Unless club management reacts soon, Real Madrid’s successful spell in the Champions League may become a blueprint for failure in the next few seasons, having already caused plenty of damage in the last two.
Yes, I know this sounds like an exaggerated take from an ageing socio who always tends to see the negative side of things, but follow my train of thought and, if you don’t agree, let me know in the comment thread.
As you probably know, Real Madrid does not have a sports director. Signings are decided by two and two people only, president Florentino Perez and GM Jose Angel Sanchez. Of course, before they make a decision they do reach out to a number of stakeholders who give their opinion, especially valuing the reports from a well organised scouting network and, naturally, the coach’s view on the specific player. In several cases, though, they have signed players without taking the coach’s opinion into account. Well, in fact they have signed players, extended contracts and let others go when there was no coach on the bench. Florentino and Jose Angel have their own view of what players are valid or not, and that view prevails over those of any other participant in the process.
Of course, their criteria has brought tremendously successful personnel decisions: the Casemiro – Kroos – Modric midfield is entirely their doing, as it was Bale’s signing – not dependable, I know, but a Real Madrid great in his own right –, or the policy to loan and then get back young players like Carvajal, Asensio or Vazquez. However, their calls have also weakened the squad as a whole for the last two summers, and have left the offense of the team in the hands of a handful of unreliable scorers right after Cristiano decided to leave for a meagre (I’m serious) 100 million. Remember, he is the best striker in club’s history.
I won’t argue with the fact that personnel decisions have to be analysed under club’s policies, as well as sports ones: if your top player evades taxes, you have to act exemplarily and let him deal with that, instead of organising an action to defend his innocence when you know very well he’s guilty. Another example? Barcelona only entered into the Neymar sweepstakes because Florentino told him in the first couple of meetings that he would be joining the best club in the world and that he could not guarantee him a place in the starting eleven. Neymar did not like that, Sandro Rosell knew how to deal with the kid and his father, and a few millions here and there did the trick for Barcelona. If you ask me, Florentino was simply fair, taking into account that he was negotiating with Neymar without a clear idea of whom would be coaching him once he signed.
But even if the club needs to juggle between certain aspects – sports-related, financial, reputational, long-term – whenever they make a signing decision, the coach can’t be almost an afterthought in this process, which is now the case. That is one of the main reasons why Zidane left last summer: he saw the attitude of the players, felt that he hadn’t been able to count on several first team members week in and week out of that LaLiga season, and openly said he didn’t feel he could keep the required level of success with that group. Obviously, that implied that his input wouldn’t be relevant in the personnel decisions, as the squad revamp he had in mind wasn’t going to happen.
When he surprised the football world coming back to the bench he’d left less than a year before, arriving in a desperate situation, it was assumed that he’d asked Florentino for a billion euros and the car keys, and that the president, with nowhere to run, had agreed. However, the first noises from the club have started to appear in the Madrid media, and it starts to feel as though Zidane may not have the free rein he expected. The press here is extremely easy to read, and the club’s unofficial spokesmen are already sending messages regarding who should join or leave the team, creating the typical noise that will make things difficult for Zidane if he wants to change that course.
Yes, it’s hard to change a way of doing things that has proven successful. But the fact that Real Madrid won four Champions League titles in five years should not hide the huge dependence on Cristiano Ronaldo, a player who was not signed by Florentino, but even more importantly, one that can’t be replicated. It shouldn’t also hide the terrible performance in the domestic competitions: the tournament in which you measure bench’s depth is LaLiga, and it’s already evident that we can only catalogue the last eleven years’ period as a failure, with eight Barcelona titles to Real Madrid’s two.
My point is that the success of this approach is in fact the result of a few good decisions and a couple of external factors that built a fantastic team for the top tournament in the world, but failed to create the conditions to compete year after year for all the relevant titles. That, to me, is not good planning, and as such, does not bring sustainable results.
Again, the way to do this is to hire a coach the club trusts and empower him/her with the right weapons and long-term structure. And even if you end up replacing him, try to find one with similar style so that the work done previously does not go down the drain. The coach’s criteria should be key in every personnel decision, of course.
Club management has never taken this path yet, as every single coach on Real Madrid’s bench has always been two defeats away from a huge crisis. I honestly thought that Zidane could revert this trend and become the long-term manager the team needed to recover competitiveness in all fronts, but he has to be trusted as such.
It won’t take long to know what’s next: if the first few decisions are not made by Zidane, we’ll know quickly, the way it happened when Real Madrid tried to sign Kepa. Perez and Sanchez should know better: Zidane has already left the club once, and he won’t hesitate of doing that a second time if he lacks the freedom to rebuild this team.