Humiliated in the Champions League, humbled in the Copa del Rey and 12 points adrift of Barcelona in La Liga….a change was necessary at Real Madrid, to say the least.
And so Santiago Solari, a risky appointment in the first place who had signed a contract until 2021, has been given the elbow, and the man he replaced – Zinedine Zidane – has been persuaded to return to the Bernabeu.
The legendary French midfielder had guided the Galacticos to three consecutive Champions League trophies – he’s already into odds of 11/2 to win a fourth in the 2019/20 campaign – but left the club in May amid alleged unrest in the dressing room.
Zizou said at the time of his resignation that he was ‘out of gas’, and spoke allegorically of winners having to move on to ensure that winning teams can continue to evolve and be successful; or something like that, anyway.
So why has Zidane returned now? Clearly, with the club’s season all but over from a meaningful perspective, it is a fantastic time for a manager to ease their way back in.
But boy, what a summer of upheaval he faces, with an ageing squad no longer able to play at the level required to compete with Barca and co.
That, in itself, is an exciting challenge for a manager, with plenty of big names expected to come and go; indeed, Eden Hazard is as short as 4/6 with some bookmakers to join the Madrid outfit this summer.
But is it a good idea for a manager to return to a previously happy hunting ground? The history books are rather mixed on the matter….
Return of the King
Real Madrid have previous for bringing in a returning manager, with Fabio Capello twice succeeding in winning the La Liga title in separate spells at the helm.
The Italian one had one season in charge back in 1996/97, and there he guided the Galacticos to a comfortable league triumph. He also laid the foundations for future Champions League successes by harnessing the talents of Roberto Carlos, Clarence Seedorf, Raul and Davor Suker in one team, although the Madrid faithful – furious that Capello had ‘demoted’ Raul to the left flank at the expense of Suker – never took to him.
His sacking wasn’t all that surprising then; his return a decade later certainly was.
Capello took to the dugout of the Bernabeu just as Real were experiencing their worst trophy drought in decades. The Italian implemented his trademark defensive tactics, results significantly improved, and Los Blancos would overhaul Barcelona to get their hands on the league title for the first time in four seasons.
But, once again, a personality clash with Real’s fanbase, who wanted a more swaggering brand of football, meant that Capello was sacked despite winning the league for a second time.
The conclusion? Forget about a long career at the club unless you deliver an attacking brand of football….whether that’s successful or not.
King Kenny Loses His Crown
Of course, returns aren’t always as successful as that of Capello at Real Madrid.
Kenny Dalglish is a Liverpool legend, both as a player and manager, and so the outpouring of emotion when ‘King Kenny’ returned to Anfield as interim, then permanent manager, in 2011 should have brought the good times back to the club.
Unfortunately, he could only lead his troops to an eighth place finish in his first full season in charge, and was sacked shortly thereafter.
Dalglish at Liverpool, Mourinho at Chelsea….there are lots of examples of managers going back to their favourite clubs and making a bit of a mess of things. Zidane would be well served to take note.