Champions League

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Failure not an option for Real Madrid

Champions League: Preview of Wednesday's clash between Real Madrid vs. Galatasaray.
Champions League: Preview of Wednesday's clash between Real Madrid vs. Galatasaray.
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Leander Schaerlaeckens

Leander Schaerlaeckens has written about soccer for The New York Times, The Guardian, ESPN The Magazine and World Soccer. Follow him on Twitter.



FOX Soccer's Jamie Trecker analyzes the Champions League quarterfinal round.

By beating upstarts Galatasaray at home in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League quarterfinals bout (live, FOX Soccer, Wednesday, 2 p.m. ET), Real Madrid can take an assured step towards their third semifinals in three years.

Yet it’s been 10 years since Real Madrid, the most decorated club in European competition, have won the Champions League. In that decade, they have spent almost $1.2 billion on transfer fees, reeling in such soccer luminaries as Ronaldo, David Beckham, Michael Owen, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Kaka and Cristiano Ronaldo, to name but the most famous arrivals. Nobody else has splashed as much cash as the royal whites did. It bought them four La Liga crowns, a Copa del Rey and three Supercopas. But it has yet to end the wait for their unprecedented tenth Champions League trophy.

After Zinedine Zidane lashed in his wonder volley to beat Bayer Leverkusen 2-1 to win Real their third European title in five years in 2002, Los Merengues have been endlessly disappointing in continental play. They were stranded in the semifinals in 2003 and the quarterfinals in 2004. From 2005 through 2010, they were bounced in the round of 16 six consecutive times, an intolerable underachievement from Europe’s biggest spenders. When Jose Mourinho was appointed ahead of the 2010-11 season things got better; Real have rejoined the final four for each year that he has been in charge.

As the current European club season nears its climax, it would appear that Mourinho’s interests are even more aligned than those of a manager and his club typically are. The Portuguese, who previously won Champions League titles with FC Porto and Inter Milan, has made a bit of a mess of things this season. He has feuded with club mainstays like Sergio Ramos and Iker Casillas and made such a poor start to the season that Real were never really in contention for the league title, as archrivals Barcelona once again blasted out of the starting blocks. And winning La Liga just once in three years isn’t acceptable -- especially when you make an unheard of $19 million per season and fail to lift that giant silver urn that comes with conquering Europe. Winning another Copa del Rey, as Real will if they beat crosstown rivals Atletico Madrid in the final on May 17, certainly won’t save him.

It seems that in order to retain his job (not to mention that enormous contract, which runs for another three seasons after this one) Mourinho will have to give Real their tenth European crown. Failing that, it seems all but decided that he’ll get an enormous buyout and head back to the Premier League to see who will employ him first: Manchester City or his former club Chelsea.

It would constitute the first real failure in the self-proclaimed Special One’s career. And, given the money spent by the club, it would be yet another blow to its towering ambition and insatiable hunger for silverware.

First up, Galatasaray, newly armed with two star players very familiar to Mourinho. During the winter transfer window the Turks pulled off a pair of coups by landing Didier Drogba and Wesley Sneijder. Mourinho brought the former to Chelsea in 2004 and last year the big Ivorian striker virtually willed the Blues to the European title. The latter grew into the world’s finest playmaker under Mourinho at Inter but has faded badly since the coach left.

Galatasaray, who have squeaked through every round thus far, should be eminently beatable by Real. The Spaniards, led by Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, Xabi Alonso, Mesut Ozil, Angel Di Maria and so many others, are better at every last position. In truth, even their reserves should be able to win this tie. But then funny things happen in this tournament. If it was all decided according to the talent each team had on paper, Real would probably have been on the prowl for their 20th European championship, rather than their 10th, as they would have won every edition since their last.

But the final outcome of this tournament seldom favors the strongest – to wit: Chelsea’s victory last season – that’s why we love it so. Real know that it’s statistically unlikely for that coveted trophy to evade them much longer, but that buys them no guarantees.

The Champions League can only be won on the field, by overcoming inferior but unwilling foils like Galatasaray, in games that all start 0-0, just like Wednesday’s.

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