On Thursday, September 27, the day after Madrid's first defeat in this League, against Sevilla at the Sánchez Pizjuán (3-0), an intermediary who said he was acting on behalf of the club presided by Florentino Pérez called Antonio Conte's representative to tell him that his client was one of the names that appeared on the restricted list of possible alternatives to replace Julen Lopetegui, if things kept going wrong. The agent of Conte -ex coach of Chelsea and Juventus, currently unemployed- received the message with the rigorous admonition: if he received an offer from another club, he would please notify immediately. Since then, Madrid has -officiously- denied this contact. But until this Saturday there were sources in the club who insisted that Conte's option still stands, along with others, such as appointing an interim coach, someone from the house like Castilla's coach, Santiago Solari, who would be charge of the team until Christmas, while preparing the final transition.
The absence of convincing candidates to occupy the booth has delayed the process. Until this Saturday, the plan of the directive, according to a person in charge of Madrid, was to wait for the classic of the Camp Nou to execute a decision that everyone in the offices of Chamartín give for taken since October 2, day of 0-1 against the CSKA in Moscow: Lopetegui must be fired to prevent the crisis that threatens to derail the League team from causing greater evils. It only remains to determine when and how. It did not make sense, warned at the offices of the Bernabéu, appoint a new coach before next Sunday, exposing, as is the team, to leave marked if lost by a landslide at the Camp Nou.
These forecasts can be altered with the defeat against Levante, the third consecutive that suffers the Madrid, which chained five games without winning, precisely from the trip to Seville on September 26. Real Madrid executives anticipated a stormy panorama, but not until this point. They were puzzled by the show offered before Levante, starting with the lineup. Florentino Pérez went down to the dressing room, as is his custom, and had to go through the unpleasant trance of crossing with Julen Lopetegui.
Witnesses of the president's meetings with the coach note that they are getting colder. Especially since the defeat suffered in Moscow, when Florentino Perez decided that the Basque was not the right man for his bench. The president prefers to avoid him, although the distancing is obvious for those present. "If there is a group of people," says a club employee, "the president greets everyone before Lopetegui."
Lopetegui went through the hoop of protocol and then went to the conference room to repeat a speech that, the more he spends, the better he pronounces. "It is clear that we have not deserved it," said the coach after falling to Levante, firmer than ever and without showing the nervous tics he exhibited in Moscow or Vitoria, when he had to explain a disappointment that was then more novel. "But football is not earned by merits," he concluded.
"We shot 34 times in total, on goal 15, and we have arrived innumerable times at goal", he said, in defense of his task and loading responsibility on the strikers. "I think we've had a lot of options, the only thing the team can do is change dynamics, hit the opposite goal, the dynamics are breathtaking!"
They asked him if he was afraid of losing his position and he adopted a haughty attitude. "The last thing I think about is that," he said. "I worry about raising the boys, that they continue believing and insisting on changing the dynamics, and preparing them for the important match of Champions. [el martes contra el Viktoria Pilsen].
The Champions, priority
At this point the coach fully agrees with Florentino Pérez, as revealed from the box. Contrary to what the official propaganda preaches, the absolute priority of the president in this season -like the previous ones- is the Champions. If Florentino Perez plans to strike Lopetegui as soon as possible it is because he considers that his tenure at the helm of the team compromises the qualification for the knockout stages of the Champions League or access to the fourth position of the League, door of the maximum continental tournament.
As he has been doing from Seville, every time with more determination, the coach of Madrid avoided by all means to recognize the evidence of what does not work. In his self-denial to avoid self-criticism, during his press conference Lopetegui went on to assure that his team had entered the match on a good footing, despite conceding two very avoidable goals in the first 15 minutes. "The team has not gone wrong," he said, "and at the collective level we have had a promising start with arrivals (…). In that static attack we have had a lot of impact. We have attacked a lot and well. But numbers in football are worth little. Goals are worth. "
Lopetegui counted as clear occasions a series of rebounds and shots hit at the exit of lateral centers, practically the only offensive option discovered by Asensio, Bale and Mariano. The coach of Levante, Paco López, denied his colleague with the test of the score in his hand. "Madrid," he said, "could only score a goal on the counterattack, for an error in a campaign pass when he had a lot of time to decide and all our team was deployed."