Less than a week after Barcelona’s great triumph in Rome, five of the eight richest clubs on earth have made drastic changes to their managerial structure. Removing the coach is a customary rite of summer. On Monday morning, Chelsea and A.C. Milan installed new men to run their teams, while Real Madrid went for the full revolution.
By Monday noon, Real had sworn in a whole new board, and by evening the incoming president had inaugurated a clean sweep from the administrative staff to the coach.
“It is a matter of managing the most prestigious sports institution in the world for the next four years,” said the president, Florentino Pérez. “We have experienced a period of confusion. We must recover the dreams, stability and lost timing.
“Real Madrid must dismiss all doubt to be considered the best club of the 21st century.”
At Barcelona, they polished the silverware of the Spanish league title, the King’s Cup, and the Champions League trophy.
At Madrid, they talked about it.
At Chelsea, the new coach, Carlo Ancelotti, said first in Europe is now the only option.
And at Milan, Ancelotti’s former club, his replacement, Leonardo, made the point that Barcelona had set a benchmark. Winning is no longer enough; it has to be done in style.
Each of those clubs is driven by wealth, as are Bayern Munich and Juventus, which have also changed their head coaches in the past month. They are part of the elite of 20 clubs, all of them European, whose annual turnover exceeds €110 million, or $156 million.
You win or you change, is the philosophy. Its reach is as far east as Istanbul, whose club Fenerbahce this week fired Luis Aragonés, the 70-year-old coach it hired barely 12 months ago.
Never mind the recession. Never mind that each sacking costs millions in compensation. Never mind that there can be only one winner on one continent at a time. What Barça has is what the rest want, and they want it pronto!
If we, the followers of this global game, are lucky, the new men will mean what they say. If Barcelona’s wonderful, sweeping momentum and its qualities are to be emulated by those with the means to try, then flair should count for more than pragmatism.
The question is, how? How soon, how practical is it to convert win-at-all-costs pragmatism into the greater effort required to play it like Barca?
Jorge Valdano, chosen by Pérez to oversee Real’s revolution, said: “The demand is even greater on us now than before. I like the way the Madridismo responded to the success of Barcelona.
“We have applauded their good football and their achievements, now it is necessary to try to take away their titles.”
Valdano, a World Cup winner with Argentina in 1986, was the right hand man to Florentino Pérez the first time the construction billionaire ruled Real Madrid, from 2000 to 2006. With Valdano persuading the stars to come to the Bernabéu, with Vicente Del Bosque coaching them, Pérez recruited a superstar — a “Galactico” — a season. It fleetingly produced soccer comparable to Barcelona’s today.
The policy ran aground when Pérez overdid his star-struck campaign. The first three Galacticos, Luís Figo, Zinédine Zidane and the Brazilian Ronaldo, were unquestionably world class. The next two, David Beckham and Michael Owen, were business acquisitions. Beckham proved better at selling shirts than winning anything; Owen occupied the bench watching Raúl, the club’s home grown talent, score the goals.
By Monday night, Madrid had paid Villarreal €4 million to take its coach, the Chilean Manuel Pellegrini, to start rebuilding the squad at the Bernabéu. Valdano then gave an interview to the newspaper Marca, and citing Francisco Pavón, a defender who rose from the youth teams to play with the Galacticos. “Florentino and I made a lot of errors,” he said. “At that time, we had a slogan ‘Zidane y Pavones’ It meant buy the best, and school the rest.
“We made the mistake of trying to mature the young lads without giving them time,” Valdano mused.
Barcelona’s youth policy provided seven starters the lineup in the Champions League final. Valdano does not now envisage that in Madrid.
“I disagree with those who say Madrid must look for their own Iniesta or Guardiola,” he said.
Andrés Iniesta is blossoming after years in the Barcelona school. Pep Guardiola has managed instant transition from player to head coach there.
“But Madrid has never looked to Barcelona for solutions,” Valdano said. “Rather, history would suggest it is the other way around. We cannot show weakness.”
Time, in any case, would not allow it. Barcelona’s style, its teamwork, its success, takes a decade to nurture, so that the end product is a team that functions out of habit. Madrid has, at most, a season in which to shape up to the standards set by the Catalans.
This is good news for the handful of stars and their agents who might be doing more than dreaming of becoming the new Galacticos of the Bernabéu. Pellegrini’s wish list, Madrid’s money and Valdano’s contacts will doubtless pursue the likes of David Villa from Valencia, Xabi Alonso from Liverpool, Franck Ribéry from Bayern Munich and Zlatan Ibrahimovic from Inter Milan.
That is unless Pérez, who in the past always got his man, does not set another new world record transfer fee by buying Milan’s Brazilian Kaká, or Manchester United’s Cristiano Ronaldo.
The movements in and out of Madrid in the next 30 days will raise the price and speed up the circulation of players sold like race horses at auction. Chelsea and Manchester United, even the oil rich Manchester City, will compete for those talented few, although the grapevine suggests Chelsea’s first moves being for Glen Johnson, a right back it sold cheaply to Portsmouth, and for Alex Pato, a 19-year-old Brazilian starlet coached at Milan by Ancelotti.
If star quality is born, not made, that might be a reason why Pérez has appointed the finest player of his past to be his presidential adviser. Zidane has four sons, and three of them, Enzo, Luca and Theo, are already signed up to Real Madrid’s youth program.
Who knows, the president might even be around when a mini Galactico begins to shine.