Former Real Madrid CF favourite Emilio Butragueño believes the club's current crop may be "the best team in their history" as they prepare to take on APOEL FC for a semi-final place.
Emilio Butragueño was part of the Real Madrid CF side that won two UEFA Cups and five successive Spanish titles in the late 1980s. Yet as José Mourinho's men take on APOEL FC in this season's UEFA Champions League quarter-finals, the 48-year-old says this may be the club's greatest lineup yet.
"At the moment we have the best team in the history of the club," the former Spain striker told UEFA.com. "This team offers the coach many options and variations, and to win trophies you need that. During a season you get injuries and players' performances dip, so it's very important to have this internal competition. We have two superb players in every position, all internationals with great reputations, and that is one of the team's strengths."
Given those resources, Madrid should expect little resistance from Cypriot champions APOEL; however Butragueño, Madrid's director of football since 2007, is not so sure. "There were some dangerous teams in the draw and we avoided them, but that doesn't mean this will be an easy tie," he explained.
"Every team in the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals have shown they can compete at the highest level. With their fans behind them, it will be hard for us. We are confident we will reach the semi-finals but our opponents have our respect because they deserve that. We will have to be very careful."
Having averaged three goals a game since the start of the group stage, Madrid are inspiring fear as well as admiration, and a tenth European Cup does not look beyond them. "Improving players have helped," said Butragueño. "Players like Karim Benzema are much more mature than they were two years ago. Ángel Di María has helped us a lot and Gonzalo Higuaín has become a stable presence in the team. Cristiano Ronaldo understands the philosophy of the club perfectly, he has also become more settled."
Crucial to all this has been coach Mourinho, and Butragueño holds the Portuguese in high regard. "We have a coach who is a great leader. He is used to winning trophies. He knows exactly how to harness all the different personalities a big team like Madrid contains. That keeps us calm, and now we are coming into the critical stage of the season, having a coach with all his experience is a great advantage."