139 days. 14 games. That’s all Julen Lopetegui lasted as manager of Real Madrid following his dismissal on Monday. His reign seemed doomed from the very moment it started, such was the controversy around his arrival at the Santiago Bernabeu. Few believed he would last long in the Spanish capital and so it proved.
Now, Real Madrid are charged with finding a replacement. Antonio Conte had been considered the frontrunner, but now it seems that the Italian has ruled himself out of the running for the vacancy. Jose Mourinho is another who has been mentioned, but the Portuguese is tied to a lucrative contract at Manchester United.
There is a real lack of potential candidates, hence why B team coach Santiago Solari has been promoted to the position for the time being. Once the most desirable job in management, now Real Madrid is seen to be such a poisoned chalice it is scaring coaches away.
Conte would be a short-term fix, but an effective one given his track record at getting the best out of ageing stars and big egos. He entered a similar situation at Chelsea, tasked with cleaning up after Mourinho, and he did that by winning the title in his first season in the Premier League.
Others, like Mauricio Pochettino, would be an appointment with the long-term in mind. Real Madrid are now faced with this existential question – do they prioritise the short-term over the long-term? Would someone like Pochettino be given the time to get across his ideas and methods as a coach?
This is a Real Madrid side coming to the end of a glorious generation, with players like Karim Benzema, Luka Modric and even Sergio Ramos entering the twilight of their careers. And so if they are to stay at the top of the European and Spanish game, a transition must be managed.
Lopetegui failed to do this, as demonstrated by the performance of his big names in the 5-1 thumping at the hands of Barcelona on Sunday. The next guy in the job, whoever that may be, must handle it better, somehow striking a balance between eking more out of players like Benzema, Modric and Ramos while planning for the future.
Of course, no single managerial appointment will be enough to address the problems that exist at the Santiago Bernabeu right now. Real Madrid are struggling to fill the void left by Cristiano Ronaldo and Zinedine Zidane, with the European champions lacking an identity as a team right now. Lopetegui wanted his side to be a possession-based outfit, but abandoned that idea after just a few weeks.
Real Madrid are a club who now find themselves stuck between the short-term and the long-term, between the old and the young, and now between managers. As long as they’re in that position, they’re standing still.
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