A historic chapter has reached its conclusion at Real Madrid. Zinedine Zidane has left the Spanish side after two and a half seasons in charge and having led the club to three straight Champions League crowns. It is, understandably, a big surprise.
Zidane appeared before the media at Madrid’s training ground at Valdebebas on Thursday in a hastily organised press conference which quickly aroused suspicions that this was the end.
The Frenchman had met with president Florentino Perez and the club’s general director Jose Angel Sanchez on