The post-Cristiano Ronaldo era at Real Madrid began the way the pre-Cristiano Ronaldo era ended, with a half-full Santiago Bernabeu.Goals from Dani Carvajal and Gareth Bale against Getafe got Julen Lopetegui’s side off to the perfect start in the 2018-19 La Liga season, but the lack of home fans was as conspicuous as the absence of their former talisman.
Just 48,466 people came through the turnstiles for the first home game of the season, which should have attracted both hardcore fans and football tourists to see some of the biggest names in world football.
The last time, Real played in front of such a paltry Santiago Bernabeu crowd was the final home game of the 2008-09 season, which came during a five-game losing streak that was started by the historic 6-2 Clasico defeat to Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona, who had both Thierry Henry and Lionel Messi scoring braces.
After that loss, Los Blancos slumped to second place in the table and decided to take the risk of breaking the world transfer record to sign a certain Portuguese attacker from Manchester United. Ronaldo moved to Madrid in June 2009, spending the next nine seasons at the club where he won four Champions League titles but just two Ligas.
With Ronaldo now gone to Juventus, fans failed to turn up for Madrid’s first game of the season, with the five-time Ballon d’Or winner’s shadow cast large over the empty seats in the stadium.
No replacement has been brought to provide firepower in attack. Nobody can replace Ronaldo’s record of 450 goals in 438 games for Real Madrid, but new head coach Lopetegui had to rely upon the familiar faces of Marco Asensio, Karim Benzema and Bale to lead the lineup front.Bale started the season the way he started the last two campaigns – with a goal in the opening fixture – and will be expected to take on more of the burden in attack, having played just 26 Liga games last season and 19 in the previous campaign.
The empty seats at the Bernabeu were not just down to Ronaldo’s summer switch, with the late kickoff time also hindering many younger fans from attending. Perhaps more importantly were the lack of new faces on show. Every single one of the starting XI was at the club last season, while the three substitutes brought on during the second half were also Zinedine Zidane regulars.
Fans hoping for a glimpse of new goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois in action will have to wait at least another week to see the World Cup Golden Glove winner, while €45 million (£40m/$51m) wonder kid Vinicius Junior was restricted to a role on the bench.
Real Madrid may not have got the attendance they wanted for the opening game, but they got the three points needed to ensure they compete for the title again. The fans have not yet forgotten Ronaldo, but more victories can help the transition and get the crowds back to Santiago Bernabeu.