When managers are sacked, especially at top clubs, we often turn it into a moral issue. We feel sorry for them (or not) and ask ourselves whether they "deserved" to get the boot or "did enough" to keep the job. We use our own metrics to measure this -- results, image, style of play -- and we try to be rational by allowing for mitigating factors: things like injuries, time (and lack thereof), resources, degree of control and oversight or personal relationships.
Plenty are doing just that in reflecting on Real Madrid's decision to part ways with Carlo Ancelotti. And by all accounts -- whether it's the players or the fan base -- most wanted him to stay and believed in what he was doing.
Why did they want him to stay?
For the players, maybe it was the fact that they genuinely enjoyed working under him. He treated them like adults without being a drill sergeant or an egomaniac. He played a kind of football they enjoyed. He defended them in public. And unlike some of his predecessors, there were no raging controversies, internecine squabbles and public divisions in the dressing room with Ancelotti at the helm.
For the fans, it probably had to do with how well he represented the club, without attacking referees or other club and being relentlessly positive, along with the fact that he delivered four pieces of silverware in two seasons including the much-awaited tenth European Cup. And maybe the fact that of the 46 men who have managed Real Madrid in their 113-year history, nobody has a higher winning percentage.
In fact though, the criteria for keeping (or dispatching) a manager ought to be simpler. More ruthless, if you will.
Is there somebody out there who we think can do a better job, whichever way we choose to define the job? (Meaning, it can be solely about results, style of play, identity, price or whatever else.)
That's all that matters. Florentino Perez is the president of Real Madrid and it's his call. If he thinks somebody else can do a better job, that's it.
What Ancelotti (or any other manager) achieved previously is only relevant as an indicator of what his team might achieve in the future. But as the fine print says, "past performance is not a guarantee of future results."
Florentino will be judged initially on his choice to replace Ancelotti, whether it's Rafa Benitez, Sevilla's Unai Emery (whose stock has risen of late) or somebody else. Later on, he'll be judged on how Ancelotti's successor performs. Simple as that.
I've shared my particular take on this twice before. Needless to say I think Florentino and his board are dead wrong here and whoever they appoint, particularly when you factor in the upheaval, it will send the club backwards. Only time will tell.
But at the same time, it's worth reminding ourselves, and maybe Florentino, why he gets to make such decisions at one of the biggest clubs in the world. He doesn't own Real Madrid; he is a guy who was elected president, most recently in June 2013, when he ran unopposed.
And why did he run unopposed? Well, partly because while it's great that Real Madrid members get to elect a leader who presents a platform and proposals and all that, it's not quite a democracy and it's even less of one today.
In 2012, the club board (led by Florentino) revised the prerequisites to stand for the presidency of the club. He raised the number of years of club membership required from 15 to 20, but he also stipulated that any candidate would have to provide either a deposit or a bank guarantee equivalent to 15 percent of the club's annual budget. In 2013, that was around $83 million; by the time the next election rolls around it will likely be north of $120 million.
What this means is that the pool of potential presidential candidates becomes tiny. Florentino is one of the richest men in Spain; he runs multi-billion dollar construction companies and with a snap of his fingers, he can have a phalanx of bankers race to him, tails wagging, offering loan guarantees of almost any size. But there simply aren't that many other people in the universe who can persuade a bank to give them a $120 million line of credit and who have been Real Madrid members for at least two decades. You can probably count them on two hands in fact.
Florentino's predecessor, Ramon Calderon, famously joked that the only better way for him to ensure his presidency in perpetuity was to add another prerequisite: that only those whose names begin with the letters "F-l-o" are eligible.
Yet Perez's supporters would point out that these rules weren't written to preserve the club as his fiefdom (though, yeah, that's sort of a by-product). Rather, they exist to protect Madrid from carpetbaggers, fly-by-night con artists or hucksters who might gamble recklessly and take chances with other people's money. If you only allow guys who are rich and famous to be president, then they won't need to use Real Madrid as a vehicle to get rich and famous.
As arguments go, it's rather silly. Not just because the presidency is a valuable tool for celebrity and networking even for the very rich (unless you're a big fan of the construction industry, you probably didn't know Florentino from Florent Malouda before he became president of Real Madrid) but mainly because it excludes plenty of talented, intelligent and forward-thinking folks from running the club.
When you're in the Leader's inner sanctum and you know the Leader is going to be in charge for a very, very long time, it naturally dampens dissent. When things go wrong, there may be some degree of self-analysis but the conclusion is usually the same: we were right, we had no choice, it's a pity.
Since firing Vicente Del Bosque in the summer of 2003, Florentino has had nine seasons in two stints as president, with a total of eight different managers). What does he have to show for it? One league title and one Copa del Rey under Jose Mourinho and one Champions League, one Copa del Rey, one UEFA Super Cup and one FIFA Club World Cup under Ancelotti. That's it. And that's slim pickings.
In an ordinary organization -- one where the big boss isn't glued to his seat and where dissent is encouraged as a means of fostering analysis and best practice -- you might conclude that something isn't quite right. Not here. Just change the manager; there's somebody better around the bend.
That attitude is a problem. Maybe somebody else can do a better job with this club than Ancelotti. We'll find out. What we probably won't find out -- even though he doesn't own the club and even though the club hold elections -- is whether someone can do a better job with the club than Florentino.