There’s no mistaking what the goal is at Real Madrid each and every year — beat arch-rival Barcelona and win the La Liga title. While there have been wins over Barca, Los Blancos have not won a La Liga crown since the 2011-12 season.
Real Madrid have also failed to rack up the Copa Del Ray titles, winning it last in the 2013-14 season and just twice since the 1992-93 season.
Benitez’s squad was already out of that competition this year after fielding an ineligible player in the third round of the competition. Then there was a 4-0 drubbing in the Classico and a 2-2 tie against Valencia this past weekend.
It all adds up to a team not competing for a domestic cup title and a team sitting third in the La Liga standings, behind both rival clubs Barcelona and Atletico Madrid.
There simply was no way club president Florentino Perez was going to allow this to continue. It simply isn’t in his nature. He decided on Monday to sack manager Rafa Benitez and replace him with club legend Zinedine Zidane.
Right out of the gate, one has to wonder if Zidane can be successful where no manager has ever been able to under Perez. After all, Zidane becomes the 11th manager in the 12-year reign of Perez at the helm of Real Madrid.
No manager has lasted longer than three years at the club, and of the six permanent managers hired, just four have lasted in to a second campaign with the club.
Therein lies the club giants’ biggest problem — there’s no time for anyone to settle, get his system running smoothly and shape the look of the squad. It is fit in to what we give you or go home.
Zidane has managerial experience to his name, but it is all of the Real Madrid reserve side in the third division of Spanish soccer. Jumping from there to the Santiago Bernabeau and getting results from a squad full of international stars sitting in third in the La Liga standings is a tall task for the rest of the season.
Atletico Madrid currently lead the league on 41 points, while Barcelona sit next on 39 points. Real Madrid sit on 37 points, but are just one point clear of fourth place Valencia in the standings.
To say getting this side to a comfort zone in a wide open La Liga season is a bit much. However, this is also a side in need of a unified dressing room. Therein lies perhaps Zidane’s biggest strength and hope in getting this team to a title this season.
He certainly has the full backing of Perez, who couldn’t stop praising the club legend. He told Zidane that he had the full backing of the team, the board and everyone involved with Los Blancos.
“This is your stadium, your club, you have all our confidence,” Perez said, via ESPN.com. “Madridismo is at your side. As president, I am proud to have you by my side. I know for you, the word ‘impossible’ does not exist.”
It was a statement that never was made about Benitez, with many believing he never got a fair shake at the club thanks to the board sacking Ancelloti against the players’ wishes. Many inside the dressing room were not happy and never were on board with what Benitez wanted from this club.
However, the results also suggest this was a team heading in the wrong direction. In fact, Real are worse off through 25 games this season than they were in each of the previous two seasons. Additionally this group mustered just one point in the three matches agains the rest of the top four (Atletico Madrid, Barcelona and Villarreal) so far this season.
Is it hard to say he didn’t get a fair shake when the results also suggest he wasn’t getting the same results as managers before him?
Maybe the lack of support in the locker room was unfair, but it is also part of a managers job to find a way to motivate and fill out a squad that will give maximum effort. Yes, even in a locker room full of multi-millionaires there are fragile egos and babysitting needing to be done.
Zidane has an advantage as he knows some of the players in the club very well and commands immediate attention because of his time at the club and status as one of the best players in the world during his playing days.
Immediate caché with the locker room gets Zidane far, but will it be far enough? Training reserve sides for games is vastly different than handling the spotlight and pressure for lineups and decisions in-game during El Classico or the Madrid derby.
It’s a vastly different ask than being on the pitch in those heated environments.
That ultimately will be the question that will make or break Zidane as a permanent manager — can he go from legend as player to competent as coach?
If so, look for Real Madrid to make a serious push towards a title in the second half of the season.