Over the last 24 hours, a number of figures have been relayed in order to properly reflect the absurdity of Real Madrid - most pointedly the fact that Zinedine Zidane has become their 19th manager in the last 20 years. What really sums it up, though, is the farce of this situation: it was far more predictable that Rafa Benitez’s time at the club would end like this, with a sacking, than it was that he would beat Barcelona to the biggest trophies.
The whole scenario reflects the dysfunction and lack of overall direction at the club. Real’s immense money and existing platform will mean they will always be there or thereabouts at the top level - reaching five consecutive Champions League semi-finals indicates that - but they haven’t come anywhere close to making the most of that money, and have mostly under-performed. A return of just one Spanish league title and one Champions League in the past eight years indicates the latter.
That should be galling for a club who have won more of those two trophies than any other club in history, but then it’s possible that a sense of desperation from that has led to so many ill-judged decisions.
Hiring Benitez in the first place was one of them.
The club’s money and status, after all, should require a certain standard. It should require managers who have won league titles and Champions Leagues in recent history. Benitez has come close to neither in the last seven years, and his “controlled” football didn’t exactly fit Real’s ideals either. It is increasingly difficult not to think the Spaniard is a once brilliant coach whose approach has been left behind by the quantum leap that has taken place at the top level of the game due to Barcelona’s 2008 appointment of Pep Guardiola.
The Catalan is central to much of this, too, and not just because of Real’s reported attempt to poach him. Florentino Perez returned to the Bernabeu in 2009, just after Barca had won their first treble, and apparently became obsessed with toppling this new Dream Team from the Camp Nou. Within a year, he had sacked Manuel Pellegrini for only coming within four points of Guardiola’s record-breaking team. Jose Mourinho was appointed because he had beaten Barca in the Champions League with Inter and, although he did the same in the 2011-12 title, it was fleeting success.
On it went, past Carlo Ancelotti, until Real got to the point where they had to go to someone who didn’t really fit the club because they had effectively run out of options.
It is much the same with Zidane.
It just feels like Real have gone through every other coach type - the technocrat, the force of ego, the facilitator, the former backroom member - so now have to go to this, the unproven playing legend who might just be able to transfer some of the magic to a different field.
Again, the name of Guardiola has been repeatedly mentioned around all this, and you don’t have to read too far between the lines to think the hope is that he emulates the Catalan in proving a success in his first senior job.
The problem is just that the similarities are rather superficial.
Zidane has not exactly done what Guardiola insisted upon, and travel the football world in the hope of expanding his knowledge. His results with the B team haven’t even been as good.
Not for the first time in the Perez era, it feels like a mere facsimile of something Barcelona have tried, but with none of the substance.
None of this is to say Zidane will definitely be a flop. He may well prove inspired.
It’s just that, right now, we have absolutely no evidence to suggest that will be the case.
Right now, it will be a bigger surprise if he succeeds, than if it ends in the usual predictable way.
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