Football Features

Ranking every managerial debut in El Clásico since 2010

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 12:58, 22 October 2020

El Clásico is one of the biggest games in club football and a brutal test for new faces, player and manager alike.

Ronald Koeman is about to make his Clásico debut as a coach, making him the sixth Barcelona coach in the last decade to take the reins in this mammoth fixture. Madrid also have six coaches in the last decade, although current boss Zinedine Zidane is on his second spell.

But how did all those coaches do on their debut in the world’s biggest game? Predictably a lot of them struggled. We’ve had a look at all 12 El Clásico managerial debuts in the last decade; from Ancelotti to Zidane, and ranked them all from best to worst.

Barcelona vs Real Madrid betting favourites:

  • Barcelona: 11/10
  • Draw: 13/5
  • Real Madrid: 12/5

For more El Clasico markets, visit William Hill. Odds accurate at time of publication (1pm, 22/10/20) 18+ only, Be Gamble Aware).

1. Zinedine Zidane

Barcelona 1-2 Real Madrid – 2016

There aren’t many good Clásico debuts. It’s too brutal a fixture, especially for Real Madrid managers. Bernd Schuster won on his Clásico debut in 2007, but then Pep Guardiola happened. After Schuster there was Juande Ramos, then Manuel Pellegrini, José Mourinho, Rafa Benitez and Carlo Ancelotti and they all tasted defeat (you’ll see the latter three on this list later).

But then there was Zinedine Zidane, Real Madrid’s mad grasp for a Pep Guardiola of their very own.

It was an absurd risk, but it worked in the most Real Madrid way possible: winning. Sure, the football wasn’t transcendental, but that’s never been Real Madrid’s thing. Winning has. And Zidane won everything. But before the trophies, he won his first Clásico. At the Camp Nou. Snapping a 39-game unbeaten run from the Blaugrana. A massive statement of the glory to come. And unquestionably the best Clásico debut a manager has had in the past decade.

2. Tito Vilanova

Barcelona 3-2 Real Madrid – 2012

It can’t be easy following Pep Guardiola, especially when you’re battling cancer, but the late, great Tito Vilanova was such an incredible figure he did a stupendous job. Picking up the Blaugrana after a season where they threw away the chance to win four ligas in a row and retain the Champions League, Tito drove them to a 100-point La Liga victory and it all started in the Supercopa de Espana.

Barcelona would actually go on to lose the cup on away goals after a 2-1 defeat in the Santiago Bernabeu, but the brilliance of that initial win full of the same kind of fabulous football fans had become used to under Guardiola was so exhilarating. Barcelona won 3-2, Messi began his ascension to free-kick king, and things were on their way again. #TitoEtern

3. Tata Martino

Barcelona 2-1 Real Madrid – 2013

No one wanted Tata Martino, although they claimed that Leo Messi did to make him look bad. Thing is, Tata started out quite well, with the courage of his convictions to play 4-3-3 and have his side press like hell. This led to an impressive win at the Camp Nou highlighted by a spectacular chip from Alexis Sánchez.

4. Zinedine Zidane

Real Madrid 0-0 Barcelona – 2020

Zidane’s second debut as Real Madrid manager was the worst Clásico in living memory. A dour 0-0 where both sides looked miles short of their usual level and the two best players were the goalkeepers. It was awful to watch, but it wasn’t a defeat so it actually ranks highly here.

5. Santiago Solari

Real Madrid 0-1 Barcelona – 2019

Brought in to stabilise the ship midway through the 2018/19 season, Solari’s Clásico debut wasn’t that bad really as an outmatched Real Madrid battled hard against a Barcelona running away with the title. Los Blancos contained their attacking threats for the most part and only succumbed to a superb finish from Ivan Rakitic.

6. Carlo Ancelotti

Barcelona 2-1 Real Madrid – 2013

Ancelotti went on to win the fabled Decima in his first season in charge, but he was a Clásico dud. He fell in his first game on Tata Martino’s debut and even lost the return 3-4 at the Santiago Bernabeu, making him the only manager on this list to lose both Clásicos.

