Is Zinedine Zidane under pressure at Real Madrid?by Colin Millar / 02 November 2017, 17:08Tweet
Wednesday night’s loss at Tottenham Hotspur marked the first time Zinedine Zidane suffered back-to-back defeats in his tenure as Real Madrid boss. Whilst it can be construed as reactionary to claim the club were in crisis, the Frenchman felt compelled to clarify in his post-match conference:
‘We are not in crisis’.
The major Madrid-based media outlets disagreed; on Thursday, Marca’s front page announced ‘All the alarms go off’ while ‘Nightmare in Wembley’ was the description on the cover of Diario AS.
In part, the extensive nature of coverage surrounding the club is often to its detriment. Each day, both sports newspaper dedicate a minimum of four pages to the goings-on at the Bernabeu while matchdays and their aftermath tend to produce at least double figures. Regular and committed readers will be au fait with what the players have for breakfast.
When the club is winning, it is essentially maintaining par, as far as many of their legions of followers are concerned. However, when matches deviate from the planned script every minor error is amplified and debated to death. Not just within the print media, but the majority of sporting TV programmes both on TV and the radio spend more time talking about the matches than watching them.
Zidane’s side were undeniably poor at Wembley, out thought, outfought and ultimately outclassed. It was hard for many of the club’s fans to watch - with 20 minutes remaining, the TV cameras panned to a teenage fan, draped in club colours, on the verge of tears - but especially so after Sunday’s limp La Liga loss to Girona.
Domestic performances have been underwhelming at best and deeply concerning at worst. Established top-level performers - Alvaro Morata, James Rodriguez, Danilo, Pepe and, to a lesser extent, Mariano Diaz - all departed the Bernabeu in summer with Theo Hernandez and Dani Ceballos the only arrivals. Both were on the bench at Wembley, alongside Jesus Vallejo, Marco Asensio, Lucas Vazquez, Borja Mayoral and Moha Ramos. Aside from 26-year-old Vazquez, none are aged over 21 and this in itself displays an imbalance in the squad.
Key players - Dani Carvajal, Gareth Bale, Keylor Navas - have been sidelined with fitness issues but the overwhelming theme is players underperforming. Luka Modric, Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Marcelo the four biggest culprits to date this season, all falling well-below their normal elite performance level.
Zidane’s position could remarkably come under scrutiny should performances and more importantly, results, not improve. Back-to-back Champions League crowns and a La Liga title as part of a seven-trophy haul in his first 18 months may be swiftly forgotten about.
Despite back-to-back Champions League #RealMadrid boss Zinedine Zidane is remarkably under pressure.— The Sack Race (@thesackrace) November 2, 2017
Who would replace him if he left?
Madrid are arguably the most ruthless club in world football and whilst it is unlikely they will dismiss Zidane just yet, there are murmurs under the surface that tactical limitations and player’s self-doubt may result in prolonged frustration.
Bookmakers have drawn up a list of 14 managers of potential future replacements for the tactician, from the plausible to the outlandish. Six Premier League managers are included on the list including Jose Mourinho and Rafael Benitez, while out-of-work Italian coaches Carlo Ancelotti and Fabio Capello - both with English connections - are also included.
Of these four, there is little logic in any coming to fruition bar perhaps a temporary appointment for Ancelotti. The former Juventus, Milan, Chelsea and Bayern Munich boss is tried and tested at the top level, and delivered the Copa del Rey and the Champions League for Los Blancos. When he was dismissed in 2015 after failing to land La Liga, president Florentino Perez was forced to confess he ‘wasn’t totally sure’ why he had been sacked.
Popular with the players, the main cons of such an appointment would centre on Ancelotti’s motivation, with rumours his famous laid-back approach to top-level management has developed into genuine apathy. It seems more likely than his predecessor Mourinho - who left following an acrimonious spell - and his successor Benitez, who struggled to get to grips with the job.
Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp and Arsenal’s Arsene Wenger are both listed but their own perceived limitations and commitment to their current roles makes these links seem somewhat tenuous. Antonio Conte is perhaps a more feasible option - a relentless coach with an unshakable lust for success, his spell at Chelsea may not last the season if rumours of discontent are to be believed.
Across London, Mauricio Pochettino’s potential future move to the Bernabeu has been talked up in the press. Partly, this is due to Tottenham’s recent double-header with Madrid but he is well-renowned in Spain following his spell in charge at Espanyol. Touted by many as the best coach in England for improving players and playing both progressive and pragmatic football, the main question mark would surely be if his success at Spurs could translate to Los Blancos, where managing egos and big-money signings would be the order of the day.
Zidane was appointed to the hot seat in January 2016, with the president Perez reportedly keen for the club to have their own version of Pep Guardiola. A former player who coached the club’s Castilla side (B team), the former World Cup winner had long been earmarked by Madrid as a future manager but the timing of the appointment was unplanned and made hastily after Benitez’s dismissal.
At the time, no outstanding alternative candidates were available and many doubted whether Zidane’s lack of top-level management experience would ultimately count against him in football’s most-pressurised job. He proved the doubters wrong then and almost two years later, his job is to answer them once more.