Less than one week after leading Real Madrid to a third consecutive Champions League title, Zinedine Zidane announced today in a press conference that he will be stepping down from his position as manager of the club. The news broke early in the morning here in Los Angeles, and it was a shock not only to Madridistas, but football fans around the world.
Having just won their fourth final in five years, Real Madrid are enjoying one of the best spells in their club’s prestigious history. The Spanish giants knocked out Paris Saint-Germain, Juventus, and Bayern Munich en route to the final, where they defeated Liverpool 3-1 Gareth Bale’s fantastic overhead kick goal.
The club struggled domestically this season and Zidane’s job was rumored to be on the line before the PSG match, but the Frenchman had the last laugh. His achievement is one that will go down in history, as no club has won the European cup in three successive seasons since the 1970’s. At the same time, he became the first manager in the history of the competition to do it. During his time at Real Madrid, he has won 9 titles. One La Liga, three Champions Leagues, two UEFA Super Cups, two Club World Cups, and a Spanish Super Cup.
When Zidane took over Real Madrid, it was in the middle of the 15/16 season. Rafa Benitez had been recently been sacked after a terrible run of results and locker room disarray. The Frenchman came in, his first time managing a club at this level, and ended up winning the Champions League that season. Zizou stabilized the club and had brought harmony to the dressing room. So many times we see managers of clubs with such talented players fail to win major titles because man management is a totally different beast than tactical management. Knowing how to keep players happy and egos in check. This is something that many Real Madrid managers have struggled with in the past, and it’s almost as if it came naturally to Zidane. The players love him, the fans love him, and he had the complete trust of the president.
So why leave now? He wants to go out on top.
So many times throughout history we have seen players and managers overstay their welcome at clubs, most recently Arsene Wenger at Arsenal. Years of success followed by years of disappointment, ultimately tarnishing their legacies. At a club like Real Madrid, trophies are expected every season. The manager is always under the microscope by fans, the media, and Florentino Perez. Even Zidane was not immune to the immense pressure it takes to manage this club, with his job in danger earlier this season before the match against PSG.
But now that he has won the Champions League again, he doesn’t have anything else to prove. He’s taken the club to a level that no one else had before and no one will likely take them again in the foreseeable future.
With rumors swirling about the possible departures of Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo this summer, Perez said that this particular announcement was “absolutely unexpected”. Zidane took control of his own fate from the man that usual decides who comes and who goes at Real Madrid.
Zidane talked about his decision, saying that “the team needs to change to keep winning. I love Real Madrid and the president…but you just have to know when to stop. I do this for the sake of the club, it would’ve been extremely difficult to keep winning with me as coach next season. We saw this in La Liga, I don’t forget those moments.”
It’s evident that he knows the pressure of this job, and knows that if he can’t continue this success every year. He admitted that the Copa del Rey loss to Leganés was his worst moment as manager, and even said on the eve of the final in Kyiv that he knows he’s “not the best tactical manager”. Clearly not oblivious to the criticisms of him mid-season, leaving now ensures that he will be remembered as a legend, and the greatest manager in the club’s history.
Now Florentino Perez must not only worry about top players leaving the club, but also about bringing in a new manager. The new boss will most likely be appointed before any major changes happen in the squad. And will the new manager have any say in transfers? For example, will they want to keep Gareth Bale? Sell Ronaldo? Sign Neymar? The only certainty right now is that this is going to be a summer of change at the Bernabéu. With new players coming in and some current players possibly leaving, the new manager is going to have a lot to live up to in the shadow of Zizou.
Thank you Amir for you contributions!