By Steven Wyson
In the lower levels of the Parc des Princes, in the same low tone as he always speaks, Zinedine Zidane declared himself “disturbed” with Real Madrid’s display.
It wasn’t exactly the explosion that the appalling performance might have warranted, but it was unusually forthright for the Bernabeu boss.
The wonder, at this point, is how forthright Mauricio Pochettino was. He’ll certainly have been disturbed watching that 3-0 defeat.
There were so many elements of this that would have especially angered him. Among the worst, beyond a player he discarded like Angel Di Maria doing so much damage, was that the Argentine ensured Paris Saint-Germain didn’t even need Neymar or Kylian Mbappe.
That’s what would have been particularly humiliating for Perez. He’d made that duo such subjects of attention going into this game because of how much he wants to buy them, that their very absence then made the defeat feel all the more emphatic.
If some misplaced talk will now grow about how PSG are actually more of a team without their two stars, Madrid really could have done with some sort of higher talent to tie them together up top. They were just so directionless, so lacking in focus.
It won’t have escaped Perez’s memory, either, that Zidane never really wanted Neymar. That was just one of many issues that arose between the pair over the past few months, and that has fed into this simmering situation, creating problems for the team as well as doubts about Zidane’s job.
It is true that the Frenchman wasn’t able to complete the scale of the rebuild he felt was essential. He badly wanted Paul Pogba, for one.
He didn’t get him, and hasn’t got anywhere near the extent of control over transfers that he insisted upon in the terms of his March comeback. This is what he was worried about.
The fear among many at the top levels of Madrid is that they’ve just wasted £300m this summer, that they haven’t made any tangible improvements beyond a currently unfit Eden Hazard. All that money spent, and the side still looks so jaded. It wasn’t so much as a reboot as a mere rebadging. Throw in the Alan Partridge reference here if you like.
It’s also true, however, that Perez might have expected a bit more identity and football idea to this team. The Madrid president is said to be infamously ignorant of the exact mechanics of football, but you don’t need to know too much to know how bad that 3-0 defeat to PSG was; how far behind the former European champions looked.
This is why some have dismissed Zidane as a “clap your hands manager”. The accusation has been that he just facilitates teams rather than driving them. Many of the current players are now complaining about a “total lack of plan”, with sources close to one saying it is a “fiasco”. There’s no attacking plan, no defensive plan, and no balance in midfield.
Toni Kroos and Luka Modric, the two players responsible for setting a playing pattern behind the focal point of Cristiano Ronaldo in the team’s prime, are now seen as past it. This is why Zidane wanted Pogba. This is why they probably need N’Golo Kante.
This is why the figure of Jose Mourinho hovers again.
There are admittedly many influential Madrid figures who would advise Perez against that appointment again. The Bernabeu president was very close to the decision in March, only to back away, due to the counsel of many who insisted Mourinho is yesterday’s man.
As regards the manager long considered Madrid’s next man, in Mauricio Pochettino, that has now cooled.
There is first of all the complication that he is very legally ring-fenced at Tottenham Hotspur, and it would be close to impossible to get him out mid-season. There is secondly the fact that Perez has had some of his favoured players send out a few feelers regarding the Argentine, and some doubts have arisen. There is now more debate over whether Pochettino would actually suit Madrid. Then again, this is the problem any time a proper. modern project manager is mentioned.
The old power core led by Sergio Ramos kick up, because their influence will be diluted. It was exactly what happened with Antonio Conte last year, even though a defined idea of play is exactly what Madrid now need.
The grand issue with a club like that, though, is that so much can change so quickly. What Perez thinks today can be very different to what he thinks tomorrow, because he is so conscious of what the support base are thinking. Nothing completely banishes debate like a run of bad results.
That is why we’re now entering a very interesting month. It could greatly change the view that Zidane’s history has bought him at least a year in this role. He is right to be “disturbed”. Perez has sacked managers for less.