Football must be baffling to a civil engineer as logic never seems to apply anywhere or at any time. So, it is for Florentino Perez, the Real Madrid President, who has axed his manager just four months after disrupting the Spanish national side on the eve of the 2018 world cup, by employing their manager at the time, Julen Lopetegui. The same man has proved a failure in less than four months to Perez, who after seeing his club suffer a 5-1 thrashing in the El Clasico at the Nou Camp in Sunday, decided to cut his losses. Which is just a figure of speech given Lopetegui has had to be paid an estimated €18m to end his three-year contract prematurely.
At a time when Perez thought he could enjoy the fruits of his labours and that fourth Champions League title in five years, his world has been rocked by Cristiano’s demand to leave, his manager Zinedine Zidane’s resignation and yet another humiliation by arch rivals Barcelona, with the club entering another rocky period under his tenure. This latest upheaval resurrecting that infamous Perez period in history when Real Madrid hired a new manager every season for about ten consecutive seasons. An instability that was marked by two just successful periods of three years or so; the first under Vicente del Bosque and the second under Zinedine Zidane who also brought nothing but trophies to the club.
Now, in 2018 Perez knows any new potential manager will see the squad needs a major revamp, a costly exercise the club do not want at this time, particularly on the foot of the pay-out given to Lopetegui to rescind his services. With a large number of players also on the wrong side of thirty any incoming boss needs to sell before buying. Plus, assimilate the volatility of employment at club under Perez, who during the day runs a very successful construction company that works like clockwork but at night struggles with the standard unpredictability of football.
There is also a whiff at Real, following so much silverware, of an over powerful dressing room at Santiago Bernabeu that under Sergio Ramos is now getting more vocal. A similar syndrome which in years gone led to surprise departures of legends and captains such as Fernando Hierro, Raul and Davo Suker. If Ramos recent public comments about Antonio Conte are any indication, saying respect ‘must be earned’ no matter who you are after the El Clasico, this is an early warning sign of trouble ahead
Indeed, former Real Madrid manager, John Toshack experienced that power at play in his time and relied on his lengthy track record at Liverpool under Bill Shankly, his record-breaking years at Swansea City, Real Sociedad and Besiktas to box clever with some of his bigger dressing rooms superstars; Pedrag Mijatovic, Clarence Seedorf, Oscar Ruggeri and Emilio Butragueno. Ironically his third-choice goalkeeper at that time was Julen Lopetegui.
Although one senses already that Perez may have cooled on the idea of Conte to avoid untimely dressing room tension and opening another battle front at this time. But if the stories of Conte’s toughness are to be believed it is clear the Madrid squad feel they are above that these days and will decide who their own boss will be. Which bodes well for temporary appointment, Santiago Scolari, and guarantees that players will do their best over the coming two weeks of his trial to make him look good and the right man for the job.
Unlike Lopetegui whose fate was sealed the moment he was forced to leave the Spanish national job in the manner he did a few days before the start of 2018 World Cup. He also had no chance in the wake of Zidane success and was almost expected to win every game from the start. How Lopetegui thought he could he walk the line under Pérez leadership after just renewing his contract with Spain shows a lack of clear thinking. That failure in judgement now sees him out a second job after a bad run of results.
If Perez is good at firing he is much less able to hire successfully and will now resort to the available internal candidate, Santiago Solari, as no other alternatives are immediately available, given Pochettino’s exit clause is astronomical, and Roberto Martínez only rumoured to be in the mix and Conte his original candidate entangled until very recently in a dispute with his employers at Stamford Bridge. Or if now available is apparently not the players preferred choice.
Anyway, if the Italian is the choice he will demand some new additions to the squad, particularly at the back where Sergio Ramos is clearly passed his sell by date, and where Rafael Varanne remains far from the finished article his promise led all to believe. Yet the lure of Madrid always wins out. Rafa Benitez jumped at the chance to return home to the Casa Blanca but only lasted a total of eight games. His demise leading to the promotion of Zinedine Zidane by default and against all odds.
Ironically, Zidane then proved himself as one of the most successful managers ever at the club along with Vincente del Bosque, also another internal promotion in his time. Yet the latter paid it for by losing his job despite winning the Champions League. Similarly, Zidane was a choice that surprised all, as the Frenchman seemed more at home in backroom roles. However, by default proved an inspired choice.
But his unexpected resignation last June after securing the third successive Champions League trophy shows that working under Perez is a health hazard. Catching his president totally wrong wrong footed leaving Perez to plunder the national team to hire Lopetegui.
Once again Perez finds himself without a plan and searching for a new candidate.