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.