Twas the night before Christmas …. well, it was exactly eight nights before Christmas.
Florentino Pérez, having already confirmed Rafa Benitez’s job security just three weeks earlier, following the 4-0 thrashing by Barça, went on the El Larguero [‘Crossbar’] show on Spanish Radio.
He said, and I quote:
“Benítez is not going to be replaced by Zidane. The media have decided this is happening but it’s Real Madrid who name the coaches so Benitez will not be sacked and replaced by Zidane. He came to resolve our troubles -Rafa is the solution, not the problem.”
That was precisely eighteen days ago.
Since when Real Madrid have played three, won two, drawn one [at Valencia where they lost last year] and scored 15 goals. Sacking form?? Only on Planet Florentino
Back on December 17 the Madrid President added:
“We chose Benítez from a large number of candidates because he’s the right man to sort this squad’s specific problems.
“From last January until the summer we were in free-fall – he was the cure. “If we choose him as the right guy there’s no way we can say after three months that he’s got to go! “We have to give him time”.
‘No way’ right?
Rafa should have been packing his bags there and then. White club speak with forked tongue. And this is a mess of Los Blancos’ own making.
Sacking Carlo Ancelotti after a Champions League, a Copa del Rey, a World Club Cup a European Supercup and another Champions League semi final was an aberration. [Florentino to blame].
A point which both Sergio Ramos and Cristiano Ronaldo made at the end of last season.
Once Ancelotti was sacked, appointing Zidane there and then [a job offer which the Frenchman stated he wouldn’t have turned down] would have been more strategic, fairer on Zizou and more intelligent. [Florentino to blame].
Appointing Rafa Benitez, his obvious talents aside, was like putting a fox in the hen-house. [Florentino to blame]
Everything he was good at, all his beliefs, every single career landmark which vouched for his talent flew directly against where this squad is right now.
Directly against what the fans were crying out for.
This Madrid squad needs management with finesse – it needs unifying, it needs fine-calibration and it needs sufficient commitment to the cause so that the whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts rather than less than the sum as it is right now.
Benitez is the gruff, distant, ‘do it that way because I told you to!’ brand of manager who has won perhaps two, maybe three, outright fans in his main group of players. [Bale, Keylor and Nacho]
The vast majority of the rest of Madrid’s highly pampered players are either indifferent to him… or disbelievers.
The fans? They wanted verve, flair, daring, wins, goals, attacking play. And they wanted something to distract the world’s affection away from Barça
Albeit that Benitez’s Madrid are through to a very winnable last sixteen tie in the Champions League and sit only four points off the top of La Liga [decent positions for January of a first season] the cautious brand of football he proposed simply didn’t fit with the increasingly angry and voluble supporters.Will He Manage
Let’s See What You Can Do Zizou
So, Zidane takes over.
On the plus side his first clutch of fixtures are extremely winnable – a factor in Perez deciding to act now.
Before Madrid face Liga leaders Atlético in late February they play Deportivo [H], Sporting [H], Betis [A], Espanyol [H], Granada [A], Athletic [H] and Málaga [A].
Deportivo are excelling themselves, Athletic are much more formidable than for some seasons and care is needed away at hostile Andaluz football grounds.
But it’s not brutally unfair to suggest that Madrid could, perhaps should, win all those games and give Zizou a 21 point salute before the Madrid derby.
Zidane takes a 46% win rate from his work with Real Madrid’s ‘B’ team, Castilla, and is the youngest Madrid coach since Jorge Valdano twenty years ago. Nobody else would have been given the job based on those stats.
Valdano immediately pointed out: “Zidane is a risky appointment because of his lack of experience”.
That’s both fair and accurate.
Zizou is a legend, is the emblem of Madrid’s historic ninth European Cup win thanks to that dazzling goal at Hampden and he’s a football man of intelligence, calm, talent and elegance.
If it feels good to the rest of us to have Zizou back in the frontline – just imagine how it must feel to the fans and some of the players?
Florentino’s actions have been guided by him looking for an opiate for the masses – gifting them a club legend.
So that their angry gaze will divert from the President.
But, bear this in mind. When the Frenchman played his last game for Madrid it was against Villarreal in May 2006.
The game ended in a 3-3 draw which was a delight for the neutral to watch but a bitter disappointment to Madrid and their fans.
It was Zidane’s farewell to the Bernabéu but vast hordes of the Madridistas didn’t care.
They streamed out of the stadium in disgust at the scoreline. Most of the players simply trooped off, shoulders sagging.
I well remember David Beckham and Iker Casillas almost dragging the rest of the squad back to the centre of the pitch to help pay homage to Zidane as the more honourable fans who had stayed behind at least applauded this fabulous talent and bade him adios!
It was a dishonourable discharge, completely unfitting for such an iconic Madrid player – let down by supporters and team-mates alike after the final whistle.
And a warning to Zizou about how fickle this club can be, will be, if the results and performances aren’t something approaching perfection.
As for Florentino’s backing – with a friend like that, who needs enemies?