That Santiago Solari’s employment status feels so utterly irrelevant right now tells you all you need to know about the depth and nature of the change to come, The Independent reported.
It is easy to focus on a feeling that an era has ended at the Bernabeu and that would be fair enough, though Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure to Juvents last summer can now, it appears, be retroactively installed as the true final curtain of a superstar-laden circus that won a barely believable four Champions Leagues in five years.
Elimination at the hands of Ajax on Wednesday simply forced Florentino Perez’s finger to the ‘full reset’ button a little earlier than planned and perhaps with a little more intent. This club will start next season with a vastly different squad, a new manager and who knows what else? If that something else is a galactico like the much-whispered Neymar then hey, Madrid is back, baby. Call off the search. If it’s something at the other end of the scale? The shrieking will be heard far beyond Spanish borders.
What is also worth monitoring is that rare sensation which looms over Perez himself for the first time in a long while: the fear of a challenger. Playing out to a soundtrack of sporadically heard chants for his resignation, there is the specter of former club president Vicente Boluda building a campaign to battle against the 71-year-old in the next presidential elections. Notable ex-Madrid players have been contacted about supporting Boluda, who briefly led the club in 2009 before Perez’s current (and second) stint in the big chair.
Elections aren’t due until 2021 but Perez is aware that there is a significant rebuild needed at the club and that there is no quick fix this time. The feeling that the era of the Ronaldo-led Madrid of the mid-2010s has now ended is the sort of defining moment that might push members to seek an alternative direction for the club for the first time in a decade, and losing his position is something that worries Perez sufficiently that he’s changed statutes to bar dangerous opponents from running against him in previous elections.
On the sunny side, it works in Perez’s favor that many of the decisions he will have to make in the coming days are ones that he has had some time to do due diligence on. Julen Lopetegui was understood to be only Madrid’s “sixth or seventh choice” to take over after Zinedine Zidane’s shock departure. Lopetegui was then turfed out for interim (in everything but name) coach Solari. The Madrid board have broadly been doing background work on managers for over a year. It is time to put it to good use.
Perez’s faction at the top of Madrid have long coveted Mauricio Pochettino but recently moved toward the idea of reinstalling Jose Mourinho. The latter’s availability compared to Daniel Levy’s steadfast determination to keep Pochettino mean it would not be a shock if Perez, feeling the heat, elects to take the easy way out.
The squad will then need some work.
Gareth Bale’s future will be a big topic of interest in Spain and Britain but it still looks difficult to find a club who could pay his wages and would want to pay the fee Madrid would demand. Luka Modric nearly left last summer but regardless of his immediate future needs a long-term replacement brought in. James Rodriguez is going to return from his loan at Bayern. Neymar, Christian Eriksen and Eden Hazard as the major incomings are the dream but what is the reality?
What is the financial reality? Despite a reputation for signing galacticos, Madrid has not brought a star like that to the club for big money since James Rodriguez five years ago. Real remains the biggest club in the world but as the roof blew of the transfer market and numbers spiraled out of control, Madrid has avoided spending big. Now we will find out if Real has been left behind by the Premier League’s elite in terms of cash available or if their big-money sales, relatively frugal few seasons and smart trading of mid-level academy graduates turn into an enormous transfer kitty.
It was Santiago Solari, looking shell-shocked, who had to step down into the Santiago Bernabeu’s wood-paneled press room and defend the mess Real Madrid is in, but it will be Florentino Perez who becomes the face of Real’s dysfunction and imminent rebuild.
Big decisions must be made. Real Madrid could bounce back if the wrong coach gets hired or a signing doesn’t work out but it feels as if Perez probably wouldn’t. The man who oversaw two historically significant Champions League teams is in long-term peril at a club already mired in short-term crisis.
Serbian midfielder Dusan Tadic said Zinedine Zidane had helped inspire what he described as the game of his life in Ajax Amsterdam’s 4-1 drubbing of Real Madrid.
The 30-year-old laid on passes for Hakim Ziyech and David Neres to give Ajax an early two-goal lead at the Bernabeu then capped a virtuoso display with a thunderous finish into the top corner to make it 3-0, Reuters reported.
“This is probably the best game of football I’ve ever played,” Tadic told reporters after the last-16, second leg match.
“We beat the best club in the world. I’m very proud and I think we made a lot of people happy tonight.”
Tadic, who joined the Dutch side last year after struggling for consistency in four years at English club Southampton, utterly bossed the center of the pitch and dominated Real’s midfield trio of Toni Kroos, Modric and Casemiro.
“Zidane was always my favourite player. Maybe I was watching too many of his clips,” he added.
Ajax had been the better side in last month’s first leg in the Netherlands but were beaten 2-1.
The Dutch side showed no sign of an inferiority complex in the return and delivered a complete display that recalled the great Ajax team managed by Louis van Gaal who reached consecutive Champions League finals in 1995 and 1996.
“This was pretty close to perfection,” said beaming coach Erik ten Hag.
“Over the two matches we definitely deserved to progress to the next round. I enjoyed watching my team immensely this evening.”
Captain Matthijs de Ligt said the display would only encourage thoughts that Ajax’s 24-year wait for a fifth European title might soon be over.
“It was a real team performance.” he said. “The way our attackers tracked back to defend was great. We caused Bayern Munich problems, who are one of the favorites, and we have just eliminated the holders. Who knows how far we can go?”