There is a fine line between change and continuity - its a line that Real Madrid have crossed far too often this century. 12 coaches have come and gone since the year 2000, giving little to zero hope of establishing any sort of continuity, or perhaps more importantly, and identity. Change is usually always needed on a year-to-year basis, even if it's just tweaks here and there. But in the World of Florentino Perez, a trophy-less season means drastic measures - a tweak becomes a complete de-rooting and revamping of the philosophy of the team.
This article is written at a time where Ancelotti's fate has not been officially decided yet, and it's written with the hope that he continues on with the club. It's written with a little fun in mind. What would I have to keep in mind if I were Florentino Perez this Summer?
The biggest decision that needs to be made is to sort out the head coaching role - that's your foundation, identity, and philosophy, all wrapped in one. I've probably discussed to death why Ancelotti is suited to continue (literally, some people might even be annoyed with how much I like Ancelotti, even if it's only because his raised eyebrow gives off the vibe of an elderly venerable uncle of mine), so it's not my intention to discuss those reasons again in this article.
The 'silly season' in Real Madrid's media World typically spans 12 months, but peaks in the off-season - particularly right after being knocked out of the Champions League. It's then that the 'crisis' becomes official, fans call for the players' heads all the while they start writing their shortlists of potential managers and galactico signings.
Continuity is an underrated concept though, particularly at the Bernabeu. I'll give you perhaps the best example of continuity paying off even when all signs pointed to drastic change.
In the 2007-2008 season, FC Barcelona were an absolute nightmare of a football team by their standards. They didn't win a single trophy - no, not even their glamorous Copa Catalunya. Amidst all that, they gave a pasillo to Real Madrid and then got spanked the same night at the Bernabeu 4-1. All in all, they finished a distant 17 points behind the Champions.
A year prior, they also hadn't won a major trophy - all the more reason to blow up the team, right? The arguments to fire Frank Rijkaard were many, and for good reason. Rijkaard's tactics were starting to get predictable, and his substitution patterns were bizarre. Barcelona recognized that this was the main problem, which eventually led to the appointment of Pep Guardiola.
That's what you call a tweak, not a complete revolution. The following year, Barcelona won the treble, and essentially has never looked back since. Even in a season of 'transition', they're on course for another treble.
I call it a tweak rather than a revolution, because from the year of the disastrous pasillo to the historic season that ensued, Barcelona's core remained the same: Eto'o, Messi, Henry, Iniesta, Xavi, Yaya, Puyol, Valdes. Only two new faces were added to that core: Pique, Busquets - both of whom know Barcelona's philosophy like the palm of their hand.
Mind you, such a drastic success without such a drastic change is much less likely in Madrid, because in Madrid, the identity changes from year-to-year while Barcelona's remains the same, even in the dark years.
Barcelona's 9 managers (it may have only been 8, had Tito been well) since the turn of the century hasn't come without headaches, no question. But apart from some of their 'dark Dutch days' early on, their philosophy has remained the same. Luis Enrique is probably the most 'direct' of the bunch, but the idea is still there.
I have been a Madridista since birth, but I've been vocal about my ideas that Real Madrid needs to learn from the kind of mentality that Barcelona has. Not to adopt Barcelona's philosophy - that's not what I'm saying at all - but to adopt their own.
From one year to the next Real Madrid tends to start from scratch. One year it's counter-attacking football under Mourinho loaded with media distractions, another year it might be Capello's defensive hustle and grind heroics. You could have Pellegrini's direct football without the winning DNA, too.
Aesthetically, Del Bosque was the best. His defense may have been shambolic, but the possession-oriented attacking he implemented was eye candy, and his calmness brought out the best of everyone. Real Madrid had an identity and focused on their football in that era. Ancelotti has a similar brand, which is another reason I enjoyed (past tense, because all signs point to him leaving) his tenure here.
Klopp, Benitez, or whoever the next savior is, his head will be called for eventually, hence why this image is still relevant.
Real Madrid need to find out what their problem actually is. All in all, Real Madrid's 'tweak' this season probably shouldn't be in the managerial department. If Ancelotti's brand of football was responsible for some of the most memorable performances in recent memory (Copa final, massacre in Munich, La Decima, fall Clasico), then keep building on that. The brand of football Ancelotti has played has been quite good, but there are certainly problems that need to be addressed.
First off, Ancelotti doesn't have a proper defensive midfielder to work with, and that's something beyond his control. Do not blame Ancelotti if Xabi Alonso left the team without enough notice to find a replacement. Toni Kroos in that position was never going to work unless every crack around him was fit. Without Modric, the system collapses and Kroos becomes overwhelmed. It's unfair to Kroos, but it's not like Ancelotti didn't at least attempt to rectify the problem. The experiment with Ramos in midfield worked temporarily, but was exposed in ensuing games. Lucas Silva was brought in the Winter with hopes that he may arise. Ancelotti gave him a run, but eventually decided not to trust him - a decision which seems to have had wisdom in hindsight.
Illaramendi seemed like a natural fit, but it's perhaps harsh to blame Ancelotti for Illara's apparent fall to mediocrity and mental fragility after being a star in Sociedad.
