With the imminent approach of a new season in European Football, we take a look at the coaches whose performances and leadership are going to suffer strict scrutiny this season.
Football Management is an unforgiving job. Being in favour one month and on the verge of the sack in the next are all too common as the modern game eats up Managerial posts like no other. Here, we at Hardtackle take a birds-eye view of the managers who need to silence their detractors and what they need to do to ensure they have a paycheck at the end of the season.
Almost an inevitability, this. Every Real Madrid manager is under constant pressure to deliver, as Carlos Ancelloti found out to his misfortune. Winning the coveted La Decima and the Copa Del Rey in his first season did not save him from a trophy-less second. The ravenous Madridistas demand constant achievement, not to mention entertainment while youa re at it. Managing the monster that is Real Madrid has never been easy and Rafa Benitez will be under pressure from day one to convince people that hea s the right man to wrest the throne back from Barcelona. The doubters have already made their grievances clear even before the start of the season with most Madridistas viewing him as an unpopular choice for their manager.
The objectives for any Real Madrid Manager can be defined in simplistic terms; surpass Barcelona. The Catalans secured the treble for the second time in six years last season, as they overpowered and conquered all who came in their path. Beating Manchester City, Paris Saint Germain, Bayern Munich and Juventus on their way to the Champions League trophy clearly demonstrated Barcelonaa s ascendancy to the very top of European Football, wrestling the crown emphatically from Real Madrid. Los Blancos could have set up a dream final with their hated neighbours, yet fell ignominiously to a determined Juventus side in the Semi Finals.
At the very top of Rafaa s fax from Florentino Perez will be the demand to seize the Champions League for the 11th time in their illustrious history. The Madrida s president obsession for Europea s most prestigious continental competition has seen him break transfer records, change managers and prioritize Real Madrida s continental commitments.
A little further down the list would be the need to demonstrate that Madrid are the premier club in Spain. With only one title in the last seven years, the days of Real Madrid dominating the La Liga have become a distant memory as Barcelona have enjoyed their meteoric rise over the past decade. The sight of the trophy in Madrid in 2014 would have eased the pain, if not for the fact that it was their neighbours at Athletico who paraded it through the city. The emergence of Los Rojiblancos with their inspired and enigmatic coach in Simeone has also been a bitter pill to swallow for the Madridistas. After decades of languishing in the shadow of their more illustrious neighbours, Athletico Madrid have emerged as genuine contenders for Spaina s top prize. Indeed, they would have even denied Madrid their coveted European Champions League Trophy in 2014 if not for a brilliant injury time header from Sergio Ramos. The signings of Jackson Martinez and Luciano Vietto could further embolden Diego Simeonea s side to displace Real Madrid as the premier club not only in Spain, but in the capital city.
With enemies gathering near and far, Rafa Benitez must make some astute signings and harness the attacking prowess of Bale, Ronaldo and Rodriguez to put Real Madrid back on the throne they feel is rightfully theirs.
What needs to be done
Signing a top class goalkeeper to replace Casillas is of the utmost priority for Rafa Benitez. a Saint Ikera was a legend in the eyes of many fans and to replicate that genius would be a hard task. It hasna t been made easier by a truculent Manchester United over the fate of their keeper, David De Gea. The shot-stopper is seen as the ideal replacement for Casillas having both experience and technical ability to be the new darling of the Madridistas. However, with Manchester United proving to be difficult, Rafaa s attention could turn to more viable transfer targets.
With a view to retaining players, Sergio Ramos is the standout figure amidst the clutter in Beniteza s mind. With Manchester United (ironically) hovering, Ramosa s contract demands need to be resolved decisively and quickly. If he does depart, a high-quality replacement, such as Nicholas Otamendi (even more ironically, another United target) needs to be drafted in.
Of greater import to Benitez would be the chemistry between Ronaldo and his team mates. The Ballon Da Or winner seemed frustrated and petulant at various points last season, publicly expressing his displeasure numerous times over Gareth Balea s perceived selfishness. Having an attacking force of Ronaldo and Bale is one thing. Making them work is another. Benitez has already indicated that he would be deploying Ronaldo more as a forward this year, with Bale and Rodriguez to supply him. This, inevitably, throws questions over the future of Karim Benzema. The French forward would not be content with long spells on the bench, and at 27, still has a lot to offer. A transfer away to greener pastures may not be unfathomable.
