Old habits die hard at Real Madrid, Fabio Capello should be able to attest to that more than most in the footballing world.
The Italian coach was sacked on Thursday by Los Merengues, two weeks after he guided Madrid to their 30th La Liga title in a scenario identical to that of 1997, when Capello was first in charge of the Spanish giants.
It is now getting to the point with Real where the end of the previous season and the lead-up to the new one is about finding out who the next manager is along with identifying which big-name, big-money signing is going to be snapped up by the club.
Capello’s sacking means Real are now looking for their 7th manager in four seasons, after the dismissal of Vicente Del Bosque in June 2003, who also fell on his sword after successfuly guiding Madrid to the league title.
As incredulous as those two examples appear, spare a thought for Jupp Heynckes, who was given his marching orders by the club in 1998, shortly after he had led Real to their first European Cup victory in 32 years. With this in mind, it’s hard to imagine how Capello even stood a chance of keeping his job, with only a paltry La Liga title to his name in his first season back in the Spanish capital.
Many reasons were given for the sacking of Capello from media outlets in the aftermath, but the official line lies with Predrag Mijatovic, Real’s sporting director, who explained that the club needed “a more enthusiastic style of play.” Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but weren’t Real Madrid looking for a coach that could produce results at the beginning of the season just gone, after 4 years of mediocrity?
In fact, wasn’t it Capello himself who told the media at the start of his tenure that now “It’s all about getting results”? So why wasn’t there uproar in the boardroom then about this, what suddenly changed in 9 months for this decision to be taken by Real? Suddenly the vicious circle that is the head coach’s job at Madrid becomes all too apparent.
The loss of David Beckham to the L.A. Galaxy was also another reason given by experts as to why Capello was shown the door. Again there is the lingering feeling of hypocrisy surrounding this subject.
It was Calderon himself who supported Capello’s verbal attack on Beckham, going one step further in predicting that Beckham would become an “average cinema actor in Hollywood.” But as soon as Capello realised the error of his ways and reinstated Beckham to the team, Calderon ensured he got in on the act as well and publicly supported the former England skipper.
There’s no denying the fact that Capello made mistakes during his reign, one glaring error being his reaction to Beckham’s announcement of his departure from Spain along with the treatment of others within the squad. But Calderon’s subsequent U-turn was facetious as he looked out for his own best interests.
Whatever keeps the fans happy keeps Calderon in power, and if that meant going back on his word with nothing more than a half-hearted withdrawal of his statement and a public undermining of the authority of the manager, then so be it.
The real truth in the matter lies in the past however. In some respects, what we see at the Bernebeau in the modern era, with the conveyor belt of managers and ruthless disposal of those who do not conform to the Madrid way of playing, stems from half a decade ago. The Real Madrid team of the 1950’s were the definition of a dream team. In the same elite group as Brazil’s 1970 squad, Ajax’s Total Football outfit, Hungary’s Magic Magyars and the Milan side of the 90’s.
For a football purist, the names read like a who’s who of football. Di Stefano, Puskas, Gento, Kopa and Munoz, to name but some of the supergroup that claimed the first five European Cups and played with an attacking verve that defines Real Madrid. Elder fans remember those days with reverance, the new generations grow up on tales of the side that won 7-3 in the 1960 epic at Hampden Park, and as such, they crave success on the same level.
The simple fact of the matter though is that in this day and age, glory on that scale is nigh on impossible, such is the level of competition at home and abroad for Real. Many try, and many fail in pursuit of what has been achieved in years gone by, and Capello is just another victim of the past. The press can speculate all they like about the reasons behind the decision to fire Capello, but the real reason behind his sacking, and those who have gone before him, is that they are all victims of a bygone time, and an audience who feel that only dominance on that scale is enough to satisfy the legends from before.
In truth, Real, Calderon and the millions of fans are chasing a pipe dream and when they are unable to achieve to the desired level, the buck stops with the manager.
So where does this leave Real? Bernd Schuster is the man almost certainly entrusted with becoming the next to chase the impossible goal, although the likes of Arsene Wenger, Rafael Benitez and Jose Mourinho have also been mentioned as the Spaniards look for Capello’s replacement.
How long do I give him? If he’s lucky, he’ll see out the season. If he stumbles, we’ll be having more articles like this in and around Christmas. Assuming that Schuster will indeed take up the helm, he will need to accept the perils of the job he is taking up, and that without success, major success, he will be on his way out before he has time to make a serious impact. You fear that he will end up falling on his sword much in the same way that Capello has in the last few days, simply because of the sheer scale of expectation that comes with Real Madrid.
To sack a manager in the immediate aftermath of a title success and a first trophy in four years smacks of folly and distrust. But in the cauldron that is Real Madrid, with the past hanging over the club, preventing against the stability and unity that any team desires, this is nothing out of the ordinary.
The shame about this for Madrid is that after the relative progress that has been this season, they now find themselves back at square one after a relatively pointless dismissal. The discrepancies developed in the Lorenzo Sanz era, continued during Florentino Perez’s reign and now existing in Ramon Calderon’s presidency of Los Merengues continue to hold a club back where the potential for success is so enormous.
If anyone could move on from the past and allow sanity to break out for a minute, then the sky’s the limit for a unified Real Madrid team.