The coach may have failed to get the best out of the Blancos squad but he was let down by his boss, who failed to sign a Cristiano Ronaldo replacement.
Julen Lopetegui is the scapegoat, the captain tossed from the deck of Real Madrid’s sinking ship, but the club’s problems go far deeper than the Spaniard and his skeptical crew.
Granted, Real stars never bought into Lopetegui’s schemes and both the coach and the players must accept their share of the blame for the team’s dreadful results, but president Florentino Perez is just as responsible for the current crisis at the Santiago Bernabeu.
The 71-year-old businessman clutches the club’s reins tightly. What he says, goes, and on Monday night Perez decided that Lopetegui had to go.
During his second stint as club chief, beginning in 2009, Perez has welcomed and later seen off six coaches, starting with Manuel Pellegrini and ending with Lopetegui.
Only one of them, Zinedine Zidane, truly walked away of his own accord, and he did it because he foresaw the impending storm Madrid were sailing into, one which Perez has done nothing to avoid.
The Frenchman understood that Real’s squad was ageing, he could see Cristiano Ronaldo’s increasingly fragile relationship with Perez, and decided he didn’t want to do the dirty work of revamping the team.
Completing a hat-trick of Champions League titles, Zidane knew the only way was down, and bowed out in May while still basking in the glory of their 13th European Cup.
Less than two months later, Ronaldo departed too, signing for Juventus because he no longer felt loved at Madrid – and that was all on Perez.
“I felt it inside the club, especially from the president, that they no longer thought of me like they did at the start,” Ronaldo told France Football this week.
“The president looked at me through eyes that didn’t want to say the same thing, as if I was no longer indispensable to them, if you know what I mean. That’s what made me think about leaving.”
Perez never had the best of relationships with Ronaldo, primarily because the Portuguese wasn’t his signing. In fact, he wanted to cancel the deal that had been agreed with Manchester United under former president Ramon Calderon.
Eventually, though, Perez was convinced by former general manager Jorge Valdano to follow through on the agreement instead of paying a penalty clause for scrapping it.
Ronaldo and Perez never clicked but they needed each other and, for years, an uneasy truce held. Ronaldo delivered Madrid goals, trophies and glory; in return, Perez offered increasingly lucrative contracts.
But with Ronaldo declining, albeit slowly, the power balance changed and it was only a matter of time before the Portuguese walked away.
So, Perez, effectively responsible for Ronaldo’s departure, needed to replace the striker who had been so crucial to every success Madrid enjoyed since 2009. But he didn’t.
Only Mariano Diaz returned to the club, taking Ronaldo’s No.7 shirt, but he was hardly a like-for-like replacement.
“They have stolen 50 goals from my son,” bemoaned Lopetegui’s father Jose Antonio after the brutal 5-1 Clasico defeat by Barcelona on Sunday that sealed his son’s fate.
“They’re missing a prominent goalscorer. They haven’t bought one, not a single one. There was talk of Neymar and others, but no one came.”
Not only did Perez fail to sign a new goal-getter, he also struggled to appoint a manager in the first place. Lopetegui wasn’t Madrid’s first-, second- or third-choice to succeed Zidane.
Perez wanted to appoint Mauricio Pochettino or Jurgen Klopp, but eventually settled for then-Spain coach Lopetegui after being rejected by several coaches.
Madrid announcing the appointment without giving the Spanish FA notice infuriated president Luis Rubiales, who crushed Lopetegui’s World Cup dreams by sacking him on the eve of the tournament in Russia.
Lopetegui’s record with Spain was excellent but his only experience at professional club level was a disappointing spell with Porto.
The coach managed just two wins in seven games against Benfica and Sporting.
Antonio Conte, then still at Chelsea, was also touted for the role but did not take it and Perez appears to have failed to convince him to replace Lopetegui the second time around too.
Santiago Solari takes over on an interim basis and Madrid will try their luck under the former winger, but the truth is they are stumbling onwards without a plan.
Lopetegui was never given much of a chance, after another summer of poor recruitment by Madrid. Star signing Thibaut Courtois has proven no better than Keylor Navas in goal, while right back Alvaro Odriozola isn’t even playing with Dani Carvajal out.
Spanish reports suggested Luka Modric wanted to leave Real Madrid in the summer too, but having seen Ronaldo leave, Perez refused to let the World Cup Golden Ball winner go.
The Croatian is having a poor season by his lofty standards, run ragged by compatriot Ivan Rakitic and Sergio Busquets during Madrid’s Clasico humiliation.
After the exits of Zidane and Ronaldo, this should have been a summer of regeneration at the Bernabeu. Instead, rot was allowed to set in.
Lopetegui may not have been the right captain to navigate a tricky period of transition but it was Perez, with his poor planning, who effectively sent Real heading straight for the iceberg.