Madrid (AFP) – Amid the sprawl of headlines calling for Julen Lopetegui to be sacked by Real Madrid on Sunday, Diario AS ran an online poll: who is more guilty, the coach or the club president?
Just over 80,000 replies were credited – almost 17,000 more than had attended the Santiago Bernabeu the day before – and 86 per cent of them answered Florentino Perez.
There were whistles after Madrid’s 2-1 loss to Levante on Saturday, their fourth defeat in five games and third in a row. There was a scattering of swinging white handkerchiefs too.
But the atmosphere was marked more by deflation than disgust. At the end, as his players hunched on their knees, Lopetegui stood on the touchline, staring into space.
“Julen has the support of the entire team,” Sergio Ramos said. “We are with him to the death,” said Marcelo.
Lopetegui is on the brink – he may well not make the Clasico on Sunday – but there is a sense this “mega crisis”, as termed by Barcelona’s Mundo Deportivo, has been a long-time coming.
In July, days after Cristiano Ronaldo had left for Juventus, Perez defended his recruitment strategy, saying: “Madrid is strengthening its search for young players that will become the next great players of the sport.”
By the end of the summer, they had signed Vinicius, the 18-year-old striker from Flamengo, Alvaro Odriozola, a 22-year-old right back from Real Sociedad, and Mariano Diaz, who returned after a decent season with Lyon.
Only Thibaut Courtois could be considered a star, and he was joining a club that already had UEFA’s goalkeeper of the season.
– papering over cracks –
One theory goes that Perez is keeping the treasury full in preparation for a fresh tilt for Neymar next summer. It might explain too why a move for Eden Hazard has never been pushed through.
In the meantime, Zinedine Zidane and now, Lopetegui, have been charged with papering over the cracks.
Zidane managed it, spectacularly, by winning in Europe, although if Michael Oliver had not puffed his whistle for a borderline 98th-minute penalty against Juventus, Madrid would have been out in the last 16. In La Liga, they finished 17 points behind Barcelona.
Three Champions League titles in a row is no fluke, just as two interventions from the Video Assistant Referee were not the sole reason Madrid lost at home to Levante for the first time in 11 years.