Well at least they’re consistent. Just twelve months after winning Real Madrid’s first Champions League title since 2002, Carlo Ancelotti finds himself unemployed after the disgusting failure that is finishing in a pitiful second place behind Barcelona, arguably the best team in the world right now. Add to that the dismal catastrophe of only reaching this year’s Champions League semi-final.
Frankly it’s safe to wonder if three-time European Cup winner Carlo Ancelotti should ever be employed again.
The single most worrying part of Ancelotti’s departure is how predictable it was. At the very second the full time whistle was blown in the 1-1 draw with Juventus that knocked his side out, the countdown timer to his sacking was activated, to the point where even if they had won the league it would not have saved him.
In fact at the press conference last night to announce Ancelotti’s departure, club president Florentino Pérez attempted to justify the decision by saying, “What did Ancelotti do wrong? I don’t know. The demands here at Real Madrid are very high,” as if to confirm what we were all thinking about the poisoned chalice that is the Real job – that the only way to feel even slightly secure is to win the Champions League every year, and that sacking Ancelotti just seemed like a thing that was supposed to be done without a hint of context or consideration for the squad’s opinion.
Then there is the argument that it was in fact his failure to win La Liga that cost him his job. It’s possible – especially as it could well be Barcelona’s first step towards a potential treble – but had they lost the league to, say, Atlético again, then it wouldn’t be much of a factor. But because it was Barcelona and because the Champions League could follow in two weeks time then it sends a message that Luis Enrique’s side have regained their place at the pinnacle of Spanish football.
And in that situation, the Pérez logic dictates that head must roll for this at the Bernabéu – of course there is no easier head to dislodge than the manager. Ancelotti was essentially sacked because, after having a chance to establish dominance last year, he let Barcelona back in. That, in Pérez’s mind, is failure.
But then this is nothing new for Real Madrid. They have bigger problems than the manager but their revolving door policy on said coaches along with buying ready-made marketable superstars is a strategy that has been less than fruitful for them, and yet Pérez persists with it.
They have no idea how to build a football club, to plan for long-term success, to think about anything other than the immediate ‘shiny shiny’. Essentially, they are the Kardashians of the football world – vacuous, materialistic, lacking in any real identity outside of money – and the rest of the footballing public rightly laughs at them when they consistently fail. It’s not schadenfreude if they deserve it.
Most of these problems lead right back to Pérez himself. Right from the very minute he regained power in 2009 he immediately resurrected his Galácticos policy, spending hundreds of millions of euro on Kaká, Cristiano Ronaldo, Xabi Alonso and Karim Benzema that very summer. It didn’t work for him the first time around and it’s certainly not working now.
On paper, that Real first eleven contains a multitude of superstars, players capable of individual brilliance. That right there though is part of the problem – they are very much individual players. A large part of the reason why Luis Enrique has got Barcelona playing so well is the way in which he has succeed in making the front three of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suárez playing together in such an efficient, cohesive way.
They are a united unit capable of working for themselves but also each other. Compare that now with Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema at Real. All fantastic players in their own right, that goes without saying, but the same degree selflessness and interconnectivity isn’t as prevalent, and in a team that wants to fashion an identity for itself and to build a consistent level of success, it really has to be.
Real have to be careful here, not least because they’re running out of managers to go through. This Galáctico framework that Pérez seems wedded to patently isn’t working, so he has to decide if he wants this club to be a partially successful merchandising machine or properly develop them into a well-run football club from the bottom up.
Achieving both in the short term appears to be beyond him – and he must realise that buying square peg superstars for round hole positions is not a sound policy from a footballing point of view. He must also realise that the ideals he seeks out in a manger – a highly successful coach who is also conversely a subservient yes-man – rarely exist within the same human body.
As for their next choice of manager, at the time of writing it would appear that Rafa Benítez looks set to get the job. Having already had spells at the club in both a playing and coaching capacity, he will at least know how the club used to be. In terms of the quest for Champions League glory, Benítez has a good track record in Europe so he at least fits some of the criteria. That said, it would surprise absolutely nobody if Pérez and Real Madrid find themselves in the exact same position this next year (if not sooner).
Good luck Rafa, and welcome to the circus.
Simon O’Keefe, Pundit Arena