Things are not going well for Real Madrid right now. Fresh off their humiliation at the hands of Barcelona last month, their humiliation at their own hands in the Copa del Rey a couple weeks ago, and their failure to keep pace with their two biggest rivals in the league by dropping points this past weekend, all signs point to new manager Rafa Benítez getting the axe to appease the bloodthirsty fanbase.
The latest news on this front comes from French sports daily L’Équipe, which put Zinedine Zidane on their front page with the headline “Real Vote Zidane.” According to their sources, Benítez has run out of support from those in the club’s hierarchy. Among Real’s brass, including the basically omnipotent president Florentino Pérez, there is a growing weariness with the team’s struggles as of late, and they are fingering the coach as the culprit. With Zidane—a former Real and France legend who currently manages the club’s reserve team in the Spanish third division—waiting in the wings, Madrid have a ready replacement just waiting for the call.
Benítez’s agent has dismissed the speculation about his job, and Pérez himself has publicly backed his hand-picked manager repeatedly during this down stretch. Who are we to believe, then?
Luckily, if there’s one thing Pérez is good at—even more so than blowing hundreds of millions of Euros on players the team doesn’t need all out of a desire to treat the most famous club in the world like his own personal FIFA 16 career mode save—it’s discreetly dispersing his preferred narratives to his many minions and sycophants in the Spanish media. Thus we can get a pretty good idea of what is really going to happen by looking at the “opinions” of his favored mouthpieces.
One of the loudest pro-Madrid voices out there is Josep Pedrerol, the presenter of El Chiringuito de Jugones, which is a sort of hybrid Around the Horn/First Take sports yakker show. He’s a Skip Bayless-like hot-taker, who loves nothing more than doing dirty work for Real Madrid by taking up the club’s and the president’s causes and bashing Barcelona whenever possible.
Pedrerol has been very chirpy as of late. In a string of tweets (which you can read if you scroll down and start at this one) from the show’s account relaying his televised message yesterday, Pedrerol was absolutely livid after Real’s 1-0 loss to Villarreal this weekend. Here’s a collation and translation of some of those tweets:
They must do their talking on the field. And they must do it for 90 minutes. True, [Villarreal manager] Marcelino coached circles around Benítez. But yesterday was a game for the players. Barça had dropped two points against Depor. There was no greater motivation possible. To catch up to Barça and not to get passed by Atléti. Well, another blow for the fans. Sloppiness yet again. Confusion yet again. Disappointment yet again.
Benítez must assume that he is failing. That the people do not want him. That the players do not understand him. But the players must step up. Come together. Lock themselves in the dressing room. Look into each other’s eyes. Shout. Act together. They have no more valid excuses. They must take action. Whoever does not show up, into the street. And if Benítez does not wake up, good bye.
Ah. How great is Zidane.
The most important message Pedrerol was sending here is that he—and thus Pérez and his lackeys (Pedrerol would never come out this strong unless he knew he had internal support from his sources inside the club)—is quite dissatisfied with Benítez’s leadership. Pedrerol had learned that support at the highest levels of the club was quickly dwindling, and that the players were in large part ready to move on. Zidane, too, was immediately on his mind as successor.
Today, though, the rhetoric has been turned down a tad. Rather than focusing on the club leaders’ anger at Benítez’s performance, the new story is that Pérez is the only man in the building who still wants it to work with Benítez and has called on the players to rally around the manager. Pedrerol’s latest rant, as reproduced on Chiringuito’s Twitter account, shows this shift:
Benítez has lost. He has lost his battle with the dressing room. And now it’s in the hands of the players. Only they can save him. Benitez knows that he has screwed up. That he has remained alone. That he has lost the respect of the squad. That his pride has enabled it. Benitez knows that the Zidane talk is heating up. That people don’t want him. And that the public will issue a statement on Sunday.
Florentino is his only support. The president has asked the players who are up to it. That they help the club. That they push each other. That they come together. That they become a team now more than ever. Florentino wants to save Benitez. He wants to save Zidane for later. He doesn’t want to expend him now. And he knows that that depends on the heavyweights.
They are the ones who must hit the table. They are the ones who must take the team forward. This is the time for the players. The time for the captains. The time for Sergio Ramos.
Pedrerol isn’t the only one who has run with this characterization. Pérez’s favorite propaganda arm, the Spanish paper Marca, also got the memo from on high about the message he wanted pushed. Let’s see how they line up. The president not wanting to get rid of the coach, but fearing it might be necessary? Check:
Florentino Pérez is baulking at the idea of sacking Rafa Benítez, although he fears being left with no choice if things continue the way that they are.However, before Benítez is sacrificed on the altar of the beleaguered fans’ fury, the Real Madrid president wants to exhaust all possible options.
The president imploring the players to kick on and start playing better? Check:
His first step will be to demand the squad accept their responsibility and show more professionalism, as well as appealing to the dressing-room leadership of Sergio Ramos and Cristiano Ronaldo. After all, the apathetic first-half performance in Villarreal reflected badly on the players first and foremost.
The Marca article adds another wrinkle, explaining that it was actually the club’s CEO, José Angel Sánchez, who convinced Pérez that Benítez was the right man to succeed the previous manager in the first place. Never mind all the contemporary sources dating from his hiring that Pérez explicitly wanted someone who had come through the club in some capacity (Benítez was both a longtime player for the Real reserve side and got his coaching start there) and very quickly settled on Benítez as the man. Pérez might actually want Benítez out and he might not, but what’s certain is that the message you see above is how you think about the situation and by proxy his stewardship of the club.
Fittingly enough, Marca ends its article explaining how Pérez has come to an epiphany that a collection of stars like the Real squad needs less of a master tactician to thrive and more of a motivator who immediately inspires respect from the players and can maneuver around all the egos to create a harmonious dressing room. Naturally, they cite Zidane as the man who could fit that bill, but it’s instructive to remember another name who would be perfect for those very reasons.
Not Benítez, who has famously bristled star players with his cold demeanor, rigid playing system, and demands of defensive accountability from every player on the pitch. Rather, a coach who is beloved by all his players, is respected for his illustrious playing and managerial accomplishments, who can bring the kind of expressive, attractive play Pérez has always sought, and is available to potentially lead this team whenever the call comes.
Not that he actually would take the job now, since the manager I’m talking about is Carlo Ancelotti, the very coach Pérez scapegoated out of this job in favor of Benítez, despite the fans, the media, and even the players insisting that firing him would be a bad idea.
Never forget, regardless of what you read in the papers, what’s really wrong with Real Madrid is Pérez himself.
Photos via Getty