Real Madrid has announced that Santiago Hernan Solari will take over as the club’s permanent coach, after a record-setting start in the job.
If managing the England international team is the “impossible job,” then the Real hot seat is surely club football’s equivalent – as Julen Lopetegui quickly discovered when he was sacked on Monday after just two months in charge.
Sunday’s humiliating 5-1 El Clasico defeat at the Camp Nou left Los Blancos ninth in La Liga, seven points behind the league leaders and proved the final straw for Lopetegui, who was dismissed from his position as Spain coach on the eve of the World Cup after agreeing to take charge of Real for the start of the 2018/2019 season.
An official Real statement thanked Lopetegui for his efforts but said the decision “aims to change the dynamics of the first team, when all the objectives of this season are still achievable.”
“The board considers there to be a large disparity between the quality within the Real Madrid squad, which boasts eight nominees for the next Ballon d’Or award – an unprecedented number in the club’s history – and the team’s results to date.”
Solari, who has been the Real Madrid B coach, takes over on an interim basis. The club gave no indication of who they would appoint permanently.
Before the international break in mid November, Real plays Melilla in the Copa del Rey, hosts Real Valladolid in La Liga and faces Viktoria Plzeň in the Champions League, before traveling to Galicia for an away league game against Celta Vigo.
Real president Florentino Perez has form when it comes to promoting a Real Madrid B coach to the top job.
Zinedine Zidane left his role as Real boss in May this year having led his former club to nine trophies in a two-and-a-half year spell, including three consecutive European titles. He too had coached the Real Madrid B team.
Born in Rosario, Argentina – also the birthplace of Lionel Messi – Solari was educated at New Jersey’s Richard Stockton College in the US, which partly explains why the 42-year-old’s English is so good. He likes to read in English to retain his ability to speak the language.
Solari’s father Eduardo played professionally in Argentina while his brothers David and Esteban also pursued football careers, as did his cousin Augusto.
Solari was nicknamed “El Indiecito” – “the Little Indian” – which is a nod to his uncle, Jorge Solari, who played in Mexico and was nicknamed “El Indio.”
‘Sexiest player of the year’
In Argentina, Solari’s career took off at River Plate, where he won the Libertadores Cup in 1996. Three years later he made the move to Spain, joining Atletico Madrid.
When Atletico was relegated in 2000, Real moved to sign the Argentine winger. That was the era of the “Galacticos” and Solari played alongside the likes of Zidane, featuring in 204 games and scoring 22 goals in five seasons as a merengue
He won the Champions League in 2002 – it was Solari that started the move that led to Zidane’s breathtaking volley against Bayer Leverkusen in the final in Glasgow – as well as two La Liga titles, two Spanish Supercups, one European Supercup and an Intercontinental Cup.
It wasn’t just football trophies that Solari won at Real. In 2002, Canal + viewers voted him “The sexiest player of the year.”
“I thank the people who voted for me, but I’m sure it’s rigged,” Solari quipped. “We’ll see if I’m offered another career in the film industry when I leave.”
In 2005, Solari joined Inter Milan and was part of teams that won three successive Serie A titles, before he headed back to South America and played for San Lorenzo, Atlante and Peñarol.
Solari has been described as “highly educated, articulate, philosophical and a lover of books.” After retiring he wrote a column for leading Spanish newspaper El Pais.
Married with three children, Solari is intensively private and has no visible social media profile.
Back in Europe, he started his coaching career by working with Real Madrid’s junior teams, before taking charge of Castilla – the club’s B team – in 2016.
Under Solari, Castilla’s results have been mixed – in his three seasons in charge, the team finished 11th and eighth and is currently fifth in their group.
What type of coach will Solari be at Real? Perhaps an interview he gave to El Gráfico magazine provides a clue.
“First you have to see what skills and what characteristics the players have – who are and will always be the owners of football – and afterwards know how I want to play, the style.
“Later, the football culture of each country, the competition, the opponent, the pitch, the tactics, etc. all influence. All of this is more important than the tactical formation. You can play with a 4-4-1-1 that’s very attacking or a 3-4-3 that’s very defensive and vice versa.”