Real Madrid's mourners filed out in silence while Ajax danced on their grave. As the north end of the Santiago Bernabéu roared to the sound of thousands of Dutch fans celebrating, the south stood abandoned and sad. Marca published an image of the north end as the final minutes ticked by, the Ajax section full, Madrid's emptying, scoreboard quantifying their pain like some gigantic tombstone, on a front cover that was sparse and sombre. "Here lies the team that made history," it said, adding: "A humiliating end to an unrepeatable era."
Madrid have been European champions for 1,012 days, winning the competition in four of the past five years. Only the Real side that won the first five editions of this competition have ever produced a run like it. But that team died, cause of death: “Drowned in their own blood,” said El Mundo. “Before we go on, we should pay homage to a group of players who will remain in the memory: after Di Stéfano there’s never been a team like this,” insisted Marca, before painting a portrait of “the worst night on record”.
Nor was it just one night – it was seven of them, three home defeats in a week ending a season that Dani Carvajal described as "shit". Knocked out of the Copa del Rey on Wednesday, effectively out of the league on Saturday, and out of Europe on Tuesday, their earliest European exit in nine years.
AS called it Madrid's "tragic week". It is only March, but Real's season is over. "Three months in the desert" await. "Now they have to drag their ghost across pitches until June, crossing Spain in the shadow of Mourinho," wrote Jorge Bustos in El Mundo.
Europe has so often been Madrid’s elixir. Of the 13 seasons in which they won the trophy that most defines them, Real only won the league twice. “Not even in the holy land,” said AS.
“A team without goals, without defensive rigour, without fuel in the middle,” as Jaime Rodríguez put it, are out. They had “bathed in reality”, El País suggested. That reality is “terrifying”, “awful”, “disastrous”, “horrible”, everyone agreed. “The worst possible end,” Marca said.
Or the best? El Mundo Deportivo, the Catalan newspaper gleefully called Real’s shock last-16 exit a “total shipwreck”, an “absolute failure”. Madrid had been “stripped bare”. Barcelona’s other sports daily, Sport, cheered the “end of an era”, Madrid was “closed for demolition”. It was made all the more enjoyable by the presence of Ajax’s Frenkie de Jong, who will be at Barcelona next year. Barça had knocked Madrid out of two competitions, and now a future Barcelona player had knocked them out of a third.
Yet perhaps Madrid had knocked themselves out, starting with Zinedine Zidane's departure and Cristiano Ronaldo's move to Juventus. It did not go unnoticed that Sergio Ramos watched the game from a private box having sought a suspension that saw him miss out. Or that while he was there, he was being filmed for a documentary.
But Madrid’s problems go back further, most agreed. The squad has been weakened, investment has slowed, and the player who marked this generation has gone. AS’s Madridista Tomás Roncero described this as “Cristianicide”. “We shot ourselves in the foot.” If so, the surprise was that they didn’t miss. “This was a game that summed up Madrid’s ills.”
"This is the end an era that will affect everyone except the man who makes decisions: the president [Florentino Pérez]," wrote Orfeo Suárez, who described a team that is a "caricature, where those who win the most don't play, those that run get injured, where balls hit the post and the captain films it all from his vanity box and the fans leave before the end." They left leaving an empty stand and a scoreboard that read Real Madrid 1 Ajax 4. "An electric sign of Armageddon," said Diego Torres in El País.