL title in succession. This time they had a more challenging route to the final. It started by a clash between Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain in the round of 16 which Real won 5-2 on aggregate. Next stop was Turin, Italy. Real Madrid dominated the first leg match against Juventus winning 3-0. On the second leg, Juve almost completed a comeback by scoring 3 goals at Santiago Bernabéu but at the last minute of the match, a penalty saved Real Madrid from going to extra times.

The semi-final was a classic Bayern Munich-Real Madrid face off. At the end of two matches, Real narrowly won with a 4-3 score line. On the other hand, Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool reached to their first UCL final since 2007 and was hunting for their sixth championship in the tournament. A combination of Loris Karius’s errors and Gareth Bale brilliance led to a 3-1 win in favor of Real Madrid and their third back-to-back UEFA Champions League trophy. Completing the European treble was happened only twice before: first was the Real Madrid team in the 1950s, second was the golden generation of

Ajax

in the early 1970s. And now Zidane’s Real Madrid name was written in the history as one of the most successful teams in the history of European football.

Key Players in the Golden Generation of Real Madrid

From 2012 to 2018, Real Madrid has won 13 trophies including 4 Champions League, 1 La Liga, and 4 FIFA Club World Cup. Creating one of the most prosperous eras in the history of Real Madrid was not possible without recruiting some of the finest football players in the world. In building up

the golden generation of Real Madrid

, there were some key players that did their share during the early 2010s but then left the club before its magnificent achievements in Zidane’s era.

For instance, one of the most popular Real Madrid legends Iker Casillas left for Porto one year after winning the La Decima as the captain of the team. The Spanish midfield player Xabi Alonso who contributed a lot in the successful 2013-14 campaign also left for

Bayern Munich

at the end of that season. And let’s not forget about the Argentinian Angel di Maria who had the best days of his career in a Real Madrid shirt from 2010 to 2014. With that being said, these are the players that had a crucial role in Real Madrid glorious days from 2012 to 2018:

Keylor Navas

After the heartbreaking departure of Iker Casillas, Real Madrid needed a world class goalkeeper to compete at the highest level. There were some talks about signing David De Gea or Thibaut Courtois but Real Madrid decided to trust their Costa Rican shot stoper Keylor Navas who was considered as the second-choice goalkeeper behind Casillas. Navas made a name for himself in the 2014 World Cup with putting on a heroic performance for

Costa Rica

national team in that tournament. That convinced Real Madrid to trigger his €10m buyout clause and buy him from Levante.

In his first season, Keylor Navas was a benchwarmer and appeared in only 11 matches in all competitions. With Casillas moving to Porto, Navas put on the number 1 shirt and became one of the key parts of squad for the following years. He may noy have a place in the Real Madrid all time XI, but his consistency throughout the years made him a reliable option between the posts who helped Real to win trophies one after another.

Sergio Ramos

You simply can’t have a golden generation without a capable leader in the squad. Sergio Ramos was that charismatic captain who could guide his teammates during the most challenging times. As a part of the Galactico project, the Spanish defender joined Real Madrid from

Sevilla

for a significant transfer fee of €27m back in 2005. In his early years, Ramos was deployed mainly as a right back in Real Madrid’s four-man defense. It was Mourinho who moved him to the center of the defense line and that change of position suited Ramos quite well.

 He established himself as one of the best Centre-backs of his generation with an aggressive defending style. He was also a dangerous weapon in the opposition box and scoring 101 goals during his 671 games for Real Madrid is a proof of that. Ramos was the captain who lifted the trophy in all those three finals from 2016 to 2018, but he will be remembered for his last-minute equalizer against Atletico Madrid in the 2014 final which led to Real winning the La Decima. And who knows, maybe if it wasn’t for that goal, the golden generation of Real Madrid would have never happened after that. 

Marcelo

Marcelo is one of the Real Madrid players who played every single minute during those three consecutive European finals and had an important role in every each of them. Even in the 2014 final which he came on as a substitute in the 60th minute, he ended up having a wonderful evening and scored his team’s third goal during the extra time. In 2016, he was the second player in the shoot outs and converted his shot against Jan Oblak. The Brazilian left-back started his career at

Fluminense

and when he had only 19 years old, Real Madrid paid €6.5m to bring him to European football.

It didn’t take him long to become a regular starter for Real Madrid and proved himself as a capable full-back who had amazing attacking skills on the right-hand side. During those golden years, Marcelo and Cristiano Ronaldo formed a decent combination that exhausted the oppositions defenders. With winning 23 major trophies with Real Madrid, Marcelo is joint most decorated Real Madrid player in history alongside Francisco Gento. If Real Madrid manages to win at least one trophy in the 2021-22 season, Marcelo Vieira da Silva Júnior as known as Marcelo will set a record of winning the most major trophies with Real Madrid in the club’s history.

Luka Modrić

During his three straight UCL finals, Zidane had made some changes in every line of his formation except for the midfield. The trio of Casemiro, Toni Kroos and Luka Modrić started each of those three important matches for Real Madrid and the Croatian creative midfielder was the leader of them. Luka joined Real Madrid from Tottenham in the summer of 2012 for €35m as one of the best players of his position in the world.

Modrić had everything that is needed to play for a club like Real Madrid: a world class player with a professional personality who could perform week in and week out. In addition to being one of the best passers in the game, Luka Modrić is also a charismatic figure in the pitch. You can see his elegant style of leadership both on Real Madrid and Croatia national team squads as he led his fellow midfielders to take control of the match. Real Madrid had so many great midfielders in its history, but it’s hard to ignore Luka Modrić in the 

Real Madrid all time XI

.

Cristiano Ronaldo

It’s fair to say that

Cristiano Ronaldo

was the face of the golden generation of Real Madrid from 2012 to 2018. As the club’s leading top scorer of all time, the Portuguese superstar rescued his side in so many decisive moments to win the La Decima and then complete a European treble. In the 2013-14 of Champions League, Ronaldo scored 17 goals in the competition that was an unprecedented achievement. His hat trick against Wolfsburg in the 2015-16 season helped Real to come back from a 2-0 defeat.

In the following season, Ronaldo scored another European hat trick this time in the semi-finals against Atletico Madrid. He also scored two goals in Real’s 4-1 win against Juventus in the final of the tournament. In the 2017-18 season, Ronaldo’s iconic bicycle kick against Juventus at Turin created one of the most wonderful scenes in the history of European football. Cristiano Ronaldo has won 5 Ballon d’Or awards in his career and four of them came between 2013 and 2017. So, it’s safe to say that Ronaldo enjoyed the peak of his career during the golden generation of Real Madrid from 2012 to 2018.

Karim Benzema

The French number 9 had a controversial career both at France national team and Real Madrid. After spending five successful seasons with

Lyon

in the French football, the 22-year-old Karim Benzema moved to Real Madrid for a transfer fee of €35m in the summer of 2009. From the beginning days of his career at the Spanish club, there were a group of fans that believed he is not good enough for a club like Real Madrid. But Benzema stayed focus on his career and proved his worth by working hard on the pitch.

It's hard to get yourself out of the shadow of a legendary player such as Cristiano Ronaldo in the best Real Madrid team. Karim Benzema may not have scored as much as you would expect from a striker, but he had an undeniable role in making spaces for other attackers. His pinpoint passes made Karim Benzema the all time assist provider of Real Madrid and it’s hard to imagine what could

the golden generation of Real Madrid

achieve if they didn’t have Benzema on their side.

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source: SportMob

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