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 By Rob Train

As Real's slide continues, Perez should be wary of drastic changes

"I believe we need a change of direction," said Florentino Perez in February 2006 when announcing his resignation as president of Real Madrid.

At that stage of the 2005-06 season, Madrid were lagging behind Barcelona in La Liga after being beaten by Mallorca -- a more considerable force in Spain then than now -- and had just been knocked out of the Copa del Rey at the semifinal stage despite rallying to win 4-0 at home after a 6-1 first-leg thrashing at the hands of Zaragoza in La Romareda.

"Something has been going wrong and everyone could see that against Mallorca," Perez continued as he prepared to fall on his sword. Real had not won a title since 2002-03, when Vicente del Bosque led the side to a league triumph and was rewarded by being unceremoniously sacked immediately afterwards.

The parallels between 2006 and 2018 are clear: Zinedine Zidane's side are 19 points adrift of leaders Barcelona and may struggle to catch Valencia and Atletico. Toni Kroos admitted after the loss to Villarreal last weekend -- the first time in history the Yellow Submarine had sunk Madrid at the Bernabeu -- that Real's priority now is not Barcelona but ensuring qualification for the Champions League. Sevilla and Villarreal are uncomfortably close in Real's rear-view mirror and will be only too happy to deny the reigning champions a domestic route back to Europe's top table.

A "change of direction." It's a phrase Perez is fond of, having used the same line when he sacked Carlo Ancelotti after the 2014-15 season ended without a major trophy. Still, it was hardly one that ended in disaster under the Italian: runners-up in La Liga, Champions League semifinalists and a couple of minor titles in the European Super Cup and Club World Cup.

The loss to Villarreal should not lead Florentino Perez to make drastic moves.

There are also similarities to be drawn from that more recent recalibration. Zidane led Real to a crushing Spanish Super Cup victory over Barcelona and saw off José Mourinho's Manchester United in the UEFA version before claiming another Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi.

Now, though, Madrid are scrapping to save their season after the Villarreal loss condemned them to two consecutive Liga home defeats for the first time since May 2009. The second of those incidentally against Mallorca, which also proved to be Juande Ramos' final game in charge at the Bernabeu. The following month, Perez assumed the presidency again as Real sought another new direction.

Vicente Boluda, who held the position for the interim months between Ramon Calderon's resignation on January 16, 2009, and Perez's unopposed election in June, once described the construction magnate's grip on the club as "that of a Roman emperor, counting the votes he wants to count."

"Votes" was an interesting choice of word, given that Perez successfully pushed through reforms to the club's statutes in 2012 to ensure practically nobody but he would meet the criteria to stand. Last summer, he again campaigned to retain his position in a field of one.

Always eager to bask in the reflected glory of a triumph, Perez is as quick to use the distraction ploys of Roman rulers when the mob is getting restless. In Calderon's view, Madrid generate stories in the media to achieve the same effect.

It is certainly a convenient coincidence that reports linking Cristiano Ronaldo with a move elsewhere, generally over a contractual dispute, tend to unerringly surface in the Madrid sports dailies at times of crisis.

Perez's 2006 resignation came with a parting shot toward the Galacticos who had failed him on the pitch. "Some of them think they have a guaranteed place and that they are the best, but they are confused."

Playing in front of Raul Bravo and Alvaro Mejia might do that to a Ballon d'Or winner. But Perez has still clearly not learned his lesson.

Any flash poll of Madrid fans would have Marco Asensio in their preferred 11 at the moment but he can't buy a start. Many would probably like to see Mateo Kovacic given a run in place of Luka Modric or Toni Kroos but club policy is to not attempt to fix that which is broken with the tools at hand. Zidane has wrested some power from the presidential sphere, but vestiges of the Galactico era remain firmly in place.

Perhaps the next upheaval at the Bernabeu will involve a former player assuming control of the club. Raul Gonzalez would enjoy popular support while Fernando Hierro has been cutting his administrative teeth at the Spanish Football Federation. The squad responded brightly to the managerial changes of a non-player (Jose Mourinho and Rafa Benitez) in favour of accomplished former footballers (Ancelotti and Zidane).

Perez would do well to remember that it is because of Zidane's success that he was able to strengthen his position further last summer. That Zidane has elected against doing the same to his squad this January should not be used as an excuse by Perez to change direction again in the summer. The buck, as it has for most of the 21st century, stops in the boardroom.

Rob Train covers Real Madrid and the Spanish national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @Cafc13Rob.

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