In the November Clásico Real Madrid armed their own fans with the weapon to turn against the club hierarchy - yet inadvertently. The idea was to create an all-white stadium display by placing white sheets of paper on every fan’s seat. That way, in a moment of pre-planned unity before kickoff, the entire Bernabéu could come together, showing support of their club in the form of an 80,000-piece mosaic. And although those events did initially transpire, so did others of a more cynical nature. We all know Madrid got upended by Barcelona that painful evening in the capital by the score of four goals to none. And amongst the whistles and boos, there were jeers for Rafa Benitez and his players, but most definetively a unanimous call for Florentino Perez’s head. And all those sheets of paper? They’d been crumpled into white handkerchiefs and were being waved in every corner of the stadium.
“Florentino, dismisión!” they yelled. It was as if the small matter of Rafa Benitez’s inept tactical plan didn’t matter as much as the man who brought him to power. Rafa was skipped over, seen only as an extension stemming from the problem’s root, the club president. Benitez eventually being shown the door following another poor result in Valencia after the turn of the year was only a fraction of the fans’ agenda. The businessman behind Rafa’s appointment was the real devil.
This is where the promotion of fan favorite Zinedine Zidane from Castilla coach to senior team gaffer becomes a little ironic… only because there are a majority of Real Madrid fans, as previously mentioned, that disagree with the way Perez runs the club. They loath the frequent changes in managers, the transfer policy, and the cold, nonchalant dismissals of legends like Iker Casillas last summer. But many of these supporters are the same fans who are thrilled about the appointment of Zidane, a manager of limited coaching experience who was plugged into the hole Rafa Benitez used to occupy.
For me, there’s no way to have a foot in both camps. First of all, the quick axing of a relatively new manager to implement another is one of the main reasons Florentino is so unpopular in the eyes of many. Secondly, if you disagree with Florentino as president, you disagree with his projects and methods. Zinedine Zidane as first team coach of Real Madrid has been a dream of Perez since Barcelona did the same with Pep Guardiola to great effect from 2008 to 2012. They hired the reserve team manager, a former player in touch with the club ethos and values, and deployed him as a coach that not only knows football but can carry the club’s flag onto the battlefield. Pep Guardiola represented the Catalan academy product model much in the way Zinedine Zidane represents Madrid’s galácticos. But doesn’t that reflect and advertise the transfer policy that Perez lusts for? And furthermore, that many supporters oppose? So there’s a direction conflict of interests here. Are many of these fans for the installation Zinedine Zidane but against the president’s ideology that made him manager of the senior team? In most cases, yes. They’ve had the wool pulled over their eyes, caught up in the fact the Zizou, a hero to the Madrid faithful, is back… at least for the time being.
It’s high risk-high reward move from Florentino this time, but a selfish act, nonetheless. By appointing a hugely popular legend of the club as head coach, he can distract the fans and take the pressure off himself. Real’s next five or six fixtures are all very winnable, and that provides Zidane the platform to start strong (a well-timed execution of propaganda put into play by the suits in the suites, no doubt). But Zidane, as likeable as he is in the eyes of madridistas, has never managed a first division club, let alone Real Madrid. And if he fails to live up to the billing in big matches, will Perez be so ruthless that he’ll scrap Zizou, his favorite long term project, and bring in another big name manager in an attempt to keep the fans off his back? Sadly enough you can see it happening, a viscous cycle reloading and set to spin again.