Rarely, if ever, before has a Real Madrid manager faced such a baptism of fire. Taking over at the Santiago Bernabeu is always a tall order. It is one of the most pressurised jobs in the European game, but what Julen Lopetegui has faced this summer is unprecedented. Wedneaday’s defeat in the European Super Cup only added to the pile that is mounting in front of the new Real boss.
Ordinarily, a defeat in the European Super Cup wouldn’t cause much of an impact. It is, after all, a glorified friendly, a curtain raiser to the continental season. But this wasn’t just any European Super Cup for Real Madrid. This was a symbolic European Super Cup against Atletico Madrid.
While this summer has seen chaos at the Santiago Bernabeu, with Zinedine Zidane resigning as manager before the shock sale of Cristiano Ronaldo to Juventus, Atletico Madrid have managed to keep their best players (Diego Godin, Antoine Griezmann and Jan Oblak), adding real quality in the transfer market – see Thomas Lemar and Gelson Martins for just two such additions.
Lopetegui wasn’t even Real Madrid’s first choice to replace Zidane. They wanted Mauricio Pochettino, then turned their focus to Julian Nagelsmann after failing to lure the Argentinean from Spurs. Lopetegui was way down the list of candidates given his lack of experience in the club game.
Even at international level, Lopetegui was unproven. He didn’t even get the chance to lead Spain into a major tournament, sacked on the eve of the World Cup after accepting the Real Madrid job. There are those who claim the 51-year-old simply won’t be able to handle the spotlight that will be on from him the very start. He is unprepared for what he is about to face.
What’s more, Real Madrid are a mish-mash of a team on the pitch as well. Ronaldo is gone and that will place more of a burden on the ageing Karim Benzema and the injury prone Gareth Bale to come up with the goods on the big occasion. There is an imbalance to their squad, between youngsters like Marcos Asensio and Dani Ceballos and ageing stars like Luka Modric and Benzema.
Lopetegui has a lot to untangle at Real Madrid and he won’t be given much time to do it. Florentino Perez is desperate for the capital side to establish themselves as the dominant side in Spanish football, but both Atletico Madrid and Barcelona will be strong again this season. There will be no honeymoon period for the former Spain manager in his new job.
Zidane had the aura and personality to mask all the problems that Real Madrid faced in recent years. Lopetegui doesn’t have that. In fact, he is already fighting an uphill battle given all that has happened this summer. Not many solid conclusions can be drawn from the European Super Cup, but the signs are already rather negative.
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