Once Zinedine Zidane confirmed that he no longer wanted to continue as coach of Real Madrid, there was a sharp, collective intake of breath, but in hiring Julen Lopetegui, Florentino Perez genuinely thought he had the right man to take the club forward.
However, things didn’t go quite to plan and that’s putting it mildly. Perhaps it was the right man at the wrong time.
After all, whoever followed the Frenchman was surely on to a loser. Revered as a player, he only enhanced his reputation at the club after an incredibly successful few years.
Lopetegui had to hit the ground running, particularly because of the way that Real had made such a big fuss out of signing him on the eve of the World Cup.
His first competitive fixture, a 4-2 defeat against Atletico Madrid in the European Super Cup, will have rung some alarm bells. Just a few months later, he was out, but to say that no one saw it coming is inherently wrong.
Real were awful domestically throughout 2017/18 and were only saved by their Champions League form. During Lopetegui’s tenure, they’d simply carried on where they left off in La Liga. With Zidane long gone and with his reputation untarnished, it was left to the former Porto tactician to carry the can.
Almost as soon as he and his backroom staff departed, Antonio Conte was mentioned as a strong frontrunner, but a thinly veiled threat from Sergio Ramos and less than pleasing financial demands, both personally and for spending on transfers, seems to have put paid to the Italian’s candidacy.
At the present moment, Santiago Solari, another former player and the actual Castilla coach whilst Zidane’s name was on the paperwork (the Frenchman didn’t have the appropriate qualifications), is in the hot seat, and what a start he’s had.
The entire mood around the camp has changed.
It also bodes well for the young players in the side, given that he was still in charge of Castilla until Perez thrust him into the first-team spotlight against Melilla in the Copa del Rey.
However, one question remains and it needs to be answered. Despite his obvious suitability for the position, is he really just a stop-gap until someone ‘better’ becomes available?
Were he to somehow replicate Zidane’s European success, it would take a very brave president to remove him, but if we work on the basis that another Champions League triumph is unlikely, then there is a candidate who has previously expressed an interest and will jump at the chance second time around.
Mauricio Pochettino has already proved himself to be one of the brightest young coaches in the game and was Florentino’s first choice once Zidane had given notice to leave.
However, Daniel Levy was in no mood to play nice and the Argentinian had to accept that his dream job had come at the wrong time.
Fast forward hypothetically to the end of this season, and if Tottenham, as great as they’ve been to watch, have still not secured a trophy, that’s likely to be the catalyst for a changing of the guard at White Hart Lane (or Wembley!).
Pochettino’s trust in youth is perfectly aligned with Real’s new way of working, and one can assume that the likes of Vinicius Junior, Rodrygo Goes and Exequiel Palacios will all improve under his studious tutelage.
Though Los Blancos do appear to be moving away from ‘Galactico’ purchases, the addition of either Neymar or Harry Kane to a squad that does need an upgrade in attacking areas would certainly be welcomed.
It’s unlikely Spurs would make it easy, but the former Espanyol man has served his apprenticeship.
He’s got the absolute maximum out of every player and results by and large have been good, all while playing a wonderfully entertaining brand of football - and that’s exactly what Real Madrid are looking for.
A lack of trophies notwithstanding, Pochettino is clearly one of the best coaches in the Premier League, and titles are all that’s missing from his CV – something he’ll likely earn in Madrid.
A marriage made in football heaven? You betcha.