Real spending in vain as 'Galacticos' end empty-handed

MADRID, May 17, 2010 (AFP) - Real Madrid spent in excess of 250 million euros on new talent in the summer with the target of dethroning Barcelona in La Liga and re-establishing themselves in Europe by winning the Champions League at their Santiago Bernabeu stadium.

But the Spanish giants failed on both counts with a last 16 exit to Lyon ending their hopes of a dream European final at their Bernabeu stadium as the nine-time champions have failed to get past the first knockout stage for six successive seasons.

Ronaldo (L) and Higuain of Real Madrid AFP PHOTO

Defeats to Barcelona in both Clasicos - meaning they have lost the last four - were pivotal in the title race as Barcelona notched a record 99 points to retain their crown and Real's own points record of 96 was not enough.

After watching arch rivals Barcelona win an historic League, King's Cup and Champions League treble in 2009, Real turned to the chequebook with incoming president Florentino Perez sanctioning an unprecented spending spree.

Portuguese striker Cristiano Ronaldo was the big summer signing arriving for a world record 94 million euros from Manchester United as Real finally landed their man after 12 months of trying.

Ronaldo, 25, justified his fee with 26 goals and come the end of the season the media were talking about "Ronaldo Dependency" saying he had become a one-man team.

"There is no Cristiano (Ronaldo) dependency. We are a team rather than individuals," said irate Real goalkeeper Iker Casillas.

The other 'Galacticos' didn't fare as well with Brazilian maestro Kaka, a 68.5-million-euro capture from AC Milan, struggling to show his worth with groin injuries disrupting his season.

Kaka, 28, picked up the injury in the 1-0 loss to Barcelona on November 29 and was out for a month and never really found his best form often being substituted late in games.

French international forward Karim Benzema arrived for 30 million euros from Lyon with a huge reputation.

Benzema, 22, started the season in the first XI but a lack of goals saw him join veteran Raul on the substitutes bench as coach Manuel Pellegrini ended up playing Ronaldo and Gonzalo Higuain as the first-choice pairing.

Spanish playmaker Xabi Alonso, a 30-million-euro signing from Liverpool, was an ever-present in the Real side with his clever distribution a key factor behind Madrid's lightning quick counter attacks.

The huge financial outlay was meant to bring attacking football and deliver trophies but with so many new players Real were often disjointed.

The Champions League loss to Lyon in March deflated the club and directly after the match Guti, often taking over the captain's armband, criticised his team-mates for playing like individuals.

"It has been shown that in big games we do not kill off teams," said Guti.

"The solution is to be more of a team instead of many individuals."

Statistics show that Real notched a record points tally but the brilliance of Higuain and Ronaldo could not paper over the cracks and stop the jeers of the home crowd.

The summer spending and the fact that the Champions League final was to take place at the Bernabeu put Pellegrini under immense pressure and the Chilean saw calls for his head as early as October when third division Alcorcon crushed a second string Real 4-0 in the King's Cup.

The Lyon exit in March cranked up the heat and a second Clasico loss to Barcelona in April had the media speculating about who would take over.

Pellegrini's failure means he is set to be axed after just one season with Inter Milan manager Jose Mourinho, incredibly popular in Madrid after eliminating Barcelona in the Champions League semi-finals, the main frontrunner.

Mourinho's pragmatic style of football has been questioned but his ability to take teams far in the Champions League - winning the trophy in 2004 with FC Porto and taking Inter Milan to this season's final - could tilt things in his favour.

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