If he was anybody else, Zinedine Zidane would have been sacked by now.
Real Madrid are in fourth place in LaLiga, 19 points behind runaway table-toppers Barcelona. After two Champions Leagues in the past two seasons, the decline has been astonishing, with real doubts growing about Zidane’s suitability for the job.
To his detractors, he is a mere ‘facilitator’, eschewing detailed tactical instruction in favour of letting big players do his thinking for him.
After battering Valencia 4-1 at the Mestalla last weekend, it looked like Los Merengues had turned the corner.
On Saturday, however, the Madridistas laboured to a 2-2 draw at Levante, remaining one point behind Marcelino’s side in 3rd place.
Zidane’s job and legacy looks precarious; if he is to stay beyond this season, there are four things he must do sooner rather than later.
1 Win the Champions League
Vicente del Bosque knows how ruthless Florentino Perez can be.
Despite leading the club to its most successful spell in the modern era, the former club legend was sacked as manager in 2003 just days after leading them to the La Liga title.
The reason? A failure to replicate his earlier success in Europe.
The ‘simplest’ way for Zidane to keep his job would be to oust Paris-Saint Germain and Neymar from the Champions League in February.
Coupled with a favourable draw in the competitions’ later stages, he could have a fighting chance of winning the one trophy that would make him unsackable.
2 Drop Cristiano Ronaldo
The nuclear option. Cristiano Ronaldo might have scored two goals against Valencia but both strikes were penalties.
The Portuguese is enduring his worst season in a decade, with his ageing limbs losing their trademark virility. His declining mobility means that, whenever the ball reaches him, Real’s play noticeably slows down.
He is a stroppy presence, too, terse and belligerent when the play isn’t funnelled in his direction.
That was most obvious on Saturday when he reacted angrily to Zidane substituting him against Levante. Ronaldo made his feelings clear, ignoring his manager as he walked off before getting into an angry exchange with a nearby cameraman.
Ronaldo has earned his place at the top of the Madrid pyramid. Both club and player will be aware, however, that they are reaching a stage where plans must be put in place for a graceful exit.
Zidane has already shown his aptitude in this regard, convincing Ronaldo earlier in his tenure that he needed to manage his appearances rather than contribute in every game.
Dropping him altogether, even for a short while, will be made easier by Ronaldo's poor form.
3 Give youth a chance
Luka Modric doesn’t look 32. The sprightly Croatian has evolved into arguably the best midfielder in Europe over the past 18 months, forming a taut partnership with Toni Kroos at the base of the Madrid midfield.
With Casemiro sitting further deep, Zidane could be forgiven for thinking that it's an area that needs no tinkering at all.
He’d be wrong. Marcos Llorente, Dani Ceballos and Marco Asensio all need regular game-time, and all possess the quality to become natural successors to the Kroos-Modric axis.
That's without even mentioning Mateo Kovacic, a man who despite having all the talent in the world appears as barely an afterthought to his more experienced countryman.
Whilst his established stars fail to perform, Zidane should give his youngsters a chance.
4 Get 'Arry
Daniel Levy must be torn. The Spurs’ chairmen will be desperate to keep star striker Harry Kane this Summer but he will also be mindful of the eye-watering fee that the Englishman is sure to attract if Real Madrid solidify their interest.
The amount will eclipse the €90 million Ramon Calderon paid for Gareth Bale back in 2014.
Kane has been excellent throughout the campaign yet again, scoring his 30th goal of the season last week before picking up his 100th Premier League goal at Anfield in a 2-2 draw this weekend.
Any doubts about his consistency at the highest level have long been banished and, with the form he’s in, only Real Madrid and Barcelona are realistic destinations.
Already, the rumours have circulated, with Mundo Deportivo claiming Madrid will launch a £176 million bid in the summer.
With Ronaldo reaching the end of a cycle and a new striker at the head of the team, Florentino Pérez may prefer continuity on the coaching side.
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