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Zidane’s letter is a worrying failure of communication

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Real Madrid CF v Villarreal CF - La Liga Photo by Diego Souto/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

I’ve tried to write something to sum up my thoughts of the last three months in regards to off field decisions and keep drawing a blank. The diversity of opinion and fading of anger in the aftermath of Zidane’s letter has certainly muddied the water in regards to one’s position on the off-pitch decisions taken this year.

I’ve seen a lot of diverse opinions online and in print, much of it divided on partisan lines on who you disliked the most out of Perez and Zidane. It would be quite easy to pick a side for me as the club has done a lot in the last few months that has actively pitted me against them, however, the last thing the current dialogue needs is another slam dunk on your preferred target. The outside world sees Perez as something of a power-crazed anti-Christ and its an image of the man I’ve never bought into. Madridista’s relationship is rightfully much more complex. He has spearheaded financial stability during a difficult period in the club’s history, led a much needed revamp of the Santiago Bernabeu and has also played his part in one of the most dominant eras in the club history on the pitch.

Perez has also been the head of a lot of unpopular decisions and, even after nearly two decades in charge, still hasn’t learnt that his best work comes outside of the public eye. Zinedine Zidane is a club legend and, as a manager, brilliant at what he does. As uncomfortable as it might make his critics, being successful at Real Madrid is difficult in spite of the club’s rich trophy laden history. The past will tell you that, ironically, coaches that win a lot of trophies home and abroad like Zidane have done don’t come around that often. The lackluster football, failure to integrate youth, questionable tactical decisions, are all criticisms that are prefaced by how successful the Frenchman has been.

Both parties have valid reservations in regards to how much security one can offer a manager when he’s doing an objectively poor job verus how someone who has done so much for the club could receive such a sly treatment from his superiors. For someone attempting to take something concrete from all this, my main concern is communication, particularly in two forms. The first in regards to Perez and Zidane.

Only those two and the flies on the wall know the details of their conversations over the last few months, however, its alarming that the communication between them clearly broke down to a point where a letter like this could be published.

On paper, Perez’s and Zidane’s relationship has every reason to be good. They have known each other since 2001 and, presumably, worked quite closely together when Zidane was a technical director in the mid-2000s, not to mention the near six years Zidane has managed the team. Even with someone like Raul, there is unlikely to be a rapport between a president and manager like Zidane and Perez should have had. That this working relationship has ended with accusations like this is, at the very best, a communication failure that doesn’t fill one with confidence that any other manager will be able to implement a much needed sporting vision at the club.

Two people make any relationships, so there is a possibility that the blame for this communication breakdown rests at Zidane’s feet. However, Real Madrid don’t have the best of track records of breaking off with it’s employees on good terms and the sample size of that is big enough to leave one guessing.

By far the biggest concern born out of the last few months for me is the communication of dissent. Naturally, Zidane’s allegations suggest that Perez monumentally failed at communicating his dissent, however, at a democratic level one can’t help but have a growing fear of how much room there is for a dissenting opinion at Real Madrid. In his book The Real Madrid Way, Stephen Mandis states that Florentino Perez seeks a diversity of opinions from people he trusts before he makes a big decision about the club. This insider account of the decision process at Los Blancos always filled me with a sense of comfort, however, as of late that comfort has been shaken quite a bit.

At a surface level, Real Madrid’s democratic process is abysmal. Perez has run unopposed since he was re-elected in 2004, a run of three consecutive elections in which no has registered to face the incumbent president. Many have blamed the rule changes brought in in 2012, which raised the minimum socio membership from 10 to 20 years, demanded that candidates must be Spanish and required a bank guarantee before the election.

The rule changes undoubtedly don’t make it easier for candidates to run, however, Spanish law itself further restricts the candidate pool. The perks of a 100% fan owned club are obvious, however, as teams spent well beyond their means throughout the 20th century, Spanish sport authorities began to take action to secure the financial security of clubs. A strict sport law introduced in 1990 demanded potential candidates to bring a bank guarantee of 15% of the club’s expenses for the following year and assume 100% of the team’s losses.

The rise in revenue since those rules were introduced means only the ultra-wealthy are well-funded enough to lead Spanish football clubs. Like in any non-sporting organization, a diversity of backgrounds and income levels are vital for making informed decisions, however, the current legal setup means that most Spanish teams are run by men all of a similarly wealthy background.

From a logistics standpoint, gauging an accurate opinion of Real Madrid’s near 2,000 voting socios would be a nightmarish task and instead much of the day to day decision making task is entrusted to an elected board of directors. It’s at this table of largely faceless characters that Perez and co. presumably make decisions about the club’s future and, like between Zidane and Perez, the details of those discussions are all hearsay for an outsider. However, from the outside, it’s hard to believe that Perez’s decisions are being challenged very well.

Leaking damaging information about your manager behind his back is obviously a bad idea. Remaining in a European Superleague that only seems to ensure a harsh punishment from UEFA is a bad idea and yet here we are. As president, Perez naturally would be the spokesperson for the board’s big decisions, however, it seems more than a little coincidental that his board decided to stay in the Superleague and, as a result, protect its founder from a massive blow to his reputation by pulling out. There have also been occasions where that lack of dissent to Perez’s decisions shows in how he communicates those decisions. He rather arrogantly waved off suggestions that he should have approached socios about joining the Superleague earlier this year.

One event that has particularly stuck out in my mind happened during the press conference where it was announced that Carlo Ancelotti was sacked as Real Madrid coach. When asked for what the Italian did wrong, Perez’s best explanation was “I don’t know”.

There are no transcripts to back up concerns, but from the outside, one would be right to be growing a little worried about where Real Madrid is going. What fans need now is reassurance in the selection of a good coach and suggestion that a clear sporting vision is being implemented.