Rafa Benitez has a lot to prove this season. He may have won numerous trophies in his enviable managerial career. However, winning over the demanding Madridistas is a feat that has silenced and exiled many managers, including the likes of Mourinho and Ancelloti.
. Brendan Rodgers
What a difference a year makes.
Approaching the end of the 2013-2014 season, Rodgers was the name on every pundita s lips. He had guided an unfancied and unheralded Liverpool team to within the brink of a first Premier League trophy in 24 years. Slaughtering and mercilessly outscoring opponents, the consequences of Steven Gerrarda s slip against Chelsea proved pivotal for Rodgers. Liverpool lost the title, their talisman Suarez, and within the space of a six months, nearly lost their manager. A mid-season revival saw Liverpool nearly catch up with Manchester United for the Champions League finish, yet once again, they flattered to deceive. With a pathetic conclusion to the 2014-2015 season, which included a 6-1 humbling at Stoke City, Rodgers was once again, the name on everyonea s lips. Only this time, they were discussing the odds on his dismissal. With the unenviable record of the first Liverpool manager in over half a century without a trophy in his first three years, the calls for Rodgera s dismissal grew louder and louder. Bucking the trend, Liverpoola s American owners have opted to put their faith in the Welshman, who must now prove that the tremendous run two seasons ago, was not, in fact a Suarez-inspired oddity.
Having been backed to the hilt by the Fenway Sports Group, Rodgers must now deliver Liverpool back to the glory of European football. After a pitiful campaign in the Champions League (And truthfully, all around) the last time around, obtaining entry back into Europea s premier club competition is the task ahead of Rodgers. A slew of players have once again been recruited, with Ings, Milner, Clyne Firminho, Bogdan and Gomez joining Anfield, leaving Rodgers with the unenviable job of successfully incorporating the new imports into the team. With last yeara s failure to do the same looming over him, the pressure on the Liverpool manager is immense. Fate hasna t been kind to him either, with Liverpoola s opening fixtures including trips to Old Trafford, Stamford Bridge, The Etihad AND The Emirates. If he finds himself off the pace in the first few seasons of the month, those odds on his sacking would shrink to a sure-fire certainty.
Patience is a virtue. However, it does become stupidity after a while.
What needs to be done
Integrating the team and deducing his first team would be the foremost thing in the mind of Brendan Rodgers. With a pre-season tour of Thailand underway, Rodgers will have the opportunity to test out different formations and players. His changing of personnel and tactics last year confounded pundits, opponents and at times, his own players. While Rodgers has displayed versatility with his alterations, a measure of stability is required for his players to find their form and rhythm on the consistent basis that that is required.
While Liverpool have made admirable progress in their transfer business, the need for a striker to replace Suarez would still rankle Rodgers late into the night. Daniel Sturridge’s litany of injury woes will rule him out for the beginning of the season and could recur as the season progresses. Last yeara s imports of Balotelli and Lambert failed miserably to make the grade and the departure of Raheem Sterling to Manchester City has freed up the funds to add a top-quality striker to Anfield. Christian Benteke is the name bandied about in the corridors of Anfield, but it remains to be seen if Tim Sherwood at Villa would be open to doing business regarding the giant Belgian striker.
With transfer business seeming a more transparent necessity, the most imperative need would be the introduction of a mentality that can be comfortable with the most hardened Scouser. For the better part of the last decade, Liverpool have been an insignificant contender in the Premier League, scrapping for minor honours and content to play their part. With Suarez painfully rekindling the memories of glory long past due, Rodgers has to imbibe a sense of destiny and purpose amongst his maligned and embittered crew.
Too many times last season, while the talent at Anfield was obvious, the belief was not. Pedestrian passing, a lack of belief going forward and uncertainty and confusion were a regular treat for the Kop. They accepted it for one season. But with both the investment and the opposition voices increasing in size, Rodgers must find a way to retain the belief of the Anfield mob. And with it, his job.
