To say that emotion is the enemy of analysis would be a bit dramatic, but it’s certainly true that intense feelings of happiness, sadness, or tribalism can affect how you assess performance. That’s why I’ve become so good at pulling myself out of the post-game moment instantly. Instead of soaking up victory or raging in the face of defeat, I have to quickly review the film, take notes, and produce an accurate and insightful reinterpretation of events that people can rely on.
Over time, this complicated my relationship with the fandom. Hyperbolic reactions, agendas and recency biases began to irritate me more and more and I felt disconnected from the community. I became less and less interested in trying to energize my team and more committed to uncovering what I perceived to be the truth. In 2019, a combination of burnout, more intense studies and a cooler attitude towards Real Madrid had slowed my production. I wasn’t as interested as before.
My fire was briefly rekindled by the club’s purchase of CD Tacón that summer, bringing Spain‘s most iconic club into women’s football. But the flames were quickly extinguished by a COVID-shortened season, horrific kick-off times and a string of untelevised away games.
As a new season dawned – with the team actually being called ‘Real Madrid’ this time – I decided to fully commit to the game and dive straight in, grudgingly accepting the reality of waking up to 5:45 a.m. In the process, I could feel my Madridismo rising from the grave. My desire to cover football in my particular analytical style remained, but the stakes were too high not to enjoy every second of every moment. Every minute was historic; each earns one step closer to our first appearance in the Champions League. That anxiety that cuts deep in your bones — that feeling that your life depends on the outcome of every game — was back.
But the joy was a little slower to return. I don’t know about you, but I need someone to relate to – someone who takes me back to my most basic, instinctive feelings when I first touched a soccer ball – to inspire me with true joy. I always liked explosive dribblers when I was a kid. Their pace and power, mixed with cat-like agility and hypnotic ball control, were beauty incarnate. For me young, they were the soul of the sport.
This is why I first became attached to Sofia Jakobsson, the high voltage winger who carried the attack of CD Tacón in 2019/20. However, the aforementioned pandemic shutdown prevented a maturation of this attachment. The following summer, I was still watching every move of the Swede with some degree of anticipation, but another had captured my imagination.
Marta Cardona, arrival from Real Sociedad, was right this player. You know, the one you’re going to see first; one who inspires a different level of devotion; one you examine so closely that you begin to notice little quirks and tendencies that no normal, sane human being would ever catch. For example, I noticed that Cardona tended to align her hips too early when pushing the ball from right to left when carrying, which sometimes caused her to go off balance as she reached for the ball.
This minor flaw in his dribbling game was easy to accept in light of the bigger picture. To put it simply: apart from Barcelona, there was no greater threat in the league. His unearthly momentum, complemented by long legs, allowed him to generate separation with ease. In 1 on 1, it was simply a question of showing yourself inside before leaving in the opposite direction; she possessed an implicit understanding of timing in relation to her opponent’s body positioning, making her move precisely when the defender was most unstable.
She guaranteed off-the-dribble reliability that allowed her to completely take over games. The 27-year-old always showed those traits at Real Sociedad but took it to another level at Real Madrid with her end product. At the end of the 20/21 Primera Iberdrola season, she led the team in goals without penalty (14) and total goals + assists (20).
Some of that was boosted by golazos that improved her finishing efficiency, but she also came across as the team’s outstanding creative force.
Despite such an attacking charge, Cardona was one of Las Blancas’ most committed defenders up front, intimating a fiery character.
Losing just wasn’t a reality she was willing to accept:
She sat apart from the rest of the squad and sulked next to Misa when Madrid lost a friendly against Real Sociedad. Before that, Cardona had done the same – this time, on her own – in a draw against Granadilla on the final day of the 20/21 league season (after the team had already qualified for the Europe and the result made no sense) .
These comedic moments were incredibly endearing and further intrigued the fan base. Affectionate nicknames, like “Flash Cardona”, emerged and the player took notice.
The day Cardona met super fan Marina was one of those special events that will be fondly remembered by those who watched it unfold in the moment. It was both a window into the intimacy of women’s football, which will only become rarer as the game develops, and the short-lived pinnacle of Cardona’s Madrid career.
I’m secretly terrified that all of this will be forgotten. Cardona never had the international fame and laid-back appeal of Kosovare Asllani or even Sofia Jakobsson. The Spaniard was truly the hero of the devoted game-to-play fan. Real Madrid Femenino’s viewership surged in the 2021/22 season thanks to the Champions League, but Cardona largely missed the mark, suffering from two serious injuries which limited her to 7 appearances and 2 starts in the league. What people saw was a shell of the former MVP, devoid of pace and confidence.
Now they’ll never see the real Cardona – not in a white shirt, anyway. And it’s so hard to accept. What was meant to be the beginning of a legendary story has already come to its conclusion, siloing Cardona and the experiments she created into a very specific time period in history.
It’s hard to see the decision not to renew it as anything other than a huge mistake. The stubborn personality that we love must not have been easy to handle in the negotiating room or on the physio table, where she apparently accelerated her recovery contrary to the advice of the club’s doctors, so much her desire to return to the pitch was big. But letting all of that get in the way of retaining one of the world’s brightest talents — one who had quickly become a leader in a team culture that has yet to truly manifest — seems like a failure to see the situation in its face. together.
Replacing Real Madrid’s best player of 20/21 will be far from an easy task, but absolutely necessary. The team’s attack was signaled in the absence of Cardona (and Asllani), recording an incredibly poor game 41 league goals (34 less than the previous season). Whatever happened between her and Rossell – or Toril – surely there had to be a way to make it work. Surely there had to be a way to keep Cardona. I refuse to accept that there was none.
For once, I don’t know if it’s Om the analyst or Om the fan speaking. For once, I don’t care.
So here I am sitting, with my emotions reignited, unable to control what I had sought to control for so long. As a reward, the pain is overwhelming.
But, for a little while, it was the opposite. For the briefest of times, I felt alive – I felt invested. And, again, I felt love for Real Madrid.
Thanks Marta. Everywhere.