Only a few months into his tenure as Real Madrid boss and already Rafael Benitez is firmly under the managerial microscope. The often-maligned Madrid-native hasn’t endeared himself to the Bernabeu faithful and after back-to-back La Liga losses, the second of which came at home to Barcelona two weeks ago - a cardinal sin for the capital side - the new ‘number 10’ is feeling the heat.
When you lose the dressing room, you lose your job. That’s the mantra for any football side and is accentuated at the bigger clubs.
Jose Mourinho, of all people, suffered a similar disregard – culminating in the infamous Sergio Ramos-Iker Casillas-Mourinho training ground debacle.
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Ramos went as far as telling Mourinho that game situations must be fluid and the Portuguese manager wouldn’t know that as he’s never been on the field. This came after a 2-1 defeat to you guessed it, Barcelona. What is the quote about triumph in the face of adversity? Yeah, Madrid don’t have it.
More often than not, the hot seat at Los Blancos is likened to that of the Sword of Damocles anecdote, where no manager ever feels safe and the threat of an axe lingers perilously close.
In Carlo Ancelotti, Madridistas had a semblance of stability. Ancelotti had done, in the fans eyes, a sterling job at appeasing egos, meshing confidence with work ethic, charisma with passion. And most importantly, at Madrid, he was more than competitive against a rampant Barcelona. Just ask Ronaldo what he thought of the Italian’s sacking.
So why is Florentino Perez intent on changing a good thing? Perhaps he is really the manager of Europe’s richest side. In success, we rightfully praise him, to which he accepts, and in defeat he must be critiqued.
When the Bernabeu sport the flapping white flags, inevitability follows. Perez speaks out in defence of the manager and then months of speculation ends with a sacking. The fans rejoice and marvel at the next in line to the throne and the blockbuster signing that enters that summer.
In that, Perez is a PR machine. This time, however, may just be different because Ancelotti was not on the outer. With him, Madrid had won the fabled La Decima. You could’ve foreseen that Benitez was on a hiding to nothing. You could also argue he wasn’t deserving of the job based on his recent resume; tumultuous stint in Napoli, disaster at Inter, interim position at Chelsea, and strange and erratic success at Liverpool, doesn't read well for the position.
This may be Ancelotti’s team - as Perez recently stated in his speech -but what he fails to acknowledge is that they aren’t playing for the same manager. That half a second delay in pressing Barcelona in the recent El Clasico was unforgivable, if not ill-advised.
For the first 12 weeks of La Liga, the defensive strategy worked. With the attack at his disposal, they were always going to score goals. But when the team voiced their concern at the Benitez style, and he succumbed, we saw a side not willing to fight that extra percentage.
Under Ancelotti they did, although, he had Angel di Maria doing the dog work in midfield, but that’s a whole other Perez story. The man who decimated the La Decima team. Ironic.
So this time may be different. Perez may truly be backing Benitez. For a few obvious reasons. He is his man; the anointed one, the Madrid-native, the ex-youth coach, the Spaniard, the tactician.
But Perez cares for his cushty position atop the pyramid too much. And he knows the fans are privy to his antics. Time has told. The Ancelotti sacking was the tipping point. Casillas’ inglorious exit and poor treatment was key. The Xabi Alonso sale also a factor. Not buying Suarez when he had the chance. It even goes back to the Ronaldinho gaffe. Fans remember most in times of turmoil.
Perez runs Madrid as a business – an incredibly successful one – and thus far Los Merengues have missed out in footballing terms. There’s no quick fix. They have enough money to paper over the cracks. But attitude reflects leadership. And in Perez and Benitez, Real Madrid are lacking.
There’s something distinctly Game of Thrones about this saga. And it that realm it never ends well for the king. The pantomime show under president Florentino Perez continues.
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