When a side wins the Champions League the general opinion is that that side is the best in Europe. However the team that wins the Champions League sometimes does not even win it’s own domestic league. That was demonstrated this season when Chelsea won the trophy but could only manage sixth spot in the Premier League. This is not an uncommon occurrence, as Liverpool could only finish 5th when they won the trophy in 2005 and Milan finished the Serie A season in 4th after wining in 2007. But what may interest Spanish football fans is even a club like Real Madrid is not immune to this phenomenon. The story of their 1999-2000 season has some parallels to that of Chelsea’s story this season. A troubled striker (although a different kind of troubled), a sacked manager and a caretaker manager surpassing expectations.
In the 1998-99 season Real Madrid had finished the league in second spot and in the off-season they invested heavily in new players. Nicolas Anelka was brought in from Arsenal for £22m and was joined by Steve McManaman (Liverpool), Ivan Helguera (Espanyol) and Michel Salgado (Celta Vigo). Manager John Toshack had taken over from Guus Hiddink midway through the 98-99 season but Toshack fate followed that of the Dutchman as he was also sacked half way through the next league campaign. Real Madrid started the season with two wins but then went on a run of only three wins in their next 15 games. At one point the club would find itself as low as 16th spot.
In the Champions League (which had two group stages at this point) Madrid topped their first group by one point but scrapped through the second stage thanks to a better home and away record against Dynamo Kiev. Also in the second group stage Madrid would lose both their matches to Bayern Munich (who finished top of the group)- 4-2 and 4-1. By this time Toshack was removed as manager and former Madrid player Vincente del Bosque was appointed as caretaker.
On the player front, new star striker Nicolas Anelka was not settling into the squad. Signed for a large fee much was expected of the young Frenchman. At one point he refused to train and was suspended for 45 days. He would only play in 19 league games and scored two goals. But Anelka still managed to contribute to the clubs march to the Champions league title. In the semi-finals Madrid faced Bayern Munich, but this time there was no repeat of their previous performances. Madrid won the first leg in the Bernabeu 2-0 with Anelka scoring the first goal. In the return match Bayern opened the scoring but Anelka struck again to complicate maters for the Germans. Bayern won the match 2-1 but lost the tie 3-2. Madrid were into the final to face fellow Spaniards Valencia.
Under del Bosque Madrid’s league form also improved. They even managed to reach second spot before their form suffered again. This is could have been because of the clubs focus on the Champions League. They did manage to defeat Barcelona 3-0 to dent their rivals domestic title quest. As well as improving their club form del Bosque made- future club and Spanish captain- Iker Casillas the first choice goalkeeper. Casillas was only 18 years old at the time. Three losses in their last five league games saw their league position drop from second to fifth.
The final in Paris was the first to feature two sides from the same nation. Valencia had defeated Barcelona in the semi-finals and were in their first ever final. The match was dominated by Real Madrid who ran out 3-0 winners thanks to goals from Morientes, McManaman and Raul. It would be the last match for Anelka who was sold to PSG and for club legend Fernando Redondo. A moment of magic from Redondo in the quarter-finals against Manchester United would live long in the memory- when his back heel beating Henning Berg which lead to Raul scoring Madrid’s third goal. The win in Paris was enough for del Bosque to land the manager’s job and next season he would lead the club to the league title and then another Champions League title in 2002.