Imagine the chaos of running a business.
Now, imagine this business also happens to be a football club, where you have balance the books and tilt the balance of trophies won in your favor – Sounds so simple. But ask one Arsene Wenger and he could rant for 20 years on the perceived difficulty of such a simple task. This is a familiar landscape across all top clubs in Europe.
But nowhere is the balance required talked about more than at Real Madrid – No example as immensely popular to take apart than Florentino Perez and his Galactico projects (both guises).
In business terms, Perez’s clout is unmatched in Spain. The influence he wields in the construction sector means he could turn every house in a ten mile radius to rubble to build a giant version of the Bernabeu. Luckily, his ego has not yet shot to such stratospheric heights. Florentino is a businessman with pedigree, a billionaire who knows how to keep the big bucks around while spending too. And he also happens to be president of Real Madrid.
As a president, however, both his reigns in charge have been largely disappointing. Real Madrid sign players all the time. Real Madrid challenge for titles all the time. Real Madrid are runners-up, too often. The ultras are sick of his crap, the general media keeps tearing him apart and the players themselves are disillusioned with the direction of this latest ‘Project’.
You know matters are out of hand when Cristiano Ronaldo, ego personified on the field of play, goes and says that there is something wrong. Ever since the departure of Mourinho at the Bernabeu there have been cracks appearing from the dressing room to the directors box in the terraces. The Portuguese started off with the biggest cardinal sin in Madrid – Dropping San Iker from the first team. Lo and behold, the Portuguese himself was dumped not much later.
His replacement was the happy grandpa, Carlo Ancelotti. He brought a semblance of stability, united the dressing room and challenged for the major titles. Ancelotti even won the coveted ‘Decima’ – the 10th European Cup that Madrid fans boast of. All the time. Yet, 12 months and a trophyless season later, the Italian packed his bags and was told to move on. The reason? Barcelona won an unprecedented second treble in history, lead by the most feared attacking trident in the world.
Perez showed his trigger happy nature again, firing the Italian, their one realistic chance at challenging the Barca juggernaut. And then, like a fool, he appointed the fat Spanish waiter, Rafael Benitez. So, a recap is necessary here – Mourinho saga, Casillas exit, Ancelotti departure. In between, Sergio Ramos – the captain and symbol of the modern Real Madrid almost left too. Rumors persisted of a departure for the cornerstone of the Blancos as well – Cristiano himself was irritated with the appointment of Benitez.
After a four-goal defeat at home to their eternal rivals, followed up by a dire draw to a struggling Valencia, Benitez’s dream was over at Madrid. Booted out as a reject, Perez made perhaps his first smart decision ever as the president and appointed Zinedine Zidane. Yes, you may have heard the name. A former legend of a player, a former assistant coach when La Decima was won, and a former Real Madrid hero was now in charge. Zidane was not exactly a screaming voice in the dressing room in his playing days. Not exactly a leader on the pitch. But he had his charm, his charismatic way of playing and was an inspiration. It also helps that he has won everything the game has to offer as a player himself. This, above all else, means he commands the respect of the dressing room.
And there are early signs of promise from the Frenchman’s tenure. Sure, there have been blips in form, and injuries to contend with. Zidane however, is currently working with Benitez’s team. Not one cut in his own image, playing his brand of football. Now, more than ever, the club needs a manager who has the time to put his mark on the first team. Now is the time to build a team that can go toe to toe with Barcelona and Atletico Madrid.
Since 2009, Real Madrid have lifted six trophies. A dismal return for the wealthiest club in the world – a return that reflects just how badly the first team is managed. As young players do well elsewhere or sit warming the benches, superstars arrive. With a reputation of attacking and being virtuoso players for their national teams or previous clubs, these players want to be on the field all the time.
However, only eleven are allowed to play at a time, and not all of the superstars can fit the mould. There needs to be a balance, a style of play and a vision established for the football Real Madrid plays. The greatest teams make the game look really simple, particularly when their teams undergo multiple transitions within years.
It is this transformation cycle which Real Madrid do not acknowledge or have the patience for to have a steady footballing philosophy. Simply signing the most expensive and bringing the best players on the continent to warm the benches in sunny Spain has become the Real Madrid way. It works well as a brand identity but as a football club, it fails miserably.
Zidane is crucial to the future of Real Madrid. As demonstrated by Pepe and Ronaldo, he has the backing of his squad. He has their respect and has managed to make them play cohesively within months of his appointment. But up there, in the looming in the stands, the grand spectre of Perez is difficult to ignore. As the Clasico looms closer, Zidane is well aware that a good result is the norm for the Bernabeu hotseat. And if he plans to remain much longer, he can only hope to be spared the wrath of Florentino.
No matter how much the ultras sing ‘Florentino, resign!’, he is going nowhere. One hopes for the sake of the capital club, that Zinedine Zidane is not asked to move on. That is the chant that should do the rounds at the Bernabeu, the fans should sing for Zidane to remain as head coach.
Give him time, Florentino – for Zidane is the future of Real Madrid.