“I’m excited and very happy” exclaimed Benitez as he hopped onto a private jet bound for Barajas Airport in Madrid. Despite leaving Napoli without Champions League qualification for the 2015/16 season, Benitez will be rewarded with what most consider the most prestigious coaching job in the football profession.
In only a matter of days, Florentino Perez, will take to the Real Madrid press conference room for the ninth time to announce a new coach. It will be his ninth appointment in 12 years, a track record that cannot be substantiated by the number of trophies won under his presidency. However, Perez and his colleagues firmly believe in their abilities and their strategy, and will push ahead to replace fan favourite Ancelotti.
Before delving into Benitez as a coach, it is important to reflect on whether or not Real Madrid were in need of a new coach, or whether or not, the administration have acted on impulse in response to an underwhelming season. A lot of the conversation has been clouded by the fact that Benitez’s predecessor delivered La Decima, the ultimate prize in most Madridistas eyes for over a decade, and deserved a second chance. However, and it is interesting to note that where Ancelotti succeeded, he also bears a few blemishes on his record.
Arguably, his performance in La Liga was subpar. Not only did he fail to win the league in two years, but he managed to give up the Madrid ascendency to their noisy neighbours, Atletico Madrid, in the 13/14 season. Led by Diego Simeone, the Mattress Makers not only pipped Real Madrid to the title, but also beat Barcelona on the final day of the season. The fact that Real Madrid finished third is often overlooked because of the Champions League success. Had Real Madrid lost the Champions league in 2014, they would have finished the season with only the Copa Del Rey to show for it. Would Ancelotti have lasted a second season if this was the case? Mourinho only won the Copa Del Rey in his first season and managed to survive a second year, but he faced the strongest Barcelona side in history during his time in the Spanish capital. Mourinho was given the unenviable task of attempting to win La Decima, whilst also wrestling back domestic dominance over Barcelona. After winning La Liga, attention turned to La Decima and a falling out with both the fans and the media sealed ‘The Special One’s’ fate.
In came Ancelotti, and down fell Madrid on the pecking order of Spanish football. Mourinho’s record against Barcelona wasn’t the best, but his record against Atletico Madrid was impeccable. The same could not be said about Ancelotti. In fact, it’s the reverse. He managed a number of important victories against Barcelona, but his record against Atletico has been horrendous. Not only did they not win 4 games in a row against their rivals, they also were knocked out of the Copa Del Rey in the process. Further, despite Ancelotti’s apparent ability to overcome Barcelona in important matches, his failure to rotate the squad throughout the Liga season meant that he lost ground on Barcelona versing weaker opponents and as a result, his Barcelona record was futile.
So yes, Ancelotti did have an amazing European track record, an above average domestic cup record, but quite a disappointing league record.
In comes Benitez. A man who won La Liga twice with Villarreal, and also won the Champions league twice, with two different clubs.
Benítez, spent most of his playing career with Madrid’s B team before being appointed as the club’s youth team coach aged just 27. On Saturday, Real Madrid’s vice-president, Eduardo Fernandez de Bla, strongly hinted that Benítez was on his way to take over from Ancelotti.
“Carlo Ancelotti is a phenomenon,” he said at a Madrid fans’ meeting. “He was the best coach in the world, just as José Mourinho was two years ago and, from this week, Benítez will be.”
So it seems, that the biggest argument for hiring Benitez is substantiating the sacking of Carlo Ancelotti for his poor La Liga record. It’s not the strongest argument, I’ll concede, however one can understand why Perez was so determined to replace Ancelotti. Losing domestic dominance to both Barcelona and Atletico Madrid is simply not unacceptable. More is needed in the Spanish capital, and giving a manager time is never an option. The Madrid chiefs are hellbent on the idea that success can be bought, and if it doesn’t come this year, they can spend more and buy it next year.
Look out for Part 3 that will argue that Benitez is NOT the man for the Madrid job. Considering that his appointment is imminent, we’ll also make some bold predictions as to how the 2015/16 will unfold for both Benitez and Real Madrid!