Following their exit from the Copa del Rey, then ending all hopes for La Liga success - both at the hands of fierce rivals Barcelona and in the same week - many Real Madrid fans must have thought life couldn’t possibly get much worse.
Then Ajax arrived at the Santiago Bernabeu.
A simply awful season that began with the Julen Lopetegui mess and continued through the underwhelming (and most definitely now ‘interim’) tenure of Santiago Solari, reached a new nadir in the Champions League this week as Real Madrid crashed out of the premier European competition.
There was praise for former Southampton man Dusan Tasic, Hakim Ziyech, and new Barcelona boy Frenkie de Jong as Ajax knocked out the European Cup holders out with a devastating 5-3 aggregate scoreline; the Amsterdam club scoring four goals at the hallowed ground of the Bernabeu producing the humiliation, and epitomising Real’s dire season.
However It was the talk of one man who wasn’t remotely close to the pitch in the Spanish capital who was a particular talking point.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s absence has been felt all season, but none more so on the most recent Tuesday night.
CR7 of course left Los Blancos last summer after nine years with Madrid, where he had emerged as their record-goalscorer and returned the Champions League trophy an astonishing four times (taking his own tally up to five, and Real Madrid pulling away in the leader charts of most titles).
In the immediate five years before Ronaldo became a ‘merengue’ in 2009, all Real Madrid had been able to do is reach the first knockout stage of the competition, the Round of 16.
Though in his first season they failed to progress any further, subsequently there was clear growth. Real Madrid went to the Semi-Finals for the next three years with manager Jose Mourinho, losing to (eventual winners) Barcelona, Bayern Munich, and then Borussia Dortmund.
When they finally won it again - under Carlo Ancelotti - in 2013/14, over city rivals Atletico Madrid in a Derbi madrileño, it broke an 11-year hoodoo that had been threatening to undermine the then record-holders.
From there, for Ronny & Co. there was no looking back. A season blip of ‘only’ reaching the Semi-Finals of the competition after that win, Real Madrid under the stead of Zinedine Zidane unlocked the long-held curse of no team retaining the Champions League, blowing that out of the water by doing it in three successive seasons, beating Atletico (again), Juventus, and Liverpool, respectively.
Ronaldo called time in 2018 following making it five, moving to Serie A giants Juventus in search of a Scudetto.
At the time, several Real Madrid’s asserted that success would still be forthcoming, and downplayed Ronaldo’s departure
Gareth Bale stated at the time that they “are more of a team now that Ronaldo is gone”, Dani Carvajal compared Ronaldo’s Real career to great Raul, and Karim Benzema suggested he could take the mantle.
Even more staggeringly, Dani Ceballas came out by saying, “You won’t notice Ronaldo’s absence”, which looks staggeringly putrid in retrospect.
With Real’s loss to Ajax turning their season from bad to diabolically dogsh*t, many fans - and probably several of the hierarchy - might be pinning a little bit more passionately for their Portuguese prince.