Zinedine Zidane's blind faith is costing Real Madrid a lot right now
18 months into management, Zinedine Zidane must have been wondering what all the fuss about management is about. After all, he had already won 7 titles in that time – more than what Jose Mourinho could ever manage while spending more than twice the time at Real Madrid – and looked destined for more along the way.
The summer came and went and Real Madrid let go of Alvaro Morata, James Rodriguez, Pepe and, most importantly, Mariano Diaz. In came Borja Mayoral, Dani Ceballos, Marcos Llorente and Theo Hernandez. Madrid’s midfield looked set for the next decade and that was what mattered – at least at the time, it was mattered since those arrivals were enough to create a nebulous fog and shroud the fact that the Blancos were actually weaker in attack than ever before.
At the time, Madrid seemed unbeatable. At the time, Barca were a laughing stock due to their transfer market activities. At the time, Madrid were on the brink of world domination for a foreseeable future.
That’s what they said. That’s what we all said.
Madrid's downfall due to faith
What is life, you know... weird, weird hazy-mazy road filled with uncertainties. Kings become beggars and beggars become emperors if fate has that in store for them. After only 12 rounds of games in La Liga, Madrid are already 10 points behind and have already lost the league in November.
They are also on the back of a 3-1 loss to Tottenham Hotspur in the Champions League, which is just another way to say that Real Madrid are royally contorted.
The thing is, for all that has happened to Madrid so far this season, there is only one thing to point fingers at: faith.
It was faith that forced the former Juventus midfielder to keep trust in Karim Benzema as the only senior striker in the team. It was faith that forced Florentino Perez to keep trust in Zidane’s decision on having just Karim Benzema as the team’s primary forward.
Faith is good, but blind faith only leads to disaster.
The Cristiano and Benzema horror show
So far this season, Mariano Diaz has scored 9 goals in 12 Ligue 1 games, which is actually 2 goals more than the prolific Neymar has scored in 9 Ligue 1 games. Meanwhile, Alvaro Morata has scored 8 goals in 11 Premier League games thus far.
And Karim Benzema? 1 goal in 8 La Liga games.
Karim Benzema enthusiasts will argue that he is much more than scoring goals, that he assists Cristiano Ronaldo like no-one else – but now that even the Portuguese is out of form, it is difficult to understand what Benzema is good for.
The Frenchman has sacrificed his entire Madrid career to serve the Portuguese, but looking at the former Manchester United forward lurking all alone in the box right now, waiting for a readymade ball to be played at his feet while he is inside it, you get the feeling that age might just be finally catching on with the Portugal captain.
Benzema, however, is only 29 – an age where strikers peak – but he has neglected his scoring sense for so long that it now feels like even he doesn’t consider himself a goal-scorer anymore. It is a classic case of getting too comfortable in the comfort zone.
His job was to make Cristiano play well and the Portuguese played well in almost every game, so Benzema had done his job and never really focused on improving his finishing and movements inside the box.
And now that Cristiano himself can’t score, everything has been thrown into a rut.
The former Sporting starlet is 32 now and Zidane should have realised that there was always a risk of age starting to hold him back at some point or the other. With the Portuguese’s decline, Benzema’s role also becomes obsolete – so that is two forwards losing their mojo at the same time.
This was all pre-written – and for a visionary like Zidane, it is actually surprising that he didn’t see it coming.
Zidane should show more faith
Alvaro Morata had made up his mind: he was too big a player to sit on the bench and not play regularly. Hence, selling him was the right choice. The sale of Mariano, however, didn’t make much sense. Whenever the Spaniard of Dominican-descent played for Madrid last term, he showed the kind of zeal and ability that a top talent shows.
However, he wasn’t given as many opportunities to showcase it. As a result, this would have been the perfect season for him to finally be integrated into the first team, but Zidane opted to sell him. It was absurd because Mariano himself claimed that if the former Madrid midfielder has asked him to stay, he would have still been donning the white.
But then again, Zidane had too much faith in Benzema and Cristiano and Perez had too much faith in Zidane – so much that they forgot that the fangs of time can make anyone its prey.
Right now, Madrid will have to play at least another 8 fixtures before the January window opens and Zidane has the opportunity to fix the mistake that he made.
Till then, though, the Frenchman must make some decisions that would allow Madrid to go on a winning spree for these 8 (potentially 9) games. For starters, Mateo Kovacic and Gareth Bale will be back soon, which would ease the pressure a little bit for the Whites.
Kovacic’s direct runs towards the opponent’s backline always help and Bale would be dying to make a comeback and resurge his Madrid career. Meanwhile, too much and too little faith is always a problem – and the latter is the case when it comes to Dani Ceballos.
The former Betis man has played very well whenever given the chance, but the lack of opportunities provided to him is befuddling. He is another midfielder who isn’t afraid to barge into the enemy box and have a go at the goal.
Which is what Madrid midfielders will have to do a lot more now since the forwards aren’t being able to repay the faith that their managers showered on them.