Real Madrid’s stars are basically in open war against management

Real Madrid is, under normal circumstances, like a boiling cauldron where the tension could spill over at any moment. Periods of Pax Madridistas are few and far between, typically lasting six months at most. Right now the club finds itself in a particularly rough period, in which its President Florentino Pérez is feuding with the three most emblematic players on the squad: Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos, and Cristiano Ronaldo. Rafa Benítez, the new manager brought in to replace Carlo Ancelotti, watches as the club eats itself alive before he’s even directed his first training session.

The crux of the problem is that Pérez has always had a very difficult relationship with players who he feels garner too much power within the club. As the CEO of construction company ACS, Florentino is used to being an all powerful ruler. Since taking over as president of Real Madrid, a club that technically belongs to its socios (members) who supposedly elect him democratically, he’s taken deliberate steps to consolidate his iron-like grip on power. He’s reformed the club’s bylaws to make it almost impossible for anyone to run against him in elections. Indeed he’s run unopposed in 2009 and 2013.

The issue of players demanding power at clubs is a new one in sports. We are entering an era where Lebron James basically coaches the team while his coach just stands there, and Lionel Messi tells Luis Suárez what position to play. It makes a lot of “old school” sports people uncomfortable, as they are used to the idea that, just like in the military, “chain of command” is all that matters.

This is totally bogus, but Pérez is fully bought into that. He sees himself as the all powerful decider at Real Madrid, to the point where he’s even eliminated the job of Sporting Director, which was always mostly a symbolic position at the club, and installed himself.

That is why when, back in 2003, then-captain Fernando Hierro came to him with a set of player demands, Pérez kicked him out of the club unceremoniously. Pérez has always been suspicious of players that curried too much favor with the fans, especially if those players emerged as leaders within the dressing room. He was never enamored with Raúl, for example, who left the club quietly despite being one of the club’s all-time leading scorer (contrast that with the sendoffs of Steven Gerrard and Xavi Hernández at Liverpool and Barça).

He was always weary of Iker Casillas, the club’s most decorated player ever. Indeed he always spoke in private of his dream to replace Casillas with Gianluigi Buffon. Florentino stepped aside and allowed José Mourinho to basically kill Casillas’ reputation with sector of Madrid fans. The club is currently locked in an ugly showdown with Casillas that could get even uglier.

Now Florentino Pérez is feuding with the other two most powerful players on the squad: Sergio Ramos and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Ronaldo has been annoyed with Florentino for quite some time now. After a game against Granada in 2012, Ronaldo said that he was “sad” and that “the club knew why.”

The “why” was that Ronaldo was peeved that he wasn’t one of the top two highest paid players in the world, and that the club kept selling the players who he jived with in attack. No one has ever given Ronaldo more assists than Mesut Ozil (27 to be exact), and Cristiano went public to say “I’m mad at the sale of Ozil” after his sale to Arsenal. Ángel Di María said that Ronaldo personally lobbied for him to stay. Di Maria ended up staying one more year, where he led La Liga and the Champions League in assists. In the end, Di María was pushed out by the club.

Ronaldo ultimately signed a big new deal, but his frustrations have not subsided. First, he was furious at the club for not coming to his defense after the infamous “Kevin Roldan birthday party” just hours after losing 4-0 to Atlético de Madrid. Ronaldo swore a vow of silence after that incident, and he’s kept his word.

Now, Ronaldo is annoyed that the club is reportedly looking to switch his position on the field in order to accommodate Gareth Bale. Reports have indicated that Bale’s agent, Jonathan Barnett, has formally requested that Bale be moved to play behind a striker, preferably toward the left; in other words, Ronaldo’s position for the past six seasons. The club is reportedly keen on the move, as Florentino’s no. 1 obsession is for Bale to succeed at Madrid at all costs. Ronaldo then instructed his agent, the mighty Jorge Mendes, to tell the club LOL why would Cristiano, who scored 59 goals last year, switch positions to accommodate a guy who scored 17?

The most explosive case, however, is Sergio Ramos. Ramos, it’s worth remembering, scored two goals in the Champions League semifinal against Bayern last season and then a goal in the 93rd minute of the final against Atlético de Madrid to send the match into overtime. For all intents and purposes, he is The Great Hero of La Decima.

He has been at Real Madrid for 10 years, scoring 55 goals and is the club’s second captain after Casillas.

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Now, it looks like he could actually leave this summer. AS dropped the bombshell cover story on Saturday. Basically Ramos is tired of the constant war between the players and the club’s board. Starting with Mourinho, who was always backed by the club despite the fact that his players were basically mutineering, to the situation with the club’s medical staff, to the fact that Ancelotti was fired despite all of the squad publicly calling for him to stay.

Sure, Ramos is looking for a better contract. The one he signed way back in 2011 runs through 2017, and puts him in the third tier of the squad in terms of salary. There are six players on the squad that make more than him. Ramos sees himself, rightly, as the second most important player on the team behind Ronaldo and feels like he is underpaid.

But the final straw seems to have been this strange rumor linking him to an obscure candidate for the presidency of Barcelona. Before that story broke nobody had ever heard of Jordi Majo, who claims that he was approached by an “intermediary” who offered Ramos to him. According to AS, Ramos saw this as a shady, underhanded, behind the scenes move by Florentino to discredit him in the eyes of the public. When the club stood silent, Ramos reportedly decided that he’d had enough.

Could Sergio Ramos really leave Real Madrid this summer? It’s clear that both sides are really angry at each other. And Manchester United could really use a world class center back. It would be one of the most remarkable moves in recent memory, as Sergio Ramos IS Real Madrid.

Lost in all this is Rafa Benítez, the new manager. So far he seems to be staying on the sidelines as everything goes up in flames. In reality, he can’t really do much as he’s wholly indebted to Pérez. After all, his only other offer this summer came from West Ham United.