Donde hay patron, no manda marinero….. Or What the boss says goes is the English equivalent of the famous Spanish saying. All very applicable to Real Madrid football club these days and the most recent career choice of Zinedine Zidane. A move that has accumulated endless pages - not only in the Spanish sports dailies - but all over the world given the football franchise is the richest on the planet. Not forgetting either that in terms of managerial appointments it is a soap opera with the choices of the long standing president, Florentino Perez, always attracting comment. Which is not surprising given the number of changes made over the past two decades.
On this occasion it is the turn of Zinedine Zidane, one of the most revered players ever to star in the game, that makes the story gather more momentum. With every football fan hoping it doesn’t end in tears. Or his departure through La Puerta Falsa, - or back door – as many others have done. History records that many superstars on the pitch have failed to reach the same stratospheric heights from the dugout. That list includes Sir Bobby Charlton, Ferenc Puskas, Eusebio, Alfredo di Stefano, Pele, Diego Maradona, Ruud Gullitt with only a handful sampling similar or equivalent success. Johan Cruyff being one obvious example and Franz Beckenbauer the benchmark in that sector.
Still today some of the most successful managers enjoyed modest or short playing careers that never indicated any possible future success in management; Austrian Ernst Happel amongst them, along with Sir Alex Ferguson, Keith Burkinshaw, Graham Taylor, Marcello Lippi, or Jose Mourinho. In contrast to Pep Guardiola and Frank Rijkjard some immediate exceptions. So for Zidane, probably one of the European greats, the pressure is to fall on the right side of these statistics. All not easy at a club such as Real Madrid and not the ideal either to start your career in the daily glare of publicity as it can only be downhill from the Santiago Bernabeu - if it all fails.
Yet the Frenchman probably had no choice when his president despatched Rafa Benitez earlier this week only seven months into his reign. A move that brought forward the succession plan.
But such is life at a club run by a very successful businessman as he feels football can be run the same way as his companies. No different to things at Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United and Barcelona. Wealthy owners want success as it brings money and that pays back the investment on players which in turn allows the franchises to flourish. If not also sustaining the huge debts that are garnered, which at Madrid now touch $750M. So whether Zizou was ready or not for the job is immaterial as it was part of Perez plan for many years. Given the ambivalence towards Benitez by the President the call came sooner than he might have liked.
All reflective of the modus operandi of the club where constant change is accepted as normal by the board. Forgetting it seems that it was the same president who appointed Rafa only last summer and hailed him as the future. Words that must have rung loudly in Juergen Klopp’s ears given who was perceived as the most likely candidate. But chose a sabbatical year instead. Then again the former Borussia Dortmund boss would have been astute enough to see the club offered nothing short of career insecurity given so many managers have passed through the gates since Vicente del Bosque was let go in 2003. In that light there were few other options available.
Pep Guardiola is Catalan through and through and wouldn’t consider a move to Madrid under any circumstances; Perez chose not to renew Carlo Ancelotti’s deal; had fired Manuel Pellegrini some years ago and parted company with Jose Mourinho in 2013. And signing Diego Simeone from Atletico Madrid would trigger warfare on the street of the capital city. Under all those restrictions Rafa was a fair bet and as former Real Madrid player and coach there was a touch of fairy-tale about the story. One hopes though that Zidane will be given more time than his predecessor.
However, ZZ must understand that he will have little input into the club signings. A matter which Perez manages with his marketing hat on and moves them as cash flow dictates. Hence Mesut Ozil was sold all of sudden to Arsenal some years ago for £42M. Then within a matter of weeks or months Angel di Maria was offloaded to Manchester United when the club offered £60M and helped balance the books for Gareth Bale and Toni Kroos. Although the club were tempted to sell Ronaldo last season to PSG the Financial Fair Play rules precluded the move as the Zlatan Ibrahimović move to England failed to materialise. But this summer the Swede is out of contract and will move to the Premier League. Consequently, Cristiano will be offloaded along with a number of others and Zizou will have little say in the matter once Perez speaks.
This might take some time to understand
It would also not be a surprise if Gareth bails out too as all the managerial changes and playing out of position with the team since his arrival. Benitez being the only one who fully appreciated his attacking ability and seeking to give the Welshman a more central role. Much to Cristiano dislike and one that may have triggered the dressing unrest. That long standing interest of Manchester United in Bale – despite his rhetoric to the contrary – might bring him back closer to life in Wales after three season in Madrid.
As the media are in full swing with the transfer speculation Zidane will have to get used to the stories. Eden Hazard among those allegedly seeking a move to Madrid. Along with other names like Harry Kane.
Ancelotti found out that it was tricky to pick a formation with all the players Perez wanted on the field at the same time for the clubs marketing efforts. The attack unable to accommodate Isco when Cristiano, James Rodriguez, Bale and Karim Benzema were in the front line. A matter which frustrated Bale but maybe forgotten now that EURO 2016 looms large for the Principality. It would be no surprise either if Tony Kroos returned to Bayern and play for Carlo Ancelotti, who relied heavily on the German to control the Real midfield. With all the off the field scandals Benzema will also be offered his departure ticket later this year.
But the president’s decisions have been off the mark on more than once occasion – apart from Ozil and di Maria. As the decision to let Xabi Alonso go has now proven a mistake as his career in Germany has seen him win a couple of Bundesliga titles under Pep Guardiola.
For the moment Zidane is making all the right noises and promising futures for all his panel. A vital move ahead of his first game as gaffer on Saturday night against Deportivo at the Bernabeu.
As a player Zidane was untouchable at Real Madrid. Now in the dugout however he is the president's man. Let's hope he has the answers
Sadly history is not favourable on that score