Coaching Real Madrid is driving a Porsche thru a minefield, one littered with rabid fans, intrusive press, crushing expectations and fragile egos. No matter how fast you go, thousands of armchair analysts know what you did wrong, often drawing on a history of rationales that could fill a whole chapter in the club’s history books. Even if president Florentino Pérez’s Galácticos 2.0 project has been more about talented players than brands, poor Carlo Ancelotti fell victim to the one compromising rule: no silverware at season’s end, no job.
Sadly, history shows Ancelotti’s firing was tactful, by Madrid standards. Dating all the way back to Vicente Del Bosque and the first reign of Pérez, there have been worse goodbyes of El Real’s recent history.
Before leading Spain to a World Cup and a European Championship, Vicente sat in the blanquillohotseat, his run from 1999 to 2003 the longest of this three spells along the sidelines at the Bernabéu. He coached them to Champions League titles in 2000 and 2002, but for Flo, the trophies were not enough. Vicente sided with Claude Makelélé and other players in a dispute and promptly got a pink slip despite guiding los Blancos to the top of the Spanish league. Flo’s ensuing policy, “Zidanes y Pavones,” became a colossal flop.
The moral of the Vicente firing is two-fold. First, player and promotion power would trump any mister. The Galacticos era 1.0 soon became all about egos and attacking stars, not the actual winning of soccer games. Second, Flo either knew or cared little about balancing a side . If he thought that by spending big on foreign attacking players he could be a cheapskate with defenders, he was horribly wrong.
Auf Weidersen Jupp
By 1998, Real Madrid fans had waited over 30 years for the team to return to Champions League glory, but it got there thanks to the tutelage of affable Germán coach Jupp Heynckes. The man who’d go on to win a treble with Bayern Munich crafted a balanced 4-3-3 that controlled games en route to winning both the Spanish Supercopa and Europe’s top honort. Unfortunately the team also didn’t bang in the goals, and awful league form left the Merengues sitting fourth at season’s end. Under other circumstances, a firing would have been justifiable after such a finish, but Heynckes probably deserved more than a one-year stint.
The moral of the Jupp firing is that even the Champions League trophy cannot save your skin if your team’s soccer does not warm Flo’s heart. Jupp’s 4-3-3 squeezed the life out of the opposition but also arguably the game itself. The pace of the passing was slow, even by defensive German coach standards. You can feel sorry for Jupp, but try watching one of those La Liga games without falling asleep.
With meddlesome presidents and impatient boards, Madrid often has too many chefs in the kitchen and gets mired in messes. After Heynckes, however, the club called in Italian disciplinarian Fabio Capello to instill order and sort out the squad. It was the second time Fabio had coached the club, and both times produced title-winning, one-year runs. Each time, his defensive approach cost him his job.
The moral of the Fabio story is that Real Madrid will do you dirty and you will beg for more. Fabio’s side at least produced muscular, defensive, counter-attacking soccer. Heck, any man who got the best out of Guti, Robinho, and José Reyes deserves a marble bust in a temple. You just won’t find that bust in the halls of the Bernabéu.
Adiós Handy Manny
When Pérez re-took the reigns in 2009, he signed Kaká, Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo in the then-biggest spending spree in soccer history. He also brought in Chilean Manuel Pellegrini, who had won respect for taking Villarreal to second in the league. The future Manchester City boss guided Madrid to a then best ever points total but had the misfortune of competing against Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona. Barça won La Liga, also breaking points records, and Flo soon grew enamored with the coach of Inter Milan.
The moral here is that Flo had learned from his trigger happy earlier ways. He tactfully waited until the season’s end to fire Manny. Of course, Madrid’s terrible showing in the Copa del Rey (eliminated early by a lower division side) had seriously undercut the Chilean’s position, as did another Round of 16 exit in the Champions League.
Até Logo José
Lastly, we turn our attention to José Mourinho. José led the team to a King’s Cup win in his first year and a record-breaking La Liga run in year two. Still, things totally fell apart in the winter of year three. The team fell behind Barcelona in La Liga, and the league was a lost cause by March. Fora third straight season, the team lost in the Champions League semifinals. Lastly, it lost the King’s Cup final at home to Atlético on a Diego Costa header. Curiously, Pepe, disfavored instead of Raúl Albiol due to locker room drama, probably would have cleared that cross. And Iker Casillas just may have saved it, not Diego López.
Thus, Mou had poisoned the locker room, and his leaving by mutual agreement surprised nobody. Unlike most other coaches, Mou is one of the few to happily leave Madrid in a hurry.
Across all these coaches, the only rule to Real Madrid firings is that there are no real rules. You could win any trophy and still get the ax. Even if you win trophies at Madrid, you get fired for not playing attacking soccer. If you play attacking soccer, you get canned for not winning trophies.
When a journalist asked Flo “why is Real Madrid firing Carlo,” he could have simply replied, “Because Real Madrid is Real Madrid.”