Real Madrid's board will slip into their executioners robes and meet at 6pm local time on Monday, a mini-conference from which Julen Lopetegui is almost certain to emerge unemployed, his reputation destroyed by four disastrous months.
A dead man walking since faltering in the last chance saloon with defeat at home to Levante a week ago , Lopetegui’s Madrid are ninth in La Liga despite it being collectively one of the lowest-scoring starts to a league season in years. A post-World Cup hangover is common across Europe's elite leagues, but this one is far beyond that for Madrid, who are also coping with the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo and the unravelling of a squad built for peak short-term glory.
Three Champions Leagues in three years suggest that strategy worked just fine, but for all the highs of those joyous, endless nights at Cibeles amid cava and pyrotechnics, the lows were always going to come. Lopetegui was, in the end, the only person willing to take them on and he probably never believed it would or could go to these miserable depths.
The only question remaining is who will replace the Spaniard, with Antonio Conte best-positioned but an influential group within the marble corridors of the Santiago Bernabeu pushing for Roberto Martinez.
Martinez is a Spaniard, which ticks a box for many Madrid fans, but is also best known for playing attacking football with an almost reckless abandon. That appeals to an ideological fanbase where playing with swagger and style is not an optional extra.
It is on the stylistic point that Martinez is seen as the preferable alternative to Conte, but the former Chelsea and Juventus boss remains the overwhelming favourite owing to his superiority in every other sense and, unlike in the summer, he is now ready to take over. When approached in June, before Lopetegui, his severance from Chelsea was yet to be resolved. That should be no surprise, because the Italian beats Martinez on virtually all other criteria outside playing style, with a trophy cabinet bursting to full and a track record of finding systems that bring the best out of their players. Madrid’s rebuild might be his biggest test yet though.
There is a feeling that, in an ideal world, Madrid would find an answer to guide them through to the summer and then make their latest, most concerted drive at hiring Mauricio Pochettino. The reports from the Spanish capital this week about Madrid wanting Pochettino to begin making noises regarding his future didn’t find their way into the usual organs by accident. Similarly, the Tottenham manager’s comments over the weekend about this being the unhappiest he has felt since taking over at Spurs don’t happen in a vacuum.
Prising the Argentine away from Daniel Levy and Tottenham continues to be a political and financial manoeuvre that Florentino Pérez doesn’t appear to know how to handle, however, and with B-team manager Santiago Solari not deemed ready to step up it looks as if Conte will assume the role and Madrid will have to walk past the Pochettino in the shop window again.
Lopetegui’s future probably involves some time away from the game to recover from a desperate few months. He will get another job some day at a club better suited to his capabilities but this certainly wasn’t it and although he said goodbye to the players on Sunday night at the Nou Camp, he still took training on Monday morning ahead of his certain fate. Having become Real Madrid manager hoping to taste the glories of so many of his predecessors - choosing that over even a tilt at the World Cup - Lopetegui instead will suffer the undignified goodbye of so many others who have been in his shoes.
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