Real cri­sis for Real Madrid

Af­ter a dis­mal sea­son Real Madrid is strug­gling to find a new coach to re­turn the club to glory


JUST four months ago he left Rus­sia with his tail be­tween his legs af­ter be­ing un­cer­e­mo­ni­ously sacked as Spain’s man­ager on the eve of the World Cup.

But he’s un­likely to have been too fazed: his “crime” was ac­cept­ing the job as man­ager of Real Madrid, one of the top glam­our clubs in the world – and who wouldn’t want to guide a team blessed with sev­eral of the big­gest names in the beau­ti­ful game?

Oh how quickly things change. Julen Lopetegui has found him­self fired yet again – af­ter less than 140 days at the Bern­abéu. The fi­nal straw for the 52-yearold Spaniard was a dis­as­trous 5-1 loss to Madrid’s neme­sis, Barcelona, fol­low­ing a string of dis­mal re­sults.

Lopetegui presided over the worst goal drought in the club’s his­tory and saw the Span­ish gi­ants tum­ble to ninth on the La Liga logs, hav­ing lost three con­sec­u­tive games.

For most top-tier Euro­pean sides it could’ve been writ­ten off as a bit of a dis­ap­point­ing patch. But at Real Madrid? Ab­so­lutely un­ac­cept­able.

Brazil­ian mid­fielder Casemiro called the Barcelona drub­bing a “dis­as­ter”.

“This re­sult is a re­flec­tion of our en­tire sea­son,” he said.

While he looked like a beaten and bro­ken man on the side­lines of Camp Nou, Lopetegui still seemed to think he could turn things around.

“I feel sad and so do the play­ers. It’s a very tough blow but I still feel strong – we’re only in Oc­to­ber. Ev­ery­thing can be re­versed in the time we have left in the sea­son. I still feel strong enough to coach this team.”

Oth­ers begged to dif­fer and within days he’d been sacked.

“The de­ci­sion will hope­fully change the dy­namic the team is cur­rently in, with all this sea­son’s ob­jec­tives still at­tain­able,” the board said in its not-so­sub­tle post-sack­ing state­ment.

“The board feel there’s a huge gap be­tween the qual­ity of the Real Madrid squad – eight play­ers nom­i­nated for the up­com­ing Bal­lon d’Or – and the re­sults ob­tained so far.”

San­ti­ago So­lari, who was coach of Madrid’s Castilla, will act as care­taker coach while the wheel­ing and deal­ing for a new head hon­cho plays out.

At the time of go­ing to print, the 42-year-old Ar­gen­tinian had al­ready se­cured a win in his first match in the hot seat – a con­vinc­ing 4-0 de­feat of Melilla in a Copa del Rey fix­ture.

But the clock is tick­ing. La Liga rules state So­lari can man­age only on an in­terim ba­sis, at which point Real must ap­point a per­ma­nent suc­ces­sor.

“We’re all just pass­ing through,” So­lari said rather poignantly at his first news con­fer­ence in the hot seat. “Even more so in this pro­fes­sion.”

WHEN the Bern­abéu big­wigs fired Lopetegui, they al­ready had a can­di­date wait­ing in the wings: for­mer Chelsea man­ager An­to­nio Conte. It seemed all Conte (49) had to do was sign on the dot­ted line – but then Madrid’s ne­go­ti­a­tions with the hot­headed Ital­ian sud­denly stalled. Ac­cord­ing to sev­eral re­ports, Conte didn’t feel the project was right for him. But there’s plenty of pol­i­tics at play here, much of which is tak­ing place in the dress­ing room. Ru­mour has it Madrid bosses had agreed on al­most ev­ery­thing with Conte, right down to the length of his con­tract – but it was the play­ers who threw a span­ner in the works. Capt a in Se rgio Ramos didn’t mince his words when he com­mented on the prospect of an iron-fisted man­ager like Conte ar­riv­ing at the Bern­abéu.

“Re­spect is earned, not im­posed,” he said. “In the end, the man­age­ment of the dress­ing room is more im­por­tant than the tech­ni­cal knowl­edge of a man­ager.”

