Zidane return typifies lack of structure at Real Madrid
10 months, two managers, three cup exits and a sale of Cristiano Ronaldo after leaving the job at Real Madrid, club legend Zinedine Zidane finds himself back in charge far sooner than anybody expected. As Gregor Kerr writes, it sums up the lack of leadership at the Bernabeu this season.
Kiev, late May 2018 and Real Madrid have just won an unprecedented third Champions League triumph in as many years, their fourth in five years. Zinedine Zidane, the Real Madrid manager, had overseen all three. In fact, every year in which he has been a manager, he’s claimed Europe’s biggest prize.
Shortly after his crowning glory in a short managerial career, the Frenchman left Madrid in the same dignified manner in which he arrived. He cited the clubs need for a “different voice”. The team had shown increasing brinks of fragility through the campaign, but ultimately any threat on the continent was passed by. Their record was unprecedented, their stock never higher.
Now, they won’t even be in the quarter final of their trademark competition after humiliation against Ajax. A flurry of defeats to fierce rivals Barcelona in both La Liga and Copa Del Rey has left them in the wilderness domestically, with even more league defeats than Getafe and Bilbao, and the same as Eibar and Alaves. Their season is over, a year wasted, and the clocks haven’t even gone back yet.
That Real Madrid side is very different to the one that Zizou, in a bizarre turn of events, walks back into now. Perhaps ominously, following that night in Ukraine, he said that ‘everything changes’. He may have been referring to the imminent departure of Cristiano Ronaldo, a move that undeniably has impacted performances this season, or the motivation levels of his players. The drop in standard under Julien Lopetegui, and later Santiago Solari, has been alarming and hits home the reality of life without Cristiano.
The glaring difference for Zidane from the job he left ten months ago is the Portuguese attacking-shaped hole in the squad. The need to address the situation gives an indication that he will be heavily backed come the summer, with the links to Eden Hazard persisting as they have done for years. A lack of backing in the summer of 2018 was a large reason in his initial departure, it’s likely that only a promise of heavy investment was enough to allure the Frenchman back to Spain.
However, the planned expansion to the Santiago Bernabeu makes it a tricky situation for Fiorentino Perez and the Madrid hierarchy. A priority of infrastructure or playing squad will be a tricky juggling act to balance, and an aging group of Modric, Kroos, Ramos, Marcelo and Benzema meaning that a solid core will need put into place. When looking at the operation required in the summer, it’s no surprise that Zidane departed first time around.
In theory, this roundabout problem could have easily been about by Perez. Had he backed Zidane to the hilt in the summer and made assurances that the Champions League wins would be built upon, the Lopetegui and Solari eras, as minuscule as they were, would never have had to happen. Effectively they have wasted a year in the wilderness and without silverware. In fairness to them, this appointment now does seem the sensible option, but it never had to happen in such a manner.
It’s difficult for Zidane to lose in this situation. He is already a club legend, the legacy over the last three years will always hold weight. Because he set the benchmark, there is nobody he has to match. As long as Madrid improves, and wins trophies, which they inevitably do, Zidane wins.
One name likely to shake his head when he finds out the news is Jose Mourinho, another man who may have thought a return to the Bernabeu was on the cards. His football last time around in Madrid was thrilling, but big clubs may now be hesitant to approach him after the Manchester United fiasco.
The list of players linked with a move to Real Madrid in this summer is almost endless. One of Neymar and Kylian Mbappe look likely to leave PSG and either would be an excellent fit for the present and future. Harry Kane is another name that won’t disappear, as is Hazard, although the former looks much more challenging to prize away.
Regardless of budget, or personnel, the achievements that Zidane accomplished in his first stint in the Madrid hot seat were so high that matching it would be an impossible task. With nothing left to play for, the pressure, although it will always be high with such a job, is relatively off. They need some kind of identity to form again, at least until the summer, or Rafa Benitez could be back in the door.