Sense of togetherness has served Solari well at Real, but road to redemption still seems long
So, confirmed. It seemed inevitable that it would happen. With time issues meaning the LFP were on Real Madrid’s necks over appointing a permanent manager, plus the fact that there aren’t quite big enough managers available right now, Santiago Solari was always likely to have his role at the Bernabeu changed from caretaker to permanent first-team manager, the former Champions League winner having been appointed with a contract that runs until 2021.
The appointment should also bring some form of stability to the squad, probably the first thing they need after a chaotic pre-season and season so far. For a club where a sense of permanence is almost non-existent, a point echoed by the departures of Zinedine Zidane and Cristiano Ronaldo in the summer, then the dismissal of Julen Lopetegui after the Clasico, any sense of constancy is particularly welcome at this time.
In the four games under Solari’s caretaker charge, Real Madrid’s record read: won four, scored 15, and conceded one. Whatever the back stories those games have, it’s first key to note that those victories were much-needed, however unconvincing, projected or dismissible they could seem. And if the wins over Melilla in the Spanish Cup, Real Valladolid in the league, and Viktoria Plzen in the Champions League could be readily dismissed, the win at Celta Vigo last Sunday shouldn’t be.
It may be too soon, or foolhardy, to suggest the win was reminiscent of the Zidane era, but unlike in other games this season, especially in the embers of the Lopetegui era, where quality couldn’t do the trick, pure will and commitment did. They were touches of class in Real’s win at Balaidos, Karim Benzema’s opener and Dani Ceballos’ late belter stand out in that regard, as well as an improved display from the erstwhile lacklustre Luka Modric, but there were also moments where sheer resolve and backbone had to do. With Real leading 2-1 with less than 20 minutes to go, they had a makeshift defence of Lucas Vazquez at left-back, and Javi Sanchez at the centre of the defence, yet they pulled through, their sense of the collective meaning being stretched thin at the back hardly mattered.
That does looks to be the biggest positive so far, that the squad looks to be pulling in the same direction. Perhaps it’s a sense that the squad feel they let Lopetegui down, and weren’t blameless in the previous mess (which they weren’t), but, if the Celta victory serves as any case in point, the players look to realise the onus is them as much as it is on the manager, to get going again.
That’s not to say all has suddenly become well in the Spanish capital, far from it. Three of those four wins have come away from the Bernabeu, where the toxicity and fans displeasure still linger, evidence of which lies in the fact that of those four wins, that victory over Valladolid on home soil was the least convincing. Real still have work to do to appease fans, who are not known to be the most forgiven, or, frankly, reasonable, of supporters. They still looked shaky at Celta despite their seemingly new-found sense of togetherness, and we’re only in November, the road till the end of the season is still long, where Solari is going to face his first judgement, and how the Argentine responds to future potential, and rather inevitable, obstacles remains to be seen.
But there’s a start. Four wins in a row is a start. 15 goals scored and one conceded is a start. Real Madrid are making the climb. There’s still a long way to go, the top of the hill of invincibility still stays beyond reach, but having been shrouded in negativity and, daresay, defeatism for a while this season, any growing sense of progress is encouraging, and welcome. Even if the temptation to get too comfortable in this position must be resisted.
*This article was edited to note that Solari was given a three-year contract