Ever since, ahead of Saturday’s Champions League final against Atletico Madrid, Real are precariously teetering with one foot on the edge of glory and the other on the verge of immense disappointment.
In the high-pressure and extreme environment of the Bernabeu, at the most glamorous and hype-ridden club in the world, there is no middle ground.
Win, and the current Los Blancos crop will be hailed as milestone-marking legends; lose, and they will be castigated as inexcusable failures.
Win, and their poor finish to the league campaign – where they finished third behind Atletico and Barcelona – will be retrospectively excused as a period of physical and mental preparation for an even bigger prize; lose, and it will be condemned as the ill-fated onset of careless sloppiness.
When Real were European kings
1955-56: 4-3 v Stade de Reims
1956-57: 2-0 v Fiorentina
1957-58: 3-2 v AC Milan
1958-59: 2-0 v Stade de Reims
1959-60: 7-3 v Eintracht Frankfurt
1965-66: 2-1 v Partizan Belgrade
1997-98: 1-0 v Juventus
1999-00: 3-0 v Valencia
2001-02: 2-1 v Bayer Leverkusen
An objective and balanced analysis of Carlo Ancelotti’s first season as Real boss should conclude that it has been good, if not spectacular. He has introduced a new style of play to replace Jose Mourinho’s cut-and-thrust, counter-attacking approach, integrated a number of new signings and secured a trophy in the form of the Copa del Rey.
However, in the eyes of many fans and certainly in the judgement of the frenzied Spanish media, none of that really matters right now.
The only thing that counts is whether Ancelotti can finally end his club’s long wait for their 10th European crown; if he doesn’t, his work over the course of the campaign will be forgotten and his job, seemingly so secure less than a month ago, will come under threat.
This drastic, disproportionate state of affairs derives from Real Madrid’s utter obsession with success on the European stage.
It is a long-held mentality which was sparked by their initial emphatic success on the continent, winning the first five European Cups after the competition was inaugurated in 1955. Those triumphs allowed Real to foster feelings of superiority over the rest of Europe and especially their bitter rivals Barcelona, whose first trophy did not come until 1992.
By then, Real were already on six and within a decade they had raced to nine by claiming the silverware again in 1998, 2000 and 2002, when France star Zidane’s volley clinched a 2-1 victory over Bayer Leverkusen at Hampden Park.
Zinedine Zidane, Real Madrid’s match-winner in the 2002 Champions League final, is now helping Carlo Ancelotti mastermind ‘La Decima’ as the club’s assistant coach
This week, the Real camp has been attempting to play down the burden on their shoulders to realise the 12-year dream, with Ancelotti insisting they should simply be happy to be in the final (“a lot of teams will have to watch on television”) and his players claiming they should be regarded as underdogs.
Added spice, of course, is provided by the fact that Real’s opponents are their local rivals and newly crowned Spanish champions Atletico in the first-ever European final between two teams from the same city.
And while Real have been desperately trying to persuade themselves and the watching world that they do not feel under pressure, that genuinely is the case for Atletico, who come into the game knowing they have already wildly exceeded all expectations.