MADRID – The team that calls itself the best in the world is entangled in an ordeal that only amateur clubs are used to dealing with.
Real Madrid inexplicably fielded an ineligible player in a Copa del Rey match last week, prompting its embarrassing elimination from the competition. To make it worse, the club is defiantly trying to shift blame and avoid punishment on a technicality.
The mistake and the attempt to dodge responsibility dents Madrid's grandiose reputation, and exposes the fragility of the Spanish giant. It further deepens the crisis sparked by a demoralizing 4-0 home loss to rival Barcelona two weeks ago, and raises questions about the future of its leaders.
Fans have had enough and are not being easily satisfied by wins on the field. The calls for the resignation of coach Rafa Benitez and president Florentino Perez have become a constant at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium.
The team's disqualification from the Copa del Rey because of a bureaucratic misstep is proving to be too much to the team's demanding supporters. And although some might be happy that the club is doing everything it can to get reinstated, the attempt is seen by the rest of the soccer world as an act of desperation.
The Copa del Rey game against Cadiz wasn't even over when the shocking news of Madrid's mistake began spreading across Spain: The team fielded Russian-born player Denis Cheryshev, who was carrying over a one-game suspension from last season for accumulation of yellow cards while playing on loan for Villarreal.
Social media exploded with users talking about the potential problem, and the mistake quickly became the focus of Spanish media covering the game. Cheryshev had already scored Madrid's first goal in the 3-1 victory, and was substituted early in the second half, apparently after team officials realized the problem.
For the second time in less than a month, president Perez was forced to come out and speak publicly about a difficult situation involving his team. He had already done it to display his support to coach Benitez after the humiliating home loss to Barcelona.
But instead of trying to explain how a team as powerful and wealthy as Madrid didn't notice that Cheryshev was suspended, Perez stood tall in front of reporters and said that his team did nothing wrong and shouldn't be punished. He said the club would appeal and explore "every avenue" to reverse the Spanish federation's decision.
"We believe that the ban should not take effect because the player was not personally notified, which is what the code says," Perez said. "Quite honestly, if we were not told by the player, who is the individual who needs to know about it, if we were not told by either the federation or Villarreal, who are aware of it, it was impossible for us to know about it."
So, basically, it was everybody else's fault for not telling the almighty club that Cheryshev was ineligible.
Perez also briefly mentioned a by-law which allowed for an interpretation that the player's previous bookings should have been voided at the start of this round in the competition, but the focus was clearly on the fact that Cheryshev allegedly was not notified.
So, apparently, it wasn't his staff who should've checked the players' eligibility, it was somebody else's mistake that hurt his team.
The federation disputed Madrid's claim, saying that "there is no doubt that the player was notified in person and that the imposition of a one-match suspension derived from an accumulation of yellow cards was published."
Perez had already faced an embarrassing bureaucratic oversight earlier this year, when a late fax ruined Madrid's attempt to secure the transfer of Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea at the end of the summer transfer market.
Real Madrid remained optimistic it would be restored in the Copa del Rey and continued selling tickets for the return match at the Bernabeu on Dec. 16.
If the appeal does work, it could take some pressure off Perez, at least momentarily. But it wouldn't change the fact that Madrid made a mistake uncharacteristic of a team of its significance.
When it claims the right to call itself the best team in the world, it also needs to know that it has the responsibility to act accordingly.
It means it needs to take responsibility for its mistakes instead of trying to blame others when things go wrong.
Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni