Big news out of Spain on Monday as Real Madrid change managers yet again, this time turning to a former legend on the pitch, Zinedine Zidane. After only seven months at the helm, Rafa Benitez finds himself unemployed
The move isn’t surprising, as the Benitez was never the preferred choice for the fans and the heat has been on since Madrid was destroyed at home 4-0 by Barcelona in El Clásico.
What did surprised many was the timing. Yes, Real Madrid did miss an opportunity to move closer to the top of the table by drawing in their match at Valencia. But they are still only four points off the lead and should advance to the quarterfinals of the Champions League. They drew a lowly Roma side for the round of 16.
However a closer look into whom they are losing to reveals why he got fired now. Within Spain, he has failed to win against Atlético Madrid, Barcelona, Sevilla, Villarreal and now Valencia; all clubs among the best in La Liga.
Now, Zidane enters as probably the best possible point in the season. The first Champions League match isn’t for another six weeks, and until then Madrid will only face two opponents within the upper half of the league standings. Not to mention when they do face Roma, they will be facing a team that has won barely half their games.
What Zidane must now do is connect with the players, and form a cohesion within the locker room that hasn’t existed since Ancelotti left. Benitez threw his players under the bus on more than one occasion, which led to players like James Rodriguez to turn a deaf ear towards him.
Zidane is close with several players, from his time on Ancelotti’s staff and from his role as an advisor to the club. He’ll need to make the most out of that equity in the beginning, as he’ll never have more of it after. Madrid’s players have been known to not show up for a manager they don’t like, as evidenced by Jose Mourinho’s last season in charge and with Benitez.
What looks to be Zidane’s greatest challenge is dealing with his newfound spotlight. The pressure put on by Madrid’s media will be like none other he has experienced, and much more intense than when he was a player. A self admitted introvert, his communication skills have been called into question, and how long he can stand the constant grilling will be a test. Luckily, he apprenticed under Carlo Ancelotti, who handled the media and pressure brilliantly.
Club president Florentino Pérez referring to Zisou said, “impossible doesn’t exist.” Hopefully titles do, for both their sake.
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Photo: Flickr/Nazionale Calcio