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The resignation of Real Madrid coach José Antonio Camacho on Monday highlights the deep sense of crisis afflicting the Spanish club just two months after Florentino Pérez was re-elected as president.
It leaves a team of superstars, including England's David Beckham, Michael Owen and Jonathan Woodgate, with a stop-gap coach Camacho's assistant Mariano Garcia Ramon and opens the possibility that Pérez may eventually have to eat humble pie and turn to Vicente Del Bosque, the man he sacked a year ago, to come back to the rescue.
The huge majority of the club's membership that voted in favour of Pérez did so because they believed that over the past four years Real had extended its international renown by signing a succession of superstars: Lu”s Figo, Ronaldo, Zinedine Zidane and Beckham. They also thought a club that has won more European Cups than any other could continue to dazzle the world with its success.
Pérez's predecessor and main challenger in the recent election, Lorenzo Sanz, by contrast, left the impression of being a president with no long-term strategy, after getting through an unprecedented nine coaches in five years. If the present crisis lingers, however, Pérez will risk being tarred with Sanz's brush.
When Camacho was appointed four months ago, it was seen by some as an opportunity for the club which had just ended its first season with Beckham without a trophy to get back in touch with its roots.
During the 1970s and early 1980s Camacho, together with Juanito and Del Bosque, represented a generation of Real Madrid players who built their reputations on sweat, toughness and commitment a far cry from the qualities most associated with the galácticos of the Pérez era. He had, moreover, been coach of Real before, in 1998, quitting after less than three weeks following a row with then president Sanz over team selection.
His managerial record elsewhere had been reasonably successful, guiding Rayo Vallecano and Espanyol to promotion, taking the Spanish national team to the quarter-finals of both the European Championships and the 2002 World Cup and, finally, leading fallen European giants Benfica to second place in the Portuguese league.
Tougher as a coach than either Del Bosque or his predecessor Carlos Queiroz, but sensitive to what Real Madrid fans expected of their teams, Camacho pledged to instil a dose of realism among the players he inherited. They needed to play with exuberant skill, but also work hard, and win.
It was a beguiling vision, but one that has turned to dust with alarming speed.
Camacho now says that he quit because he felt the players were not responding to him. “I have my own way of doing things, and I didn't see it on the field. I didn't see it was going to improve,” he said. For their part, some of the galácticos found Camacho bossy and rude. The fact is that Real have kicked off the new season playing as if they had a collective hangover they cannot shake off. On Saturday they lost 1-0 away to Espanyol after crashing to a 3-0 Champions League defeat at Bayer Leverkusen.
This is not really surprising, with a clutch of new signings still to bed down. But Camacho evidently felt that improvement was still a long way off. His departure leaves one of the most famous names in European football looking like a club lost in limbo.
Jimmy Burns is the author of When Beckham went to Spain: Power, Stardom, and Real Madrid (Michael Joseph/Penguin)