Much like Ancelloti and Rodgers, Pellegrini would have pondered the fickleness of fate over the course of 2015. A year ago, he had lifted the Premier League and Carling Cup in his debut season in the English Premier League and had seemed the man likely to further Citya s pretensions to European greatness. However, in a manner horribly similar to the campaign of 2012-2013, a slack title defence and lethargic, uninspired performances in the Champions League nearly cost the Chilean his job. While he may have been partly responsible for the crisis, the Hierarchy at Manchester City felt that the failure was responsible due to the actions and incompetency of numerous figures at the club, including the players. On the pitch, Manchester Citya s players hardly looked like a side which could establish a dynasty and further their reputation in Europe, Yaya Toure amongst them. The Ivoriana s on-again-off-again love for the club disrupted a dressing room already rife with underperforming stars, such as Fernando and troublemakers a la Samir Nasri. The lack of team spirit and cohesion was obvious on the pitch and if it wasna t for the ruthless efficiency of Sergio Aguero and the performances of a few key players like Zabaleta, Hart and Silva, City may have been in a much worse position. With time and breathing space allowed by the Mansour clan, Manuel Pellegrini would want to secure his job, at least for the entirety of the 2015-2016 season. Pep Guardiolaa s availability may easily render the Chilean unemployed next summer, with the admiration of the Spaniard an open secret in the blue half of Manchester.
European Glory would be the key for Manuel Pellegrini. While a robust and aggressive challenge for the Premier League title would be expected and demanded, it is glaringly obvious to all at Manchester City that for their project to continue, Europe must be challenged adequately. Elimination in the Round of 16 for two consecutive years, albeit to Barcelona is a painful indication that City are still only a regional power who pose no real threat to Europea s biggest clubs. They were even lucky to compete post the group stage. Staring elimination in the group stage, it took Sergio Agueroa s hat-trick against Bayern Munich to progress to the knockout rounds. Citya s tawdry performances in Europe were even noticed by the fans, who did not fill up the Etihad as expected on these exciting European nights. For City to attain the status of Manchestera s premier club, let alone England, the construction of a formidable reputation in Europe would be key in the coming year. If European success (or at least, progress) is not forthcoming, the appeal of the Etihad to attract the top talent (and managers such as Guardiola) would be severely diminished.
What needs to be done
For starters, a complete overhaul of the ageing squad and underperforming driftwood would be key. For too long, some of Citya s underwhelming squad have been content to ride the success of some of their more illustrious teammates such as Aguero, Silva, Hart and Zabaleta. Even the usually infallible Vincent Kompany was found wanting on more than one occasion in the previous campaign. The fates of Samir Nasri, Jesus Navas, Fernando, Toure, Dzeko, Jovetic, Demichelis and Mangala would be discussed extensively this summer and the market scoured in search of other options. City have already spent a whopping 49 Million Pounds to sign Raheem Sterling, indicating their willingness and enthusiasm to spend on Europea s top talent. While bids for Paul Pogba and Kevin De Bruyne are yet to progress, the feeling of a younger, hungrier squad would definitely assist in Europe. The loosening of the shackles of Financial Fair Play penalties have enabled the Al Mansours to splurge their oil-soaked millions. While a start has been made by signing Sterling, there is still some way to go and some positions to fill before this City team is more formidable to face the might of Bayern Munich, Barcelona and Real Madrid.
Tactically, Pellegrini is considered unflexible, with his adherence to an antiquated 4-4-2 the primary gripe amongst pundits and fans. With different, fresh options in attack and midfield, his ability to successfully alter tactics in the midst of matches would be enhanced. The managera s willingness and ability to do will be under greater scrutiny this year given the abject failures of last year fresh in peoplea s minds.
While Sergio Aguero is an iconic talisman for The Citizens, the declining form and attitude of Yaya Toure requires an aggressive engine further away from goal to drive the team forward. Agueroa s frequent injuries are another disruption to life at the Etihad and in his absence, a leader who can pick up the baton is desperately required. Tourea s failure last season in this role was distinctly noticed and must be rectified with haste before the commencement of this season. Also culpable was Vincent Kompany, though to a smaller extent, and he too should be prepared to step into the limelight more often this season.
All this and more may still not be enough to save Pellegrinia s job, with the board still convinced that the future at the Etihad lies under the stewardship of Pep Guardiola. But with astute planning, tactical tweaks, appropriate transfers and renewed belief, Pellegrini can, at the least, ensure that he will be a hard act to follow. He may even be awarded with a longer contract. Stranger things have happened in Football.