The titular question, “Why Are Real Zaragosa So Rubbish?” is, in the words of the Guardian’s La Liga columnist Sid Lowe, “one of the great footballing mysteries of our time, as baffling as Bryan Robson’s ability to earn management jobs”. Why Tony Meola was ever cast in “Tony & Tina’s Wedding” being a distant 3rd, of course. Though encouraged by Zaragosa’s 2-1 victory on Saturday over Atletico Madrid, Lowe surveys a messy 2007-08 campaign :
Zaragoza reached week 27 out of the Cup, out of the Uefa Cup, and fourth-bottom, only goal difference separating them from relegation. Worse still, they’d gone through coaches like Pedja Mijatovic gets through Brylcreem. Four in 51 days. They played Racing Santander three times in three weeks with three different coaches. FernÃ¡ndez was sacked in January after nine successive defeats, Ander Garitano lasted nine days and Javier Irureta hung on for just six games, picking up four points and leaving Manolo Villanova (above) in charge.
When FernÃ¡ndez left he complained about feeling “unsupported” by the club; when Garitano walked, he said he wasn’t “mentally right”; and when Irureta departed last week he shrugged: “My message isn’t getting through.” All of which hints at the reasons for Zaragoza’s collapse. MatuzalÃ©m and Aimar’s injuries have been important, but their problems go deeper. An unstable club without a coherent strategy, Zaragoza lack direction with president Eduardo BandrÃ©s, owner Iglesias, sporting director Miguel Pardeza and technical secretary Pedro Herrera whistling and looking the other way, leaving the coach with little support and still less authority.
All the more so when the coach is FernÃ¡ndez, a man whose response to tough decisions is to run away screaming and hide under the bed, eyes shut, hands clamped over his ears. His lack of leadership left a vacuum that’s been all too evident on the pitch. Milito has 15 goals and Oliveira has 10 but, at the other end, where you need organisation, CÃ©sar has conceded more goals than any other keeper in La Liga.
“A dressing room is like a classroom,” says one insider. “As soon as there’s a lack of leadership, as soon as the teacher steps outside, the kids riot.” In Zaragoza’s classroom there have been fights and arguments, a free-for-all. And with VÃctor gone, nervously huddling under a cloud of cigarette smoke in the staff room, the poor supply teachers have walked into a war zone with Bunsen burners hissing and punches flying, powerless to turn things round. Which is why Garitano and Irureta took one look and quickly admitted defeat, and why Javier Clemente refused to take the job, going to Murcia instead.
This is also why Zaragoza turned to their very own Mr Bronson to solve the crisis. Manolo Villanova first coached them 30 years ago and last coached them 20 years ago. He’s been player, assistant coach, coach, youth team coach, scout and technical secretary and was under contract to the club despite working at Huesca. He is Zaragoza through and through. In fact, if you sliced him open it would bloody hurt. Even though he’s hard as nails. “Sweet mother of God is he hard!” says one former colleague. “He makes Franco look soft.” “I am very straight with the players: I tell them ‘do this, this and this’,” admitted Villanova when he took over last week. “Anyone who doesn’t follow orders knows what awaits.”