Perhaps an underrated problem was the fact that Sami Khedira turned out to be a mercenary. Had he had a half-ounce of professionalism in him, he could have been quite useful in big games after having a very good World Cup with Germany. He's far from a special player, but has enough quality and tactical awareness to help Kroos in midfield.
Again, it was out of Carlo's control.
All of the above is problem #1, a priority that needs to be addressed regardless of who the manager is next season. If you want Ancelotti to rotate, force his hand. Acquire quality depth and look for someone to solidify the midfield position. Veratti, Yaya, Pogba, Vidal - hell, maybe just train the living daylights out of Lucas Silva and get him in the fold, or bring Casemiro back. Either way, Toni Kroos needs to be pushed up the field and relieved of his lone-DM duties for good.
Certainly playing with a proper defensive midfielder means you have to make someone expendable. That's a decision that has to be made. Realistically, it has to come down to Isco, Kroos, and Bale. James' football IQ and flair is too valuable, Modric is your glue, Benzema fits this system well, and Ronaldo is Ronaldo. I love Bale, but he has enough heat on him these days that Perez might consider a large sum of money for him. Toni Kroos seems like the most logical piece to be demoted.
Isco should be secured, he's a young Spanish wizard with tremendous upside of being one of the best in his position - an important player to have when forming your identity.
Problem #2 is something well in the hands of Carlo Ancelotti - it's an obstacle that he needs to overcome.
I'm talking about the development of canteranos.
I shutter to think what would happen to Raul had he be born a decade later. He would probably be sold to another team and knock Real out of the Champions League. We would have probably lost the greatest icon and one of the greatest players the club has ever seen - the single most 'identifiable' player the Club has ever produced.
Think about it: Would Raul be given a proper chance had he come up the youth system today as oppose to a generation or two ago? It's a scary thought. Equally scary: The thought that Real Madrid might miss out on whoever the next Raul might be.
I get that players like Raul, Casillas, Guti, Sanchis, Juanito, Hierro, Redondo (the latter 3 are not from Castilla, but they have Madridisimo engraved in their hearts) don't grow on trees. In fact, I've been critical in the past with those who seem to think it's easy to have these players at all times. The fact of the matter is, that at a club like Real Madrid, you can buy better talent from the outside that completely overshadows what you can produce in the youth quarry. At least, that's what it's been like for the past 20 years or so.
But there are some things that are inexcusable, such as the current disregard for Jese - a player who broke through last season and played in an offensively- stacked team against all odds only to be forgotten since his devastating injury. It's never easy to come back from an injury, which is all the more reason to give Jese more minutes in a lost season.
While I have respect for Chicharito, it's clear he has no future with this club. The club is investing nothing in him. In a year or two from now he will be completely forgotten - an insignificant signing that only his grandchildren will eventually remember. Yet, despite all this, even after being knocked out of the Champions League, Ancelotti opted to give minutes to him against Espanyol when the development of Jese Rodriguez is infinitely more important.
But again, these are problems you have with foreign coaches who have no long-term investment in the club. They are in 'win now' mode. They aren't thinking about this players' future two or three years from now. All of this inevitably stems from the president and how much he is willing to enforce his ideas on the coach. It's a fine line which suggests that sticking with a coach long term who identifies with the club is more important even if there's losing involved along the way.
The coin has two sides, and both sides have convincing arguments.
Rewind a year and - more understandably - Morata had similar problems flourishing, the same way Jese has had this season. I say more understandably because at that time, Morata was behind Jese in terms of development, and there really was no room for him to blossom. Now he's en route to being one of the best strikers in the World and you have a decision to make. Do you bring him back? It's complicated.
Bringing back Alvaro Morata would require switching to a 4-4-2 and dropping another attacker. It would ensure the departure of Bale and depends greatly on how heavy and drastic you want the change to be. I say this because Morata left to be a starter elsewhere. He will not be coming back to Real Madrid if it meant he becomes a bench or even a role player. Karim Benzema will not be dropped anytime soon, and Ronaldo will be playing further up the pitch the older he gets which means you're almost paralyzed in terms of bringing in new strikers. But to give you an idea, it would have to look something like this:
Would it provide stability? It might. James, although listed as a right winger, would almost certainly drop to a deeper role similar to an Iniesta of sorts. Morata would provide better spacing. Too many times this season Real Madrid were cluttered just in-and-around the box with four-or-five players occupying the same vertical space. A traditional 4-4-2 would provide better balance and distribution of players in better areas. Morata would fight mercilessly for the white shirt, and would provide another target man for a team that relies heavily on crosses.
If Kroos accepts a bench role in this situation then you have added depth, but then you would have to almost certainly deal with the headache of losing Isco who would be on the next plane to England if he became insignificant again.
Having said all that, the above traditional line-up doesn't have as much sex appeal as Florentino Perez might like, so the chance of this hypothetical scenario remains slim, and becomes yet another barrier to bringing back Morata.
Don't ask me what will actually happen. Ancelotti could be fired as soon as tomorrow and the roller coaster of an off-season will officially have begun. I can only hope that Florentino Perez has long-term growth and continuity in mind as he makes his decisions. Far too many times have Real Madrid 'started from scratch'. It's time to change that culture.