Thursday, May 26, 2011

Sense and Sentimentality


Somehow, Deep Down Inside, we all knew that it was going to end in divorce between the 2 of them.

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When Florentino Perez became the President of Real Madrid for a second time, many probably felt that here we were again, right back on the pattern of hiring and firing at least one coach per season till the silverware came along. Our suspicions were validated when Manuel Pellegrini, was only given a 2 year contract. And those suspicions came true when he lost his job at the end of the season. Once again, Madridisimo were left to lament the lack of continuity and strategic thinking within the club.
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We’ve now moved into the world of the corporatized football club where varying business models are employed. And in this day in age, it is interesting to see how English Clubs, are starting to take on the continental organizational model in their structuring. The days where an all-encompassing manager ala Alex Ferguson or Arsene Wenger who essentially run the club himself and is answerable only to the club Chairman and Board of Directors – seems to be fading away. Enter the organizational model that seems to be more prevalent in Europe where a Sporting Director makes decisions like transfer and youth team policy while the coach is merely there to ‘coach’ literally in Spanish: Entrenador – a ‘trainer’.
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Florentino’s Real Madrid v1.0 was a mangled version of this latter model. As we all know, transfer policy wasn’t decided on the basis of filling in the key positional needs of the team on the pitch, but was instead decided by France Football’s Balon D’ Or selection committee. It was also said that he tried to be the coach too: strongly influencing coaching decisions that included the distribution of playing time among players. This was why Florentino v1.0 model failed: because while Calderon was a crook, Perez was a megalomaniac.
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Florentino’s Real Madrid v2.0 sought to correct these ‘errors’ – by choosing to APPEAR to take a more hands-off role and more of just a figurehead presence. To APPEAR to run the club on a day-to-day basis, he then decided to employ the silver-tongued Jorge Valdano as a ‘CEO’ as the Director General (fancy-sounding title) to APPEAR as the man to run the day-to-day affairs of the club. He also employed Miguel Pardeza to the role of Sporting Director, while the coach continued to be ‘merely a coach’. Under normal circumstances, having a Chairman-CEO-Sporting Director-Coach system actually isn’t fundamentally wrong: but if the first 3 men in this chain were all pretending to be football managers (where in fact it’s the job only of the Sporting Director and Coach), then we’re in for quite a messy sporting direction – even when you have a gentlemanly coach like Manuel Pellegrini who will not remonstrate when not heard. Substitute Jose Mourinho, having been given the role of a Ferguson-esque Manager in the Premier League to play the role of this ‘meek coach’ and expected to be dictated upon by this ‘Director General’ and ‘Sporting Director’ – then you’re surely be in for an explosion. And that’s what happened.
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Sid Lowe in one of his appearances in the Guardian’s podcast has assessed the situation perfectly: “Real Madrid have made a faustian pact with Jose Mourinho” he once said.
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Valdano was merely the lamb we sacrificed on his altar.
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The fact that it is Valdano who is the lamb that is being sacrificed is the reason why large parts of Madridisimo lament, or perhaps are even indignant over what has happened. Valdano by all accounts, was a gentleman of the game: eloquent, well-mannered and possessing of the values of Real Madrid which he has absorbed in his years as a player coach, and an officer of the club in various front office functions. This is why it hurts – because it was Valdano… and not because Real Madrid had undergone a re-structuring. If it was Pedja Mijatovic, no one would care – many in fact, would have celebrated. So while we are all free to understandably be sad at what has happened, let us acknowledge that it is out of sentimentality that we feel this way. But let us not let sentimentality cloud how we perceive the situation.
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It is true that Real Madrid have made a faustian pact with Jose Mourinho. It is also true that the only reason why Perez has decided to abandon the organizational system that we’ve employed for so long (the Chairman-CEO-Sporting Director-Coach system) in favor of the British-style Manager system is Jose Mourinho. Accepting this organizational change however could only mean redundancies in the roles of Valdano and Pardeza: it effectively reduces them to mere window dressing functions: roles they too know is beneath them. There are only a few men on earth who have a fully developed set of skill capable of such an enormous task and Mourinho is one of them. His accomplishments in Porto, Chelsea and Inter are proof. And though we are not yet able to include Real Madrid in his honor roll of accomplishments, there are plenty of signs from this past season that give merit to the argument in his favor.
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With Mourinho as the Manager-God on top of the heap, answerable only to Perez, Jose Angel Sanchez and the board of directors, this may actually be the opportunity for the club to make the necessary sweeping structural changes across all areas of the club to re-work its playing philosophy and identity for the longer term: something that has become impossible in our years of hire-and-fire-till-we-win policy towards coaches. So at the end of the day, I invite all Real Madrid fans not to see this as being about the sacking of Valdano, but more about the decision to make a structural change in the organizational setup of the club.
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Mourinho has signed a 4 year contract. Perez is up for re-election at the end of next season.  There is reason to believe that Florentino will win a second term and Mourinho can finish his contract or, perhaps even extend his stay at Real Madrid… and we will all see for ourselves if this decision to shift to a British Manager system  works out for Madrid.
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I can only imagine that for Florentino, it does make a lot of sense…
-He’s tried to be ‘the manager himself’ and failed
-He’s tried to let a group of men be the manager and failed.
-Now he’s about to try if a single man can do it.
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Let’s all hope not just for his sake, but for ours and Real Madrid’s sake too… that this single man is truly a Special One.

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