Five days after guiding the biggest club in world football to its thirteenth European Cup, Real Madrid legend, Zinedine Zidane has left his beloved club. The news has unsurprisingly caused shock and disbelief throughout the footballing world. It leaves Florentino Perez searching for his fourth manager in five seasons — and a club reeling, when it should be basking in its own glory.
The decision also unearths old questions and uncertainties which often fall on Los Blancos like a shroud. Officially we are being told that the Frenchaman has gone on his own terms — not a great shock when you consider he’s one of only three men to win three European Cups as a manager. But the decision suggests there is slightly more going on under the murky waters of the Bernabeu. It also puts a new spin on the oddly candid words of Real’s superstars in their post-match interviews in Kiev.
A hero is allowed to depart
It is a symptom of modern football that a figure as huge in the game as Zidane can walk into a club as immense as Real Madrid, win an unprecedented three consecutive Champions Leagues and not be considered the best manager in the world. Such is football now, but you cannot put a serious case together to suggest otherwise. His tactics have been called into question and he has let Barcelona steal a march in La Liga as Real once again look up at their bitter rivals after thirty-eight games. In all honesty though, do their fans care? No, they do not.
What he has done at Real transcends La Liga, and even El Classico. Real’s fans have been treated to a level of European dominance which was supposed to be a thing of the past. No team had successfully defended their Champions League crown until Zindane’s men did it in 2017. Their third win in three seasons is almost an anachronism, reminiscent of the Ajax and Munich sides of the 70s.
Yes, he has inherited a wonderful side, but so has pretty much any man who has walked in to manage Real Madrid since the eighties. They are the natural habitat of the world’s great footballers, but they have seen their territory encroached by Catalan outriders over the past decade. Zidane has undone this, and achieved it with a winning machine, well oiled, battle hardened, but still with the zest of world-class footballers. His achievements will make him immortal at Madrid, even if he cannot be considered a managerial great.
Real have been here before — it’s nothing new. However, it would take a pretty powerful ego to dent Zidane’s tough façade and perhaps this is why the rumours about Ronaldo and Bale just won’t go away. Neither side has been prepared to blink nor budge; and perhaps Perez has panicked and backed the players over the manager. If that is the case, then it is hard to see how Zidane has left on his own terms. The Frenchman said the club needed “a different voice” as he announced to the world his decision to step down. Perez sat resolutely next to him throughout, but the futures of their talismen and global icons cannot ever be far from his mind.
Bale once again proved his class against Liverpool, scoring one of the all-time great final goals as he came off the bench to win the game. Ronaldo is in the autumn of his career to say the least, and despite his evergreen ability, his future too seems uncertain. Bale openly said after the match that he needs more game time next season. Ronaldo was more coded in his comments saying he had been “nice to playing for Real Madrid”.
Both men have sparked five days of speculation with their comments, as the usual big boys circle around the uncertainty around their futures. Perez will desperately want them both to stay, if Zidane was considering his future plans without either player, perhaps this alone was enough to cause a rift between the two.
Not a great deal of options
Arguing against this, it is fair to say that Perez would have been gambling in some very high stakes if he had put pressure on Zidane to walk away. You only need look at the lack of real options out there for a club like Real Madrid. Who could walk in the shadow of their success now? Who would be willing to stake their names on such a risk?
Wenger has been linked, Conte might be available, there is also Sarri at Napoli and Pochettino at Spurs, but the in reality, the market is not great. Surely Perez would have been aware of this, unless he has an ace up his sleeve. Real Madrid will always have a gravitational pull for the best talent either in the technical area or on the pitch, there isn’t really too much of a hard sell required. It would not be a complete surprise to see a big name unveiled in front of the Spanish press this summer.
Perhaps too, they are thinking of promoting from within, with former fan’s favourite Guti, currently coaching the club’s youth set up. This has worked with Zidane, and in all honesty the players there do not need too much coaching, such are their achievements and experience.
Whatever they choose to do, from a purist point of view, it would nice to see the club try and shake off the circus that often follows it. The club is surely above such indignity. This is a time for celebration, which will now feel tainted for all involved as jubilation once again becomes speculation.