The Portuguese was supposed to lead Real in a period of dominance after winning La Liga in 2012, but it all ended in tears just 12 months later
Real Madrid have been here before. Los Blancos’ stuttering start to the season is reminsicent of 2012-13, when Jose Mourinho’s side fell off the pace early on in La Liga, and by the end of the campaign, the Portuguese was gone. This time, it is Zinedine Zidane under pressure.
Mourinho had just won La Liga and signed a new long-term contract at the Santiago Bernabeu. It was supposed to be the start of something special, the moment Madrid ended Barcelona’s dominance and built a dynasty. Instead, however, chaos ensued.
Real kicked off the 2012-13 season by beating Barcelona to win the Spanish Supercopa. That would prove to be the highlight of the campaign, though, and after 10 rounds of La Liga, the Blaugrana were way ahead. Madrid never could catch up in a one-sided title race and ended the campaign by losing to Atletico in the final of the Copa del Rey and going down to Borussia Dortmund in the semi-finals of the Champions League.
“When I left, Madrid were ready to explode,” Mourinho said this week. And he added: “It was from then that they really started winning, especially against Barcelona.”
Part of that is true. The Portuguese certainly raised the bar during his time at the Bernabeu and made Madrid much more competitive than they had been in previous seasons. And although he never won the Champions League with Los Blancos, his work definitely helped Real to go on and win the competition after his exit.
However, he also left a divided dressing room and in that respect, he was right, Madrid were ready to explode. Things could not go on as they had and results reflected that. Relations with Pepe, Cristiano Ronaldo and others were broken and it was time to move on.
Things are deinitely different now. Zidane, for a start, is a club legend who will surely be granted more time than most – and he has also earned it. Because while Mourinho won three trophies in three seasons, the Frenchman has seven in less than two years in charge, including back-to-back Champions League crowns.
Zidane, like Mourinho in 2012-13, began the current campaign by beating Barca in the Spanish Supercopa (as well as the Portuguese’s Manchester United side in the UEFA Super Cup), only to suffer an indifferent start in La Liga and also the Champions League.
The respective records are very similar. After 10 rounds of the Primera Division, Mourinho’s Madrid had won six, drawn two and lost two. Just like Zidane in 2017-18. And in the Champions League, Jose’s side won two, drew one and lost the other of their first four fixtures. Exactly the same as Real this term.
In fact, Madrid’s 3-1 loss to Tottenham at Wembley on Wednesday night was their first in the group stages of Europe’s premier club competition since Real went down 2-1 at Borussia Dortmund in 2012-13.
“I’m not worried,” Zidane said after the defeat in London, which followed a 2-1 loss in Girona last Sunday. “And I will never be worried this season, whatever happens. Tonight we will do the analysis, but ultimately we came up against the better team, who came up with the better performance, we have to accept it.
“What can I say? That’s two defeats and we’re not happy about it. Right now people are feeling bad, it’s a bad moment, but it’s something we need to accept, keep our head held high, there are many games remaining and we look to turn this around.”
That is the task now and it is an unexpected scenario after the season started with the UEFA Super Cup win and the 5-1 aggregate victory over Barcelona in the domestic Supercopa. Since then, Los Blancos have had problems at both ends of the pitch and the above comparison shows Zidane’s side is 10 goals worse off than Mourinho’s men were at this stage in 2012-13.
The Frenchman has more credit than the Portuguese back then due to the succession of trophies he has won in the past 20 months, while the dressing room remains united, unlike how it ended up under the current Manchester United manager. However, there are definitely parallels to be drawn between the two and the results are almost identical.
It is still early days, of course, yet no Madrid side has ever come back from eight points down to win La Liga and Barca’s bright start could see them run away with it this term. And in the Champions League, the resurgence of the English teams means winning may be more difficult than at any time over the past few years.
So even though there is an obvious opportunity to turn this around, there is also little margin for error now in the Primera Division, while there are no guarantees in Europe either. And if they are not careful, Zidane’s crisis-hit Real risk going the way of Mourinho’s Madrid in 2012-13.