If you had read our previous article ‘Dollars and Sense’, you would know how difficult it is for us right now not to say “I told you so”. Early this morning Real Madrid announced the inevitable, sacking Rafa Benitez and in a shock move appointed club legend Zinedine Zidane. In the light of the hilarious vines and memes this news has sparked, we take a moment to assess the possible outcomes of this decision by club chairman, Florentino Perez.
Before we discuss the immediate future; If anything, we’re actually surprised that Benitez lasted this long. For the occasional 8+ goal drumming of a football minnow, nothing can really disguise a 4-0 belting at the hands of Barcelona – a score line that accurately depicts the margin between the two clubs and if anything was actually flattering for Los Blancos as it could have, and should have been much greater.
We for one do not hold any sympathy for Benitez or Perez. For Perez it was a stupid appointment that may actually prove to be the breaking point which will see fan pressure force the board of directors to make a change as to who will lead the club in the future. As for Benitez, the truth is by now he should understand his character and that of the Madrid dressing room and with a history of clashing with bigger egos in his managerial career, should have known that by taking this position he was hardly setting himself up to succeed.
So what are we to expect in the coming months from Real Madrid with Zizou in charge? There is typically a bright patch that follows a change in management. The primary benefit is that there will be renewed enthusiasm in training and match day from the squad who all must be relieved to see Benitez gone. In addition, their first couple matches are in La Liga against mediocre opposition in Deportivo and Sporting (both at home). Being a club legend, the Frenchman should already hold the player’s hearts and minds and that neither of their upcoming opponents are overly challenging for them, it’s a great chance to hit some good form and reassert the idea that Zidane is the right man to lead them. Not to mention with it being January, the transfer window is open and Zidane has near unlimited resources at his disposal to recruit whoever he sees fit.
So what of the negatives? Well Zidane has never had any real experience as a manager, and certainly not at the level he has found himself in now. Things have gone well enough for Guardiola and (winning the treble in the first season at Barcelona), but in reality Zidane hasn’t been as fortunate to inherit a squad so powerful where even Luis Enrique can manage that same feat after poor spells at Roma and Celta in the two season prior. Only time will tell whether or not Zidane has the tactical nous required to be a successful manager in world football.
His character; Zidane was a great leader of the French national team – he made a great captain for Les Bleus. This does add credibility as to whether he is able to manage people. However, Zidane as a person is incredibly temperamental – If you’re not aware of this it’s likely you have been living under a rock for the past two decades. People like to think of the case with Materazzi as an isolated incident and perceive the Italian as the true villain, but this violent snap is certainly not a once of for Zidane who had received 14 send offs for similar acts. For the record, 14 red cards is a whole lot for a Trequartista who barely makes a single tackle each match. This aspect is going to be his greatest challenge – it’s one thing to lead players you have grown up and played with for 20 years, another to coach a group that have been the primary instigators behind the sacking of two coaches in the past 4 seasons for reasons that stem from personality.
Looking forward, despite aiming to "win everything", Real Madrid can not win La Liga, that’s obvious. Barring a miracle there is no way they are going to keep up with Barcelona and acheiving second place is a more realistic target (not that it's a guaranteed one). As for the Champions League, they should by all rights crush this misfiring Roma team in the round of 16, heaping more pressure on Rudi Garcia. Their progress in the competition is literally going to come down to luck of the draw; with that being said it’s difficult to see them going past the quarter finals. As an effort to dispel any suggestions of being trigger-happy, Zidane will most likely be given another season to prove his worth with a genuine chance to overhaul the team. I’d like to see him do well, but sadly I cannot picture him as the right man for the job and will most likely be relieved of his duties around the midpoint of the 2017/18 season. It's a very brave decision by the man who could well see his managerial career end quicker than Gary Neville's.