Julen Lopetegui’s sack at Real Madrid became rather expected as the 13-time Champions League winners became a shadow of their former self with him at the helm of affairs. But that’s not for his lack of coaching ability. The 52-year-old demonstrated while in charge of the Spanish national team that he knew how to win as a manager.
He went 20 games unbeaten as La Furia Roja boss before being unceremoniously discharged at the eve of the World Cup in Russia. Real Madrid and Florentino Perez knew what they were getting when they convinced him to make the cross over from the national team to the club. Unfortunately for him, things did not go according to plan.
Historically, the Santiago Bernabéu has had the prestige of being the home of some of the best football players on the planet. It’s been the home of numerous Ballon d’Or award winners. In recent times, Brazilian Ronaldo, Luis Figo, Zinedine Zidane, Kaka, and all played here and won the award with the club’s colours. Cristiano Ronaldo only continued a tradition he met and took it to another level, by winning the coveted prize four times while in Spain. But his departure did not change the status quo.
In fact, after he left, another Madridista, Luka Modric quickly replaced him as the UEFA and FIFA Best Player. The Ballon d’Or is expected to follow. But he is not the only one that has been nominated for the award. Other names in line for the award from the club include Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema, Toni Kroos, Raphael Varane, Isco, Sergio Ramos and newcomer Thibaut Courtois. A total of eight first team starters from the club.
Ordinarily, such a team will be the best on the continent (and it was), it won the Champions League. However, under Lopetegui, the players did not show any quality of being the best on the continent. The defence was porous, the midfield was uninspiring and the attack had no bite.
Nothing that the manager did worked. Except for a few games where the team played well, dominated the opponent and won, the players were usually below par. Apart from Marcelo who often stood out from the pack even scoring in the manager’s last two games, the rest played below their potential. The players just couldn’t be bothered to perform up to the level that got them a third consecutive Champions League trophy.
We can talk about the fact that Ronaldo’s absence affected the players, but this team usually rose to the occasion with or without the Portuguese on the pitch while he was still at the club. I mean Madrid beat Liverpool 3-1 in the Champions League final in Kiev with Ronaldo playing a peripheral role.
The talisman had an off day and could hardly muster a short on target much less score a goal. Yet, Los Blancos dug deep to win the game. The game was won as a result of fantastic team play and individual brilliance from players like Bale.
These same players became unrecognizable in most games under Lopetegui. The 5-1 trouncing by Barcelona signalled the end of the road for the former Porto gaffer. But his results weren’t entirely down to him. It was a case of the players failing to live up to expectations and the manager suffering the consequences of their actions, unfortunately.