Conte is known to have a short fuse and was sacked from Chelsea in July thanks to ris­ing ten­sions in the Stam­ford Bridge dress­ing room – which is clearly why Ramos and co ve­toed the Madrid bosses’ choice.

The team boasts sev­eral of the big­gest names in foot­ball – Luka Mo­dric, Gareth Bale and Thibaut Cour­tois among them – and they hold ma­jor sway.

But this is noth­ing new at the Bern­abéu, ac­cord­ing to Miguel De­laney, chief soc­cer writer of The In­de­pen­dent.

“If that player power seems un­prece­dented, and such an un­usual chain of com­mand, it’s en­tirely in keep­ing with the his­tory of Madrid,” he says. “It’s why Ramos’ com­ments were maybe even more loaded than he in­tended.”

It’s a cul­ture that’s been in­grained within the club for decades since the days of Madrid’s grand pa­tri­arch, San­ti­ago Bern­abéu.

Ap­par­ently, Bern­abéu used to check in with star player Al­fredo Di Sté­fano be­fore he made any ma­jor de­ci­sions, the choice of man­ager in­cluded.

Di Sté­fano, who signed with the club in 1953, was of­ten de­scribed by team­mates as a “man­ager on the pitch” – a man­tle that many of Madrid’s best and bright­est seem to have picked up over the years.

“Di Sté­fano’s ar­rival and as­tound­ing suc­cess set in place a sit­u­a­tion where the star play­ers ac­cu­mu­lated so much sta­tus, with their suc­cess only fur­ther re­flect­ing on the pres­i­dent who bought them, thereby en­tirely di­lut­ing the power of any man­ager,” De­laney writes.

“Any coach was caught be­tween egos above and – at least in the­ory – be­low, and of­ten squeezed out.”

Which is likely why only eight of Madrid’s man­agers over the past six decades have sur­vived more than two years.

IF NOT Conte, who will it be?

So­lari seems to be hold­ing the fort well, but it’s un­likely his po­si­tion at the helm will be made per­ma­nent – Madrid will want an es­tab­lished coach to bring them back to La Liga glory. There’s Tot­ten­ham Hot­spur man­ager Mauri­cio Po­chet­tino. It’s no se­cret the Ar­gen­tinian (46) is on Madrid pres­i­dent Florentino Perez’s wish list – es­pe­cially af­ter Spurs beat them at Wem­b­ley last sea­son. But Poch him­self has laughed off the link. “I don’t fol­low too much of the me­dia,” he said, im­ply­ing he had no clue what was pot­ting at Madrid.

Other re­ports sug­gest Roberto Martinez (45) is Madrid’s new tar­get. The Spaniard, who guided the Bel­gian na­tional team to third place in the World Cup, is be­lieved to be a favourite for his thrilling, of­fen­sive style of play.

But ESPN FC pun­dit Ale­jan­dro Moreno has warned Martinez off Madrid. “If I’m Roberto Martinez and I know Real Madrid might come knock­ing . . . if I’m him, I’m stay­ing away,” Moreno said.

An­other ESPN com­men­ta­tor, Craig Bur­ley, reck­ons Perez might even be eye­ing Arse­nal vet­eran Arsène Wenger.

“I don’t think it’s ideal but I think he’s one of the best can­di­dates out there at the mo­ment,” he said of the 69-year-old French­man.

At this point, it’s any­one guess who might step up – but with all the egos in play, one thing’s for sure: they’re go­ing to have their work cut out for them.

‘I feel sad and so do the play­ers. It’s a very tough blow’

LEFT: San­ti­ago So­lari was called up from the B side to coach Madrid while they look for a per­ma­nent man for the job. RIGHT: Barcelona’s Luis Suárez tack­les Real Madrid’s Casemiro and Ser­gio Ramos in their re­cent “dis­as­ter” of a match. Coach Julen Lopetegui dur­ing the thrash­ing Real Madrid took at the hands of Barcelona at Camp Nou. Now he’s gone and the search for a suc­ces­sor con­tin­ues.

For­mer Chelsea coach An­to­nio Conte was ru­moured to be favoured for the post – but the play­ers were al­legedly op­posed to ap­point­ing the hot-headed Ital­ian.

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