It is said that when you cut the head off of a chicken, its body continues to move aimlessly around for some time afterwards. Indeed in one specific case, that of a chicken called Miracle Mike, his body continued to “live” for another eighteen months after decapitation. Eventually all headless chickens drop down, unable to cope without its head, unable to process what has happened. Sometimes the same principle applies to football especially when a club loses a top player like its goalscorer. The effects can be problematic until a replacement can be found or to use the same analogy the head is “reattached”. But when the player in question contributes over 50 goals a season and has been the figurehead of the club for almost a decade, it is almost impossible to do.
Real Madrid didn’t necessarily cut the head off of their “chicken” but instead let it detach itself and move to Italy. Cristiano Ronaldo’s move to Juventus was always going to be painful for the Madrid side but without a natural replacement nor a plausible plan to cope with the separation, Real now find themselves running around like a headless chicken.
When they hired Julen Lopetegui as their manager in the summer, the former Spain manager wept with joy. Having been brutally axed by the national side only days before the World Cup began, Lopetegui was already quite emotional but joining Real, which to him was seen as the highlight of his managerial career, pushed him over the edge. Four months later, he was gone, sacked due to poor results on the pitch and rising dressing room tempers off it. The abilities of the coach have never been questioned but many are wondering how things went so wrong for Lopetegui so quickly. The truth is that he inherited a club in chaos, one that according to its previous manager Zinedine Zidane was “rotting from the inside”. It was an impossible task that was made harder by the lack of support and faith from above. As journalist Sid Lowe said “Lopetegui never had the faith of club president Florentino Perez but in truth no manager really does at Real Madrid”. Lopetegui was doomed to fail not because of his tactics or inability to get the best out of the players he had but instead that lack of support from above, starting early on with their failure to replace the departed Ronaldo.
Former Chelsea boss Antonio Conte became a front-runner for the job early on but his reluctance to join says a lot about the current problems at the club. Reports suggest that Michael Laudrup, a legend at Real Madrid was also approached but turned it down stating that it wasnt the right time which for an unemployed coach says more than the words used. It’s a bizarre situation that the club finds itself in – once the job that everyone wanted but now seemingly a poisoned chalice. Perhaps it’s the perception that Real have achieved all that they can in terms of club success and the job of squeezing more out of an already squeezed lemon seems impossible. Or perhaps it’s the reluctance of coaches to work in a place where they would not feel supported from above. With an ever shortening list of candidates, its not certain who will be the next boss at the Bernabeu. Conte could still be appointed although it wouldn’t necessarily be a welcome one according to several key players at the club. If its not Conte, Real will turn to someone else, perhaps Arsene Wenger, Roberto Martinez or as some reports suggest Jose Mourinho with the Manchester United boss still a favourite of Perez’s.
In the meantime, Santiago Solari has stepped up as caretaker from the reserves following in the path of Zinedine Zidane. He knows he has the job temporarily (Real have 14 days based on league rules to either appoint a new manager or give the job to Solari full-time) but that hasn’t stopped him from making some statement changes. Solari, a former Madrid player himself, has made Courtois the permanent No. 1, favouring him over Keylar Navas. It’s a decision that Lopetegui avoided making preferring to rotate the two goalkeepers as the season evolved. Solari has also brought back Vinicius Junior from the sidelines. Lopetegui had banished the Brazilian youngster to the reserves stating he was too raw and needed to develop more before gaining a first team place. But again Solari saw an opportunity to change that and has pulled the striker back into the fold. The coach knows he had limited time to make his case to stay on full time and so far has won a lot of plaudits with one of his changes (Vinicius) playing a star role in their midweek cup win over lowly Melilla. He might not be considered to be the favourite but he is doing his chances no harm as Real tries frantically to reattached the chicken’s head and save their season.