A season of reckoning for Zinedine Zidane
Zinedine Zidane had the football world wondering how high he could take Real Madrid after last season's La Liga and Champions League double. Now we're asking how low. Elimination from the Champions League at the hands of Paris Saint-Germain is all that’s left to complete a disastrous season. The Merengues have gone from the best team in Europe, one that was practically untouchable, to eminently beatable even at the Santiago Bernabeu. They have gone from being standard-setter to laughing stock in just a few months.
Falling impossibly far behind Barcelona so early led to talk of a "bounce back” from both players and manager. Then the mantra became forgetting the title and concentrating on "winning the next game.” With the exit from the Copa del Rey, the season has officially gone from bad to worse. Now, only the worst can be expected when the doubleheader against Paris Saint-Germain arrives. There are even fears in certain quarters that the Merengues will find it difficult remaining in the top four this season. The prospect of missing out on Champions League football next season cannot even be imagined by Madrid faithful. Yet that is what the season is shaping towards.
The latest tragedy to hit the Santiago Bernabeu was the Copa del Rey elimination at the hands of Leganes. Real lost for the first time at home to its little-known neighbours. A draw would have been enough to progress to the next round. The list of history-making and history-repeating losses this season is growing. Girona. Real Betis. Tottenham. Villarreal. And of course the Clasico embarrassment against Barca.
Zidane seems to be a victim of his own success. The Frenchman has become blinded by his unexpected success last season. Back-to-back Champions League trophies. A first Liga title in five years. Then the abyss. It's almost like a condensed version of Arsene Wenger's Arsenal tenure.
Reality may finally be settling in for the former Ballon d’Or winner. Football management is not that easy. Who knew?
Apart from the early Super Cup victory against Manchester United to kick-start the season and the FIFA Club World Cup trophy that Champions League winners typically pick up in will-call, the reigning Champions League and Spanish champion has failed spectacularly this season.
The damage has been largely self-inflicted. Zizou has refused to make significant changes to his squad. After allowing Alvaro Morata, James Rodriguez, and Pepe to leave, impact subs who made a difference off the bench and kept first-team players fresh and injury-free, the Frenchman saw no reason to recruit replacements. His loyalty to Karim Benzema has crippled the attack.
Like life, football changes quickly, form with it. That is one reason there is a transfer window in mid-season as well as at its end. When a team loses key players to injuries, to other clubs, or form drops, the transfer window comes to the rescue. Barcelona dealt superbly with Neymar's defection, snapping up Ousmane Dembele and Phillippe Coutinho, one in each window.. Samuel Umtiti was briefly injured. Javier Mascherano was leaving. So, Yeri Mina was brought in.
With less than a week remaining, Zidane must act now, cut his losses, bring in players the club sorely needs to save its season from total collapse. If he doesn't, he will find himself the loss that has been cut.