Ex-Real Madrid wild child Guti quickly moving his way up the coaching ladder
Guti as manager of Real Madrid? A few years ago that would have been a bet a smiling bookmaker would have taken before possibly shutting up shop early, had it been a quiet day. But the former midfielder, a player for whom the term mercurial was invented, has proved a surprise package in the dugout, to the extent that reports on Tuesday linked the 41-year-old with a Primera Division gig next season at Leganes.
In 2013-14, a recently retired Guti returned to Real Madrid as a youth team coach, as an assistant with the under-16 age group. At the time it could have been excused as a fop to a Bernabeu cult hero, a mere "thanks for the memories" appointment to smooth the manner of his departure to Besiktas at the end of the 2009-10 season, when Raul was also ushered out the back door. Then, Real were looking to the future on the pitch. Few could have predicted how Guti would fare on the other side of the technical area.
Moving from the kids to Juvenil B, Guti shone. Soon he found himself in charge of Juvenil A, the final stage before reserve side Castilla, and led them to a domestic treble in 2016-17. This season, he guided his side to the quarterfinals of the UEFA Youth League while bringing through players such as Oscar Rodriguez, who made his debut for the senior side in the Copa del Rey against Fuenlabrada this year, and Cesar Gelabert, who has already represented Castilla at just 17 years of age and is tipped for a fast-track into the senior side. Add in that Guti achieved all this while playing a vibrant brand of possession-based, attacking football.
A move to the next rung seemed the natural route of progression, but despite Santiago Solari's underwhelming tenure at Castilla, Guti's contemporary in Real's midfield has been handed another crack of the whip. It was like holding up a mirror to their playing style: Solari is best remembered for knocking the ball to Roberto Carlos, who provided the cross for Zinedine Zidane's famous volley in the 2001-02 Champions League final, during which Guti remained rooted to the bench. The Argentine has always been a safe pair of hands on the oars, and not one to rock the boat.
Guti is remembered as much for his outrageous skill on the pitch as his dedication to the high life off it, but on his day he was capable of the same effortless majesty as the current Real Madrid boss. There is always a tinge of "what if" to Guti's Bernabeu career: the practical joker to Raul's straight-laced prefect, his flowing locks and insouciance combined to give the impression of a player that took his job as seriously as his clubbing.
But as a coach, Guti has gone in exactly the opposite direction, working his way up through the ranks with dedication and professionalism. Leganes would be a bold step but one in the direction of his stated goal to manage Real Madrid. It is worth remembering that Zidane hardly convinced at Castilla, a job into which the Frenchman was parachuted without the necessary badges. He only found his feet when handed a bigger desk to rest them on.
Neither should the potential for Guti to take charge be seen as a coup for Leganes. Quite the opposite. The Cucumber Growers are consolidating in La Liga, finishing 17th in their inaugural season and destined for the same position this year. After knocking Real Madrid out of the Copa del Rey -- a result that placed Zidane's job security under question at the time -- Leganes are looking to take a step forward.
Real could be the beneficiaries of Guti gaining some La Liga experience over the next season or two elsewhere. Managerial tenures tend towards the short-term in modern football and whatever the result in Kiev, Zidane will probably not become Real's Alex Ferguson or Arsene Wenger. Florentino Perez is not a president noted for his long-term vision.
With Zidane almost assured a seat upstairs when he leaves the dugout -- perhaps filling the long-vacant role of sporting director -- Madrid could look in-house for a replacement and Guti, with some 30 years on the clock overall, can do his chances no harm by dipping his toe into senior management across town.
It may go south; Lega are unlikely to exercise too much patience if their league position for the last two years is not looking likely to be improved upon by Christmas. But kudos to Guti if the deal comes together and he takes the path less trod to the Real job. The eternal short-cut player taking the Everest route to the Bernabeu bench might prove the best bet the club could make post-Zidane.
Rob Train covers Real Madrid and the Spanish national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @Cafc13Rob.