14 and 139: two numbers that will follow Julen Lopetegui for the rest of his life.
There are 14 letters in Julen Lopetegui’s name. In 14 official matches with Real Madrid Lopetegui picked up 14 points, scoring 14 La Liga goals and conceding 14 league goals.
In 139 days the 52-year-old has lost the two biggest jobs in Spain. One axe fell on the eve of the World Cup, the other fell in the wake of El Clasico humiliation.
The type of humiliation that ensures he’ll always be a punchline amongst Madrid and Barcelona fans.
You’d forgive him for failing to make sense of it all. You’d also forgive Barcelona for hosting a mass rave in honour of Madrid’s unravelling.
But luckily Lopetegui’s dad was on hand to make sense of it all. Jose Antonio Lopetegui, as dads tend to do, hit the nail on the head.
He told El Mundo: “Cristiano Ronaldo was good. Was he cocky? We all have defects. But he scored 50 goals a season. Now he is missed. They don’t have a goalscorer. Not one.
“Nobody came in. It was Neymar this and the other guy that, but nobody arrived. They have stolen 50 goals from my son.”
Los Blancos sit ninth in La Liga, seven points behind leaders Barcelona and without a win since September.
Madrid’s start to life after Ronaldo was never going to be easy. But what started out as an orange trickling gently down a hill has transformed into bulls trampling through the streets of Pamplona.
Florentino Perez reached for the panic button. In fact he hit it so hard he had to ring the IT guys up to fix it.
While this is all music to Barcelona’s ears, alarm bells should be ringing.
Barcelona’s own passing of the guard is nearing. Lionel Messi, scorer of at least 40 goals-a-season since 2008, is 32 next June.
Life after Messi is now visible on the horizon, although it doesn’t seem too gloomy given the events of the first El Clasico without the Argentinian and Ronaldo since December 2007.
Not so quick.
El Clasico can be a deceiving fixture. Remember when everyone sounded Barcelona’s death knell after a 5-1 Spanish Super Cup thrashing at the hands of Madrid last season?
For Barcelona to navigate life after Messi they need to take Madrid’s blueprint and do the exact opposite.
In theory Madrid didn’t need to sign a replacement for Ronaldo this summer. Karim Benzema was always going to continue in his role as Madrid’s unloved no.9, flanked by Gareth Bale and Marco Asensio.
Asensio’s ability could only be held back for so long. Ronaldo’s exit *in theory* removed a potentially awkward stand-off between the 22-year-old and Madrid.
Vinicius Junior was signed for the future, with Madrid not wanting to repeat the mistake of missing out on Neymar, while Mariano was brought in purely as a reserve option already familiar with the club.
But Madrid’s failure to add a ‘big-game’ attacking player, to whom others look when the opposition go 1-0 up, has been fatal. Someone the opposition fear on name alone. Someone whose aura intimidates the opposition in the tunnel, before a foot has even been stepped on the pitch.
In years gone by Barcelona could have stuck to their principles and tried to promote from within. But those values have eroded of late.
You’re never going to be able to replace a player like Messi, or Ronaldo for that matter. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.
Operation Kylian Mbappe can’t start soon enough.
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