Los Colchoneros have had what might be charitably described as an eventful season so far. Progress in Europe has been steady, if unspectacular, but the club’s Primera Liga campaign has followed a downward trajectory. There has been widespread consensus for some time that Manzano would eventually pay the price for poor performances and worse results, but even if he does it will only be papering over the cracks of a deeper managerial and financial malaise.
After early consecutive 4-0 wins over Racing and Sporting, Los Rojiblancos travelled to Camp Nou with confidence, only to receive a reality check in the form of a 5-0 drubbing by Barcelona, after which they scored just once in their next four games. There have been just three wins in the last 12 Primera Liga outings, a run that ended ignominiously with a first home defeat against Real Betis. Atletico go into the winter break in 10th position, closer to the relegation zone than a Champions League place.
Manzano is in his second spell at Atletico and has cut a stubborn and controversial figure. His ongoing feud with Jose Antonio Reyes has been played out largely in public and at recent matches – notably in the Europa League against Rennes, the loss to Betis and the Copa debacle – has been a target for the fans’ frustration and abuse. Now under intense pressure, he resolutely refuses to resign, but is he really the cause of Atleti’s problems or just the latest symptom? Whoever eventually replaces Manzano will be the club’s 49th Coach since the Gil family and President Enrique Cerezo took over in 1987.
Cerezo deflected questions at the club’s Christmas Press lunch about Manzano’s possible dismissal, calling for “respect” for the Coach. “Do not talk about the future of Manzano. We must have respect, for he is our Coach,” he said. Asked whether Reyes would leave in January, Cerezo replied: “Reyes is a great player and I do not want him to go. I do not think that what happened last year with Simao will happen again,” he recalled in a reference to the Portuguese player’s departure for Besiktas this time last year.
In a recent survey by Marca, Atleti legend Luis Aragones was favourite to replace Manzano, ahead of Diego Simeone and Rafa Benitez. It seems doubtful whether, at the age of 73, Aragones, also known as the ‘Wise Man of Hortaleza’, would relish the challenge of another stint with Los Colchoneros under Cerezo and Chief Executive Miguel Angel Gil Marin. Simeone is reported to have already resigned as Coach of Argentine club Racing de Avellaneda and seems set to return to Madrid, where he spent three years as a player with Atletico.
Atleti’s accounts were recently published in El Pais, revealing a €215m debt to the tax authorities. The total liability has not been disclosed, but some estimates put it in excess of €300m. The club could be tempted to listen to serious offers for players such as Uruguayan international defender Diego Godin, said to be a target for Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal, while a move to a new stadium – about which club bosses failed to consult supporters – seems only likely to lead to an even greater drain on finances.