7. Luis Enrique

Real Madrid 3-1 Barcelona – 2014

Luis Enrique’s tenure as Barcelona coach coincides with the reign of the deadly MSN trident. How amusing, then, that his Clásico debut was the first time all three men played together and it ended in defeat as Madrid ate an early goal (from Neymar, set-up by Suárez) and then picked the Blaugrana apart. The season ended with a treble for Lucho, but it began on rockier form.

8. Ernesto Valverde

Barcelona 1-3 Real Madrid – 2017

Ernesto Valverde

It’s hard to imagine starting a Barcelona career off in a trickier way than a Clásico, but that’s what Ernesto Valverde had to do in 2017. With Neymar freshly departed and Madrid the incredible Liga and Champions League champions, Barcelona were nowhere near their rivals all game. Piqué admitted post-match that it was the first time he had ever felt “inferior” to Los Blancos. Not a good start.

9. Quique Setién

Real Madrid 2-0 Barcelona – 2020

Setién’s tenure at Barcelona was supposed to be great but it turns out that he was better at having ideas than actually communicating and implementing them. His Barcelona were somehow even worse than Valverde’s and to make matters worse, Setién didn’t even stick to his convictions and start striker Martin Braithwaite, someone he lobbied for the board to sign outside the transfer window. Of course Braithwaite almost scored with his first-touch, but by then Madrid had too much momentum to be stopped and romped to victory.

10. Julen Lopetegui

Barcelona 5-1 Real Madrid – 2018

Lopetegui was meant to be the answer. Zidane had delivered trophies galore, Lopetegui was going to bring beautiful football to Spain’s capital. Madrid were so eager to get him that they jumped the gun and announced it prior to the World Cup, leading to him getting sacked, and thus coming to Madrid in disgrace rather than triumph. As a result he carried no weight with the club and struggled massively, culminating in his last game, also his Clásico debut. Lopetegui matched wits with Valverde for about an hour before the Barcelona manager pushed Sergi Roberto forward, introduced Ousmane Dembélé, and tore Los Blancos to bits. He was sacked soon after.

11. Rafa Benitez

Real Madrid 0-4 Barcelona – 2015

When Rafa Benitez’s Madrid were scheduled to face a Barcelona side without Messi, there was hope that they could defeat their old enemy. However the Madrid hierarchy didn’t want him to play Casemiro, which meant that Benitez had a 4-2-3-1 with no defensive midfielders. So when Blaugrana rocked up to the Bernabeu, even without Messi they utterly tormented their hosts. Barcelona were better from start to finish and Los Blancos were lucky that the score was only 0-4. This was a brutal beatdown.

12. José Mourinho

Barcelona 5-0 Real Madrid – 2010

In 2009, Barcelona revolutionised world football under Pep Guardiola. They won the treble and changed the game with dazzling play. In 2010, they were just as good but failed to win the Champions League again because of an incredible Inter Milan led by José Mourinho, who went on to win his own treble that season. This got him the Real Madrid job with a clear brief: knock Barcelona off their perch.

To do this, he was given the most expensive squad of all-time. Cristiano Ronaldo was the world’s most expensive player, Kaka second just behind him. Karim Benzema, Xabi Alonso, Raul Albiol all brought in for big money. Mesut Ozil, Angel Di Maria, Pepe. The squad was a who’s who of world-class talent all assembled with one aim in mind: stop Barcelona.

In the lead-up to that first Clásico, the title race had been breathless. Both terms were immaculate, running roughshod over everyone. This was the biggest Clásico the game had seen in years (and the first of five that season alone) and the expectations for a titanic tussle were high.

Then Barcelona showed up and beat the life out of Real Madrid. Mourinho watched on helpless as the most expensive football team planet Earth had ever seen got torn to pieces by a side largely composed of graduates from Barcelona’s famed La Masia youth academy. The ball flew around the pitch at lightning speed, the players changed positions in possession, pressed like hell out of it, and basically reduced Los Blancos to potshots from distance.

The final score was 5-0. A manita, as they say in Spain. A devastating defeat to reaffirm Barcelona’s place as the greatest team in the world (and one of the best ever in history) and hand José Mourinho the worst managerial Clásico debut ever.