What next for Real Madrid? Champions League loss to Ajax leaves club on cusp of exhaustive full reset

Elections aren’t due until 2021 but Florentino Perez is fully aware that there is a significant rebuild needed at the club and that there is no quick fix this time. Nobody's position is safe

Ed Malyon
Sports Editor
Wednesday 06 March 2019 14:05 GMT
Ajax fans gather in Madrid ahead of Champions League tie

Usually if Real Madrid suffered back-to-back clásico defeats to a table-topping Barcelona side at the Santiago Bernabeu, and then a Champions League elimination at home to - and this is meant only in terms of finance and expectation - relative minnows, you would fear for the manager’s future.

That Santiago Solari’s employment status feels so utterly irrelevant right now tells you all you need to know about the depth and nature of the change to come

It is easy to focus on a feeling that an era has ended at the Bernabeu and that would be fair enough, though Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure to Juvents last summer can now, it appears, be retroactively installed as the true final curtain of a superstar-laden circus that won a barely believable four Champions Leagues in five years.

Elimination at the hands of Ajax on Wednesday simply forced Florentino Perez’s finger to the ‘full reset’ button a little earlier than planned and perhaps with a little more intent. This club will start next season with a vastly different squad, a new manager and who knows what else? If that something else is a galactico like the much-whispered Neymar then hey, Madrid are back, baby. Call off the search. If it’s something at the other end of the scale? The shrieking will be heard far beyond Spanish borders.

What is also worth monitoring is that rare sensation which looms over Perez himself for the first time in a long while: the fear of a challenger. Playing out to a soundtrack of sporadically heard chants for his resignation, there is the spectre of former club president Vicente Boluda building a campaign to battle against the 71-year-old in the next presidential elections. Notable ex-Madrid players have been contacted about supporting Boluda, who briefly led the club in 2009 before Perez’s current (and second) stint in the big chair.

Elections aren’t due until 2021 but Perez is aware that there is a significant rebuild needed at the club and that there is no quick fix this time. The feeling that the era of the Ronaldo-led Madrid of the mid-2010s has now ended is the sort of defining moment that might push members to seek an alternative direction for the club for the first time in a decade, and losing his position is something that worries Perez sufficiently that he’s changed statutes to bar dangerous opponents from running against him in previous elections.

On the sunny side, it works in Perez’s favour that many of the decisions he will have to make in the coming days are ones that he has had some time to do due diligence on. Julen Lopetegui was understood to be only Madrid’s “sixth or seventh choice” to take over after Zinedine Zidane’s shock departure. Lopetegui was then turfed out for interim (in everything but name) coach Solari. The Madrid board have broadly been doing background work on managers for over a year. It is time to put it to good use.

Perez’s faction at the top of Madrid have long coveted Mauricio Pochettino but recently moved towards the idea of reinstalling Jose Mourinho. The latter’s availability compared to Daniel Levy’s steadfast determination to keep Pochettino mean it would not be a shock if Perez, feeling the heat, elects to take the easy way out.

The squad will then need some work.

Gareth Bale’s future will be a big topic of interest in Spain and Britain but it still looks difficult to find a club who could pay his wages and would want to pay the fee Madrid would demand. Luka Modric nearly left last summer but regardless of his immediate future needs a long-term replacement brought in. James Rodriguez is going to return from his loan at Bayern. Neymar, Christian Eriksen and Eden Hazard as the major incomings are the dream but what is the reality?

Gareth Bale's future remains a hot topic of discussion (Getty)

What is their financial reality? Despite a reputation for signing galacticos, they have not brought a star like that to the club for big money since James Rodriguez five years ago. They remain the biggest club in the world but as the roof blew of the transfer market and numbers spiralled out of control, Madrid have avoided spending big. Now we will find out if they have been left behind by the Premier League’s elite in terms of cash available or if their big-money sales, relatively frugal few seasons and smart trading of mid-level academy graduates turn into an enormous transfer kitty.

It was Santiago Solari, looking shellshocked, who had to step down into the Santiago Bernabeu’s wood-panelled press room and defend the mess Real Madrid are in, but it will be Florentino Perez who becomes the face of their dysfunction and imminent rebuild.

Big decisions must be made. Real Madrid could bounce back if the wrong coach gets hired or a signing doesn’t work out but it feels as if Perez probably wouldn’t. The man who oversaw two historically significant Champions League teams is in long-term peril at a club already mired in short-term crisis.

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