Gabriel Pires knocked in a 55th-minute goal and Real Madrid exited the Copa del Rey early for the third straight season. Sitting at 13th in the table, Leganés are now the lowest ranked side remaining in Spain´s oldest competition. While Real Madrid´s fans rightly care the most about the Champions League, the goal at the beginning of every season is to win three trophies. They are now in danger of winning zero and possibly even missing out on next season´s Champions League.
Real Madrid President Fiorentino Perez has gone through seven managers over the last ten years and has often been criticized for firing coaches too early. He could certainly learn something from crosstown rival president Enrique Cerezo, who has kept Diego Simeone at the helm since 2011. Granted, Atletico has only trended up since Simeone´s start, but Cerezo has refused to listen to fans who question their recent run of four third-place finishes in five seasons.
Perez almost definitely pulled the trigger too early on Carlo Ancelotti. The manager had just come off a season in which Real had reached the semifinals of the Champions League. They had also finished just two points behind Barcelona for the league. Yet Perez claimed, “at this club the demands are huge and we need a new impulse in order to win trophies and be at our best.”
He then hired Rafa Benitez, who was in way over his head and exited halfway through his first season. Zidane went on to win two champions league trophies, but his motivation techniques and style seem to have grown stale. Cristiano Ronaldo has only scored six domestic goals, way off last year’s pace of 25.
The team has missed Alvaro Morata, and only Gareth Bale has slightly improved on his production from last season. Zidane changes the formation every game, giving the team no time for consistency or practice in one system.
Real’s best formation is probably still the 4-3-3 featuring Ronaldo and Bale on the wings with Asensio, Mayoral, or Benzema in the middle. Injuries to both wingers have limited that formation’s potential, but Zidane’s inability to find something else that works over the course of 19 domestic matches is concerning.
At a certain point, Zidane’s tinkering is a result of the pressure Perez and the fans place on him to win. If he did not have to worry about job security, he could make unorthodox decisions. As I wrote earlier this week, Ernesto Valverde has enjoyed this freedom at Barcelona. He sat out Messi and Suarez for a match, surprisingly improving Barca’s results. Zidane would almost immediately lose his job if he ever sat Ronaldo. He would probably even lose it if he kept the same formation after a loss.
The pressure of the most storied history and the most demanding fans make the Real Madrid job unique. Only a special kind of manager can succeed, and some of the best have failed recently.
But in a club with an almost unlimited purse and a treasure trove of homegrown talent, the fans should at least expect Champions League qualification. The team has not missed out on Europe’s most prestigious competition since the 1995-96 season.
They may have a game in hand, but they only hold a one-point lead over Villareal and two over Sevilla. Both teams have qualified for the Champions League recently. Sevilla fans are beginning to expect a spot in the competition every season. As much as Real fans believe their team will get through this and everything will work out in the end, Villareal and Sevilla are real threats.
So if the answer is to remove Zidane who comes in? Perez has a tendency to look at big names and for that reason, Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino has been mentioned.
However, current Valencia and former Villareal manager Marcelino is the best candidate. Barcelona’s success after Guardiola was largely due to hiring managers already in La Liga. Luis Enrique and Ernesto Valverde have proven success and know the ins and outs of Spanish football.
Part of Rafa Benitez’s failure (and his success at Liverpool, Napoli, and Newcastle) was that he hadn’t managed in La Liga in 11 years. The world’s best league needs a manager who understands the other teams and their players rather than an outsider.
Marcelino bounced around for the first 14 years of his managerial career. But he built a system in Villareal that worked and is now using it in Valencia. He may have just made his first big move, but any manager would jump at the opportunity and money that comes with managing Real Madrid.
Real Madrid have been knocked out the Copa del Rey. They sit 19 points adrift from Barcelona for La Liga. But they can still salvage a top three slot. Perhaps they can even win a 13th Champions league title, but only if they switch managers. Marcelino is the man to take the team back to glory.