Real Madrid supporters around the world are anticipating the imminent appointment of Rafa Benitez as the latest coach to be installed under Florentino Perez.
If you’re one to follow the headlines on social media, it is clear that a lot of Real Madrid supporters, football commentators and general fans alike are questioning whether the move to replace Carlo Ancelotti with Benitez will prove to be a wise one.
Despite his sacking, Carlo Ancelotti left Real Madrid with the affection of the hard-to-please (just ask Mourinho) Madrid faithful. In fact, more than half of AS.com readers, surveyed days before his dismissal demonstrated an overwhelming support for Ancelotti to be given one more season. What’s more, a number of Real Madrid players took it upon themselves to vocalize their support on social media for their beloved coach, yet despite their best efforts, Perez’s axe was already in motion.
Nothing, but a second Champions League or a maiden La Liga title could have saved Ancelotti. Winning the long sought Decima, and three other minor trophies – total of 4 trophies in 2 years – was not enough. For any other club, it might have been. The coach would have been given another chance. Especially when you consider the dearth of available coaches who boast a better record than Ancelotti’s. Ancelotti is a proven winner. He had the support of his players, the affection of his fans and there are seemingly no better coaches who could conceivably join Madrid in the near future. Guardiola would never join Madrid. And Mourinho is building an empire at Chelsea, and would need serious convincing to come back to the city he recently escaped. That’s right; I’ve listed Ancelotti is in the elite echelon of coaches. It’s a bold statement, but a quick glance at his record will silence most critics.
The list of exceptional coaches is highly limited. So why would Real Madrid look to replace an exceptional coach with one who isn’t quite as ‘exceptional’? Yes Ancelotti may not have met all of the lofty expectations set by the demanding Real Madrid administration, but would it not have been wiser to trust the devil they know, rather than risk siding with the devil they don’t? That is, Ancelotti had the team playing attractive football, the players and fans affection and brought a much-needed calmness after the volatile end to the Mourinho era. What’s more is that most would argue that Ancelotti has a better chance of winning next seasons La Liga and Champions league than any other available coach.
When you look at the list of alternatives, it’s easy to understand the uneasiness surrounding Benitez’s appointment. The uneasiness stems from Benitez’s ability and record as a coach. If you were to ignore the past 5 years of his record, you could argue that his record – winning the Champions League & La Liga twice – would make him a decent alternative to Ancelotti. However, his more recent stints with Chelsea & Inter are ones to forget, and despite his trophy haul with Napoli in recent seasons, more was expected from him and the squad he built. If you choose to argue that 2 of the 4 trophies Ancelotti won with Madrid were minor titles, then you have to be consistent and apply this mentality when assessing Benitez. In the last 5 years, there is no comparison between the two coaches records.
The Benitez and Real Madrid story is not a new one. It only recently gained momentum as Madrid’s season ended with a whimper. Benitez has flirted with the Real Madrid head job on a number of occasions throughout the years. Not only was he a coach of Real Madrid junior team, but he’s a Madrid native and he’s never hidden his love for his ‘boyhood club’. It’s a fairytale job for Benitez. The problem that we’ve all come to learn having accepted the hard truth that life is not filled with Disney endings, some fairytales can actually turn into nightmares.
There are pros and cons on both sides of this debate, and not much is being written in support of the appointment. Heck, even this article is critical of the decision. However, an unbiased and objective analysis is the fairest way to assess whether or not the decision to replace Ancelotti with Benitez is a wise move.
This article is the introductory note of a 3-piece exposition that will aim to address the above debate. Look out for the next piece, which will argue that appointing Benitez is a move in the right direction!