It may be just under 14 months since Quique Sánchez Flores arrived back in Madrid and in that time having won the Europa League, UEFA Super Cup and took them to a Copa del Rey final you would expect life at the Vicente Calderón to be rosier than Santa Claus in a sauna. However a recent run saw them record 3 defeats in a week in all competitions (before beating Deportivo at home) and a failure to beat any of the other top 6 sides in La Liga this season suggests that all is not well.
His record at previous clubs suggests that he is a more than capable manager but as he’s time at other teams has never reached more than 2 and a half seasons its difficult to ascertain what his credentials are in the long-term. At Getafe they finished in a respectable position for a club of their stature. At Valencia he finished 3rd and 4th in consecutive seasons and reached the quarter finals of the Champions League, had he not been following the title-winning years of Rafa Benitez then this would have surely been deemed a success. A season in Portugal saw Benfica finish 3rd and they won their domestic league cup. He joined Atletico in October 2009 and took them to 9th, this season is his first with a pre-season for the Madrid side although this has been severely disrupted by the World Cup but that is the same for all top managers and teams to varying degrees. Having only recorded a win ratio of 41%, the question has to be is he an impact manager ? His recent two match ban from the touch-line for clashing with Espanyol players shows that the pressure cooker that he is operating is close to boiling point.
At a glance Atletico have one of the most potent strike forces in La Liga if not Europe, with World Cup Golden Ball winner Diego Forlan and Diego Maradona’s son-in-law and £30 million rated Sergio “Kun” Aguero. On the wings a revitalised Jose Antonio Reyes and Portuguese international Simao. However a hangover from South Africa saw Forlan go 12 matches without a goal at one point, but he started last year at a similar slow nature then went on to have a very strong 2nd part of the season. Transfer speculation often surrounds him as the windows reopen, he recently said “they are just rumours” and “I see the news, as everyone else sees the news, but I am trying not to think about it“. Hardly a declaration of how happy he is at Atletico is it. In the case of Aguero whose form this season has been good despite the disruption of injury, every season the speculation grows. Although he has recently signed an extension to his contract he’s buyout clause has been lowered, suggesting they are looking for a buyer in the near future. It seems to be a question of when not if the Argentinian will be leaving the club, with the usual names banded about in signing him. First choice goalkeeper and Manchester United target David De Gea has given mixed signals depending on what week it is to whether he wants to stay or not. According to Guillem Balague it all depends as to whether the youngster keeps his current agent or is represented by someone new come June. Commitment has been an issue with a number of key players and the stability of the squad will not be helped when it seems that the main performers have one eye on the exit. The fact that some of the players aren’t that keen on the manager means that it is either him or them. Simao Sabrosa has reportedly agreed a deal to join Besiktas, with a number of players suggested as a replacement an injection of new blood might just be what the doctor ordered.
Enrique Cerezo has recently been quite scathing of his manager and as he isn’t one for sticking with managers on a long-term basis it suggests the writing could be on wall already. After the recent loss to Levante he promised to “take action” and with comments such as “why didn’t we change anything till the 80th minute, you will have to ask Quique that” the undermining of the manager to the media has already started. The dreaded vote of confidence was also issued last week. Rumours have circulated around that former player Diego Simone could be brought in to manage the team in the new year.
It’s not just the senior players that have potentially disrupted the dressing room. Quique has had a public row with the agent of Álvaro Domínguez, Raúl García and Ignacio Camacho. He has said that he isn’t doing a good job of preparing Domínguez mentally whilst the agent has complained that his client has been dropped without explanation. Unrest with the youngsters in the squad just adds to the questions of Quique’s control of the club, if they can see senior players uninterested then this can filter through to them.
It’s often said that its important to win any trophy as this will give you a winning mentality within your team. Whilst this true to an extent a side that continues to perform well in cup competitions but not in the league suggests whilst the players and team have ability they are lacking mentally. At half time against Levante it was reported that Quique asked the players “Are you drunk on success ?“. Defensively 19 goals have been conceded in 15 games this season, which isn’t too dissimilar to he’s first 15 games in charge of the club last season when they conceded 18 but this is a stark contrast to the first 15 games of last season when 27 goals were conceded (18 of which came in first 8 games under Abel Resino). On the Attacking side 24 goals have been scored this season compared to 21 at this stage last year with 10 of them goals coming in the first 8 games under the previous regime. So improvements have been made dramatically in defence and whilst there is a slight improvement in attack, injuries to Aguero and Forlan being affected by the World Cup suggest that Quique is improving the team in the league even if some of the players are less than convinced.
Managers are essentially judged on results and when they start to go against them then solutions are often searched for. If Quique is to survive results will need to improve and players will need to have trust in his ability to take the club forward or make way for players that do. In these situations its very rarely one thing or another but an accumulation of events. The problems at the very top of the club have been their for a while and a change in coach won’t make a difference.