(With Agency Report) – Coach Julen Lopetegui’s brief and inglorious reign as Real Madrid coach lasted just 139 days after the club confirmed he had been sacked on Monday. Lopetegui was dismissed following a meeting of the board of directors, who concluded that there had been a “great disproportion between the quality of the staff of Real Madrid…and the results obtained to date.”
Lopetegui’s last game proved a humiliation as Madrid were hammered 5-1 by rivals, Barcelona, in the Clasico on Sunday. The defeat was their fifth in seven games and, seemingly, convinced President Florentino Perez that change was required.
Santiago Solari, the club’s B team coach, has been put in temporary charge and is now expected to do all he can to rescue the gradually fading season of the European champions.
“This decision, adopted from the highest level of responsibility, aims to change the dynamics of the first team, when all the objectives of this season are still achievable,” a club statement read on Monday.
“The board of directors understands that there is a great disproportion between the quality of the staff of Real Madrid, which has eight players nominated for the next Golden Ball, something unprecedented in the history of the club, and the results obtained to date.”
But beyond the sacking of the coach lies the obvious missing link in the European champions, who are one of the feared team in the world, and should rightly remain so if not for the avalanche of poor results coming their way.
After guiding the Los Blancos to three consecutive Champions League triumphs, Coach Zinedine Zidane, with the club’s talisman, Cristiano Ronaldo, left Real Madrid at the end of last season.
Ryan Giggs, the coach of Wales national team, emphasized the importance Ronaldo in a speech moments after the Portuguese signed for Juventus.
“When someone like Cristiano leaves, there is always going to be a spotlight on who is going to replace him. But Gareth (Bale) has shown his qualities in big games and that he can handle anything that is thrown at him.”
But the failure of the club after the exit of Zidane and Ronaldo, to some analysts, was not about the exit of the two personalities. Observers noticed the missing link beyond Zidane and Ronaldo. For instance, beneath the Champions League celebration in May was an obvious crack in the side after they finished 17 points behind La Liga champions, Barcelona. Zidane departed and then Ronaldo followed, taking an average of 50 goals per season with him to Juventus.
Those holding this brief believe that Zidane feared that he hadn’t what it takes to refresh the aging Real Madrid players for a team that has more of players above 28 than younger ones. For example, of the team that lined up against Liverpool in Kiev, Ukraine, in the last Champions League final, five of their key players—Marcelo, Sergio Ramos, Luka Modric, Ronaldo and his great foil, Karim Benzema —are all at the wrong side of 30.
One analyst pointed out that it seemed that Zidane didn’t have the gut to ‘renovate’ an ageing squad, which floundered domestically last season, particularly in La Liga.
To some observers, the refusal of Perez to shore up the squad following Ronaldo’s exit accounted to the abysmal performances.
But Perez, speaking after the departure of the due, promised a rebranded Madrid.
He told Real Madrid fans to expect “magnificent” additions to the squad this summer. The promise that he will revive the galactico philosophy that has been dormant since 2014 when the club signed James Rodriguez after the Colombian’s heroics in that summer’s FIFA World Cup finals was tantalising. It has been synonymous with his reign as club president since he announced himself to the world of football by poaching Luis Figo from Barcelona in 2000.
But the club president opted against signing a big-name replacement, which left Coach Lopetegui short up front, while the problems in attack quickly spread to the defence, where Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane became increasingly erratic. That was also the view of Marca, Spain’s biggest selling daily, when it roared on its front page of Monday after the Barcelona win: “It is not just Julen’s fault.”
In the humiliation, Barcelona covered every inch on the field and deniedg Real Madrid any chance to launch any fearful offensive. The European kings managed one win in their last seven matches, sit ninth in La Liga and earlier this month went more than eight hours without a goal.
But beyond the non-reinforcement in vital areas after the exit of the duo from the club, people believe that one of the missing links in the once dreaded Spanish giants remained the inability of the bench to effectively manage the dressing room. To so many people, the sacked manager was not been able to articulate and harnessed the array of stars at Real Madrid, leading to dissenting voices, especially in the locker room.
Captain of the side, Sergio Ramos, summed up this while reacting to the 5-1 humiliation in the hands of arch-rivals, noting that managing the dressing room at Real was more important than technical knowledge.
“Respect is earned; it isn’t imposed,” Ramos said. “Those are the coaches with whom we’ve won titles. Managing the dressing room is more important than the knowledge of a coach.”
Also speaking after the poor result, Casemiro admitted the huge problem in the Real Madrid fold, saying that the result against Barcelona defined their season so far.
“This 5-1 sums up our season so far. We have played well in some spells, but that is this season – we are a disaster, all playing very bad, all of us.”
Whichever way it is looked at, the problem was how sacked Coach Julen Lopetegui was going to adapt without a figure like Ronaldo—with all the goals he scored—around. From the beginning of the coach’s time at Madrid, which started from the club’s huge point deficit from Barcelona in the race for the La Liga title last season, it promised to be a year of transition and frustration for the team.
Even though such great players like Modric, Toni Kroos, Casemiro and Bale were still there, it was going to be very complicated for Real Madrid to win a fourth Champions League in a row. Other teams in Spain and Europe have proven stronger this season, thereby making Madrid a distant favourite to win the Champions League this season. Consequently, the expected poor run consumed the coach who took the Spanish national team on eighteen unbeaten games.
According to Marca, it was surprising that with the departure of Ronaldo, Real’s only signings were defender Alvaro Odriozola, goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and Brazilian teenager Vinicius Jr, when they knew the enormity of defending their European title effectively and returning to reckoning in the race for La Liga title. It was expected that Perez would have matched his promises with actions and go for the best, in keeping with the tradition of Real Madrid.
Meanwhile, while Coach Lopetegui got all the knocks for Madrid’s poor start to the season, it was not all bad for him, especially looking at the stats in the first four matches of this season vis-à-vis last season.
Statistics show that he started brighter than Zidane when compared to the opening four league games this season and last season, with emphasis on possession and other indices.
For instance, in their opening four league games in 2018-19, Real’s possession was a great deal higher than it was at the start of last season. In La Liga, Real averaged around 70 percent possession overall, with a high of 77.9 percent in their opening home game – a 2-0 win over Getafe at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Even away to Athletic Club at San Mames and without Casemiro to win the ball back for the first half of that match, Madrid still ended with 60.1 percent possession. Meanwhile, the highest figure from the start of last season was 68.2 percent was in the 3-0 win away to Deportivo La Coruna, while the lowest from those games was 49.7 percent possession achieved in their 3-1 victory at Real Sociedad.
Even Pep Guardiola was quick to point out that possession does not win football matches, but it could give a team the chance to dominate and create more chances over a long league season. With Zidane’s side, there was often the feeling that they were capable of more.
Meanwhile, Ramos insisted that the title was not yet over for them. “There are people that would believe, others that wouldn’t,” Ramos said.
“I have won La Liga from 10 points behind. The key to success is to work. Madrid never gives up when it can turn the situation around.”
The post El-Clasico Humiliation: The Missing Link At Real Madrid appeared first on Independent Newspapers Nigeria.
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Author: Chibuike Chukwu