Real Madrid president Florentino Perez should step down so club can recover
Let's look back to the summer of 2003. A day after Vicente del Bosque had delivered the league title to the Bernabeu, the Real Madrid manager was sacked by Florentino Perez. The reason given by the Real president: "He was showing signs of exhaustion... our belief was that he was not the right man for the future."
Fans would disagree and Del Bosque's ready smile is even readier when quizzed about what happened that evening after a 29th Liga victory had been secured. All in the past, water under the bridge and so on. A World Cup, a European Championship and the Spanish equivalent of a knighthood later, the huevo is very much on the face of the man who sacked him.
After Del Bosque's tenure, which reaped two Ligas and two Champions Leagues (one of which was won under previous president Lorenzo Sanz), Perez's reign in the boardroom heralded a drought that would last until he fell on his sword towards the end of the 2005-06 season. His successor, Ramon Calderon, would not oversee a presidency lacking in controversy but he did secure back-to-back titles as well as the preliminary agreement to bring Cristiano Ronaldo to the Bernabeu.
Perez was more than happy to take the credit for that but will he now assume responsibility for the side's disappointing last two years? It's hardly likely.
Perez has been elected Real president on two consecutive occasions largely because of the club statutes. He also recently toughened those criteria to include a clause that anybody wishing to challenge his throne also had to prove a 25-year, card-carrying allegiance to the club, in addition to a &euro50 million bank guarantee. The list of people in crisis-hit Spain who can meet that first amendment is slim. There are plenty of socios with 25 years' service but without a cool €50 million to hand. It appears as though Perez has basically orchestrated a lifetime term.
A group of Real socios is pursuing the legal validity of Perez's tweaking of the rules for presidential elections but in all reality, it will take more than the courts to dislodge the incumbent. It will take a serious challenger (of which there are none) or the presidential acknowledgement of a club firmly run aground. Perez shows few signs of admitting his mistakes. Like the captain of the Titanic, he seems happier to go down with the ship. It is pure hubris.
The players he claims to represent are already eyeing the life rafts. Cristiano Ronaldo's words after the derby defeat to Atletico can be interpreted in a dozen different ways. One of the simplest is that he wants out and was fluttering his eyelashes at Paris Saint-Germain, a possible suitor. Another is that he has had enough of the constant posturing of "El Presi."
Carlo Ancelotti opined recently about his former employer. "Is it always the manager's fault?" Carlo would know; in the summer of 2014, Real Madrid sacked the Italian, winner of the Decima and two previous European crowns at Milan in addition to league titles in three different leagues.
The reason given by the Real president? "I don't know." Well, to appoint Rafa Benitez, obviously, but that lasted six months. Will Zidane last longer or will Perez stick to his rather stringent remit of winning at least one title a season? It is certainly a tough demand on a manager operating under a president whose own record in that respect is far from stellar.
Zidane has fallen into the trap that eventually ensnares all Real managers extremely early in his tenure. Perez wanted all his toys to feature in Saturday's big game and as has been the case so often in recent seasons, it was the side's undoing. Playing James Rodriguez and Isco together essentially reduces Real to 10 men, such are their common weaknesses in both ball retention and tracking back.
Rodriguez made an effort in defence against Diego Simeone's side but without a genuine defensive midfielder, Real were always going to be on the back foot against Gabi and Augusto Fernandez. Casemiro, the only Real midfielder willing to go toe-to-toe in the Calderon derby under Benitez (a 1-1 draw) didn't even make it off the bench.
When it comes to managers, it's always one step forward and two back under Perez. Del Bosque was not the right man. Ancelotti was not the right man. Zidane apparently is, until he inevitably won't be. That may happen this summer, but who will Perez turn to then? He has wrecked relationships with every major manager in the game. Manuel Pellegrini, who guided Real to second behind Barcelona with a record points total, was discarded. He subsequently took Malaga to the brink of the Champions League semifinals and won the Premier League for Manchester City.
Ancelotti was gratefully snapped up by Bayern Munich after Pep Guardiola announced he was off to the Etihad. None of these proven winners will touch the Bernabeu with a barge pole as long as Perez remains.
The current Real president likes to talk of change, momentum and shake-ups. To date, Perez has only served to consistently ensure inconsistency. If he really cares about the club and not his own personal gain in running it, the time has come to take a step back... or to step down entirely. Perez can only wash his hands so often: blame eventually has to fall at his door for another wasted Liga season.
Rob Train is a freelance writer who lives in Madrid and covers Real Madrid for ESPN. Twitter: @Cafc13Rob.