Monday 28 May 2018

Real roll the dice and Rafa has to take the hit

'Rafael Benitez's record at Real Madrid isn't quite so clear cut as many would suppose' Photo:Getty
'Rafael Benitez's record at Real Madrid isn't quite so clear cut as many would suppose' Photo:Getty newsdesk

There seems to be general agreement that Rafa Benitez simply had to go. Though when you look at the man's record in charge of Real Madrid it doesn't seem quite as clear-cut as all that.

Real lie third in the La Liga table, just four points behind leaders Atletico and two behind Barcelona. And for all the suggestions that Benitez is a prosaic soul who didn't excite the Real faithful, the fact is that his side are the top scorers in Spain with 47 league goals, seven more than a Barca team touted as the most thrilling to hit Europe in years.

Real were pretty nifty in the Champions League group stages too: their total of 16 points was the best of anyone and their 19 goals from six games was joint top with Bayern Munich. In a world where it's argued that Louis van Gaal and Manuel Pellegrini deserve more time, Benitez has a right to feel somewhat hard done by.

The argument, I suppose, is that Real Madrid and its galaxy of Galacticos are different. But you'd wonder if there is actually something dysfunctional about the way they do things at the Bernabeu. For all the hype and expenditure, they've won just one of the last six La Liga titles, the same as their hometown rivals Atletico, who two seasons ago were just one corner away from denying Real the Champions League final victory which papered over a lot of the cracks.

One reason why the departure of Benitez occasioned very little regret is that the appointment of Zinedine Zidane is such an intriguing one. Having in ten years gone through eight managers, all of whom arrived at the club with a track record of success, Real have now turned to someone whose only managerial experience is a season in charge of the club's reserve team in the Spanish third flight.

It seems like the kind of appointment, promoting from the ranks, which Barcelona would make and which has paid such high dividends for the Catalans. But while it makes sense for Barcelona because they also bring a lot of players through from within the system, Real isn't that kind of club. And, as Zidane's old rival Roy Keane found out, great players do not automatically become great managers. Maradona anyone?

But Real are gamblers and if Zidane doesn't succeed, there is always Simeone, Guardiola, Mourinho, Allegri, Blanc etc. Though funnily enough Real's best manager of modern times was Vicente del Bosque, the most low-key operator of them all, who won two Champions Leagues and two La Ligas in four years before the whole Galactico obsession spiralled out of control. Despite that, Real's board eventually decided Del Bosque simply wasn't a big enough name to bring the club forward.

They were right of course. It's not like Del Bosque was ever heard of again.

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