Real Madrid coach Juande Ramos admits the Spanish champions are no longer one of Europe's elite clubs following their 6-2 drubbing by Barcelona on Saturday and the result casts further doubt on whether he will be entrusted with the task of restoring Real to past glories.
The league now looks over for double champions Real as Barca are seven points ahead with just four games left and the Barca humiliation, coupled with the embarassing 5-0 aggregate loss to Liverpool in the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League, have put a question mark over Ramos.
The former Sevilla coach was handed a six-month contract in mid-December after replacing Bernd Schuster and has won 17 out of his 20 league games but that may still not be enough to persuade the club to keep him on. "I think Barcelona are a cut above and showed that they were superior," said Ramos. "I am not frustrated at not beating Barca, Liverpool or Atletico Madrid. Those results tell us the level we are currently at. The big European teams have overtaken us and we have to recognise this although obviously it hurts."
Real may have won back-to-back league titles, but since 2004 the record nine-time European champions have failed to get past the quarter-final stage of the Champions League and were outclassed by Liverpool this season. On Saturday Barca gave the champions a footballing lesson, toying with their rivals and the defeat could have been heavier had Real goalkeeper Iker Casillas not been on top of his game.
"Hats off to Barcelona for the three points and because they were the better team," said Real captain Raul. "It's a painful defeat for us and our fans, but this is football and there's nothing more to be said. We felt powerless. It hurts a lot to lose like this. We fought until the very end, but we were up against a better team. Losing like this at home makes you feel helpless."
It was the first time Barca had scored six times at the Bernabeu and was revenge for last season when they had to form a guard of honour to salute Real as champions and then lost 4-1. "It hurts a lot but when a team moves the ball about with the quality of Xavi, (Andres) Iniesta and (Lionel) Messi there is not much you can do," said Casillas. "I don't think you could ask more from Real Madrid. Barca were just phenomenal."
Real future uncertain
It is back to the drawing board for Real and there could be some departures in the summer with some deadwood shifted and new faces brought in. The presidential elections are scheduled for this summer, with 14 June put forward as a possible date, and the victor is likely to decide the direction of the club in terms of coach and players.
Former president Florentino Perez has been one name mentioned - although he has still to confirm if he will run in the election - and has cited Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger as his ideal coach. Wenger has given no indication of his desire to swap London for Madrid and Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez, who used to work as a youth coach at Real, has said that he couldn't work at Real as the coach doesn't have a major say on transfers.
Ramos, rebuilding his reputation after a disastrous spell at Tottenham Hotspur, has so far refused to talk on his future saying it will be decided at the end of the season but will know Real's penchant for changing coaches. In the last six seasons Real have had eight coaches while Barcelona have had just two in Frank Rijkaard and Pep Guardiola.