"If we did football failures, they would probably be the best football failures in the world". Real Madrid's 2009-10 campaign could be a very plausible basis for one of those famous Carlsberg TV ads.
First, you start by signing everybody who is anybody in world football, thereby setting yourself up as the perfect team everyone loves to hate. Then you start collecting failures of all types. You get kicked out of the domestic cup by a third-division team. And not by a freak goal in a muddy field. No. By 4-0. This is the howler of a failure, the killed-giant failure, the make-your-rival-a-household-name failure. The ridiculous failure.
Then you are eliminated from the Champions League at the second round. This is the business-as-usual failure. Real didn't fall in the group stage, as Juventus and Liverpool did, but they didn't do better than in previous years either. A neutral history of this year's Champions League won't make this the season Real failed spectacularly in the competition, nor will their name be mentioned beyond the quarter finals. It's the matter-of-fact, run-of-the-mill failure. The supporting-cast failure.
You also have the bitter-rival-does-the-double-over-you failure. Real's team was built to bring down the finest team that has ever existed, the Barcelona of 2009. It would have been possible for Real to collect a couple of cups without even have to play Barça, but in the league there's nowhere to hide, and the Catalans duly won both matches. Better luck next year.
And finally, you have the almost-redeeming failure. In spite of conceding six points to Barcelona, Real managed to arrive at the final day of the league season only one point behind. This means that Real never gave up, and their dogged pursuit of Barça has been a huge credit to them.
In a league with 38 teams the maximum possible number of points is 114. Real got 96, therefore dropping only 18 the whole season, the second-best points total ever in Spain. The problem is that this monster of a campaign came in the same season Barcelona scored the first-best points total ever, with 99 points, dropping just one defeat and six draws. It's the Tyson-Gay-versus-Usain-Bolt defeat. What would have been a historical record is wiped from the history books even before it was written there at all.
How will Real react to this? It is in part fortunate that this is a World Cup year, so the months from now until September won't have to be filled only with the stories about their new signings. But they're not a club used to seeing positives in a season without trophies. Having won the league 31 times, whoever wins it next will only be one of the best 32 Real teams ever, and even winning the Champions League only puts you on a par with nine other Real squads of the past. So the historic points tally will be no consolation without a trophy to go with. Many madridistas are even willing to accept that Atlético de Madrid's season, with the Europa League already in the bag, and playing the Copa del Rey final on Wednesday, deserves a lot of respect... because of the new silverware.
So the danger this summer could be to throw the baby out with the bath water. Manuel Pellegrini was a very good choice of manager, but his achievements surely will not be recognised enough (and that's why the Chilean has been the first to mention them in many press conferences along the season). The talk is about José Mourinho being the chosen one, but Real is a club who already sought help from Fabio Capello (twice), and after he won the league (twice), he was replaced at the helm right away (twice).
Then, after having written off the likes of Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder, only to see one of them lift the Champions League trophy this Saturday, at the Bernabéu of all places, one wonders how many good players will leave just because they belong to a vintage who didn't win anything. To be fair, Real are indeed faithful to some players and their legends (Di Stéfano, Butragueño, Raúl, Zidane, etc), but many more have been let go with plenty of football to offer. That would be the last kind of failure. The failure of learning from the past.