THE VULTURES are already circling the Bernabéu stadium after Real Madrid were trounced 3-0 by Paris Saint-Germain in la Ville des Lumières. The body they are eyeing is none other than Zinedine Zidane, three times winner of the UEFA Champions League as coach of Real. So convinced are people that “Zizou” will be on his way soon, they are already preparing for the return of José Mourinho for his second stint in the hottest seat in Spanish football.
Real’s domestic form hasn’t been spectacular, but they are still unbeaten after four rounds of the La Liga programme. It has been an uncomfortable few months for Zidane, even though Real spent € 300 million in the close season. Despite five big name signings, Real’s squad still needs surgery and players like Sergio Ramos, Luka Modrić, Karim Benzema and Marcelo are all over 30. Eden Hazard, Real’s € 100 million acquisition from Chelsea, has only just made his first appearances and against PSG, looked off the pace. Indeed, fans are already asking if Real’s big outlay in the summer has been a waste of money.
There’s no doubt tthe team Zidane largely inherited in his first spell, one that won three consecutive Champions League titles between 2016 and 2018, has long since peaked. Losing Cristiano Ronaldo has been a blow they haven’t recovered from and with the club about to embark on its stadium redevelopment programme, the club’s spending may be restricted for a while.
Real expect instant results and it has not been a good year for the club in terms of performance. They have kept just six clean sheets in 2019 and conceded 49 goals in 35 matches. The PSG display – it was the first time in 578 games that Real did not have a shot on goal – is being called embarrassing. Real will be aware that no team has gone on to win the Champions League after losing their opening game in the competition.
Zidane’s critics suggest that he has had a charmed life in his career, that he has merely been a custodian of a collection of highly skilled autonomous players rather than a coach that guides his team. The side that won the Champions League knew how to negotiate Europe and it had CR7 in its ranks.
It’s an unfortunate time for Zidane to be at the club in some ways. They are at the start of a team rebuilding process and to a certain extent, his return suggested Real had run out of ideas after dispensing with the services of two coaches earlier in 2018-19. Real have won just two of the last 10 league titles, while Barca have been champions seven times. The Champions League compensated for a lack of domestic success – four wins in five seasons – but in 2018-19, Ajax showed that an era of European dominance was coming to an end. With Barca still likely to top La Liga, where does that leave Real?
Real president Florentino Peréz has said that Barca are the best team in the league, an admission that could have been an early warning signal that he won’t entertain mediocrity. Galatasaray and Bruges are next and while they may present tough away challenges, it will still be a surprise if Real don’t go through. If Real do crash out of the Champions League at the group stage, however, the financial implications and the ignominy won’t be tolerated.
This is where Mourinho comes into the equation. He’s been operating as an awkward-looking pundit on TV but he’s apparently surprised he’s still out of the management game. Mourinho had a win rate of 71.9% when he was with Real between 2010 and 2013, but he still had to play second string to Barca. Nevertheless, he has recently, and strategically, described his time with the club as “the best memory of my career, it was fantastic”.
According to media reports, Peréz believes Mourinho is the man to revitalise Real and bring some discipline to the dressing room. But the dressing room may not be so enthused. Hazard has said he wants to work with Mourinho again, but other influential figures, such as Sergio Ramos, may not be so welcoming.
If not Mourinho, then who might Real lure to the Bernabéu? Names like Joachim Low, Max Allegri and Mauricio Pochettino have been mentioned as possible replacements, but Zidane may yet turn things around if he’s allowed to. With Real’s track record, it seems more likely that Peréz will make another change, but why have another unimaginative return match? Mourinho 2019 is not Mourinho 2010. Perhaps it should be time for something different, a new approach, a new man, a new code. It might not win the UEFA Champions League this season, but it might bring local success to Real Madrid.