James Lawton: Real's recipe lacks true ingredients of success

Milan's unexpected victory at the Bernabeu has already exposed the flaws in the latest line-up of expensively-assembled Galacticos
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The Independent Football

For once the mug-shot pursued by the roving cameras at the Bernabeu was not that of Cristiano Ronaldo, injured and ineffably bored, but Florentino Perez, the man who swears that football success, like everything else in life, is just a matter of having the right price.

But then if the Real Madrid president wasn't at his most sanguine as Milan's young Brazilian Alexandre Pato so brilliantly scrambled his theory, at least for a while, nor was he in panic. When you are a circus master with Perez's resources, and knowledge of his public, you are never short of an option or two.

However, the demeanour of his coach, Manuel Pellegrini, was rather a different matter. The Chilean, who was so resourceful at Villarreal, acknowledged that two quick defeats (the other against Seville in La Liga) was a source of worry, but his face was rather more eloquent.

It said what was probably unsayable, certainly by him, when the club staged their grotesque pre-season parade of Ronaldo, Kaka and Karim Benzema. It said that no football man ever faced a longer and potentially more draining campaign.

When Pato volleyed home the exquisite cross of old man Clarence Seedorf for Milan's totally unexpected victory plainly the draining had begun.

Where it will end will no doubt have much to do with Ronaldo's resumed ability to do for Real what he did for Manchester United, but in the meantime a legitimate question can be asked again.

Can you really buy a team of instant champions? No you can't. A champion team is organic. It feeds off different parts. It discovers things about itself which can only come with time and compatibility. True, this is a point which could be made more easily if Barcelona, hailed as the sweetest team in Europe so recently, hadn't just fallen apart against the obscure champions of Russia, Rubin Kazan.

Still, every good team makes an occasional mis-step, as Chelsea reminded themselves recently at Wigan and Aston Villa before suggesting they might possibly emerge as the most formidable force in the Champions League with their serene destruction of Atletico Madrid this week.

Real's problem at the Bernabeu, the one that showed so clearly on Pellegrini's face, was the sudden fear that maybe Perez hasn't bought a team but a mutation. It happens.

Kaka, for example, essentially grew up at San Siro. When he left for the Real fortune his parting was the kind you sometimes see convulsing families at airports and train stations.

The theory of Ruud Gullit, no less, was that Kaka was simply trying too hard to impress against his old family of the Rosseneri. If that was true, it showed the corrosive power of expectations built on somebody else's evaluation of what you can do. Kaka never had to try too hard in Milan. He simply had to be himself. It was more than enough.

Benzema, so dynamic at Lyon, continued to look a very good player indeed against Milan, but not one ready to proclaim the full range of a talent that excited Sir Alex Ferguson so much.

Such uncertainties, no doubt we will be assured, will be smoothed away soon enough. When Ronaldo is prancing back into the spotlight, when Xabi Alonso produces more of the conviction that was such a part of his Anfield presence, when Kaka remembers who is he rather than who is expected to be, the latest Galacticos will shine. Even the gloomy Pellegrini put aside his concerns to make this point, saying: "Both the teams that beat us are more settled than we are and they have played together a lot longer. But I don't consider a defeat like this something normal, it is worrying and we have to work to improve.

"We have two objectives; to qualify for the next round of the Champions League and we will try to recover the points in Milan. In the League we are on the right path but we know we have to work harder."

Come the transfer window the chances are that if Wednesday's defeat proves at all significant, Real will also be investing a lot harder, and specifically in defenders who can give the team a rather stronger foundation that the one which crumbled so disastrously after goalkeeper Iker Casillas had joined Milan's Dida in suicide mode.

Milan's ageing but still phenomenal Alessandro Nesta provided the perfect model for such strengthening and Pellegrini can only hope for a touch of such quality when the handicap of a porous defence is finally addressed. The coach said: "We need our best players and Ronaldo is one of them, but we didn't lose because he wasn't playing. We lost because of defensive mistakes."

For Milan and their embattled coach Leonardo it was a gift of a victory, a small donation of time in which to redirect a faltering giant. Gullit said he was happy for the resurrection of the team he had served with such distinction, but his face was an open book too. He was stunned by the defensive inadequacies on parade and couldn't help speculating to what extent Milan's late inspiration was due to the failings of their opponents.

There was a certain sadness in Gullit, and that, too, was easy to understand. His glory in a team which consolidated their all-time ranking behind Real in European competition, was after all a glorious amalgam of defence and attack, with such as Maldini and Baresi supporting the offensive brilliance of himself, Frank Rijkaard and Marco van Basten.

This week, Pato apart, Milan inhabited the shadows of greatness. Ronaldinho, who with Barça, had once dazzled the great stadium so brilliantly he was applauded through gritted teeth, but applauded nonetheless, had a few minutes of virtuosity and then relapsed, poignantly for all those who still remember the extent of his talent. Seedorf showed a flash of stunning vision.

But on this occasion at least it was quite enough to embarrass a team who were proving, if nothing else, that ready-made teams do not come over the counter, and that sometimes great ones are beyond price.