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Sunday 11 December 2016

Top clubs struggle to solve manager dilemma

Decision to sack Benitez was all about player power and Real Madrid politics

Rafael Benitez is back on the managerial ‘merry-go-round’ following his short stint in charge of Real Madrid.
Rafael Benitez is back on the managerial ‘merry-go-round’ following his short stint in charge of Real Madrid.

Rafa Benitez is a stubborn man and in the last few days, he became a stubborn rich man for taking the hit. That was always his function in the eyes of those who plot and scheme at the Bernabeu.

They have a role for Zinadine Zidane too and I'll bet he is anything but happy with the way his career curve has taken a sudden and potentially defining upward surge.

He seemed happy enough learning his trade and earning his spurs with the 'B' team and said as much when speculation about unrest in the first-team dressing room intensified and Benitez's relationship with players like Ronaldo came under the spotlight.

Now he has been pushed forward by club president Florentino Perez to replace Benitez, the sacrificial offering to the players and disgruntled fans.

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It's a dangerous game Perez is playing. José Mourinho also fell foul of player power and Madrid have sacked two managers for the same reason. It's never good when a dressing room is running a club.

It's also a dangerous position for Zidane to be in but it does, at least, give him something of a free pass to find out whether he really wants to be a part of the management circus.

He seems like a smart lad and it may well be the next four or five months will turn him away from the idea of management. He will need to have his wits about him.

He's not diving straight in. He's had a few years away from playing but his first big job in management will be to run the biggest club in the world and that could very easily break him.

It is becoming fashionable now for big clubs to promote young men into savagely pressurised jobs and Zidane's appointment opens up an interesting possibility at Old Trafford.

I said last week that the Glazer family's instinct would be to leave Louis van Gaal in place until they have a better alternative, most likely in the summer, but the Ryan Giggs option carries just a bit more weight following Zidane's appointment.

Just as Perez can take a breath and spend the next four or five months making a judgement on Zidane and perhaps sounding out other candidates, Manchester United could do the same with Giggs and tick all the boxes.

The reason I was certain that Van Gaal would not be sacked after that poor run over Christmas was that the idea of Mourinho stepping straight into the hot seat at Old Trafford just didn't sit right.

I truly believe that Mourinho inflicted so much damage on himself with the Eva Caniero incident that he has excluded himself from many of the top jobs in the game.

There will always be someone who will covet what he brings and willing to ignore the reckless way he behaves but if the Glazers and Ed Woodward felt that Mourinho was right for the job, Van Gaal would be gone and a new regime under way.

I'm not ruling out the idea that Mourinho might yet replace van Gaal but I think the Glazers are inclined to kick to touch rather than act rashly.

They are still stuck with the van Gaal dilemma. I don't think the team will get any better under his management and there is a good chance that their Premier League position will get worse.

It may be that events force the Glazers to act and Zidane's appointment gives them an example to point to if they decide to sack the Dutchman and install Giggs as temporary boss.

It would pacify the fans on two levels. He's a club legend and he's not van Gaal.

It would also buy them time and allow them to chase Pep Guardiola, if they feel that is still possible, or maybe another manager they have in mind.

These are strange days for all the big clubs around Europe.There are very few winning managers around and a good one is priceless.

That's why Benitez will get another club.

They say he lost the Real Madrid dressing room on his first day when he was asked by the media to choose between Ronaldo or Messi for the title of best player in the world and he hedged.

He's an honest man and if he believes, as I do, that Messi is the most complete footballer on the planet, I don't think he is capable of saying otherwise so he kicked for touch.

I admire his attitude to Ronaldo, or anyone else who won't follow his rules, even if it is sometimes unwise and would be better served playing the game.

But he is a winner and owners need winners so he'll be back soon and without a financial care in the world. Roman Abramovich and Perez have made sure of that..

Good luck to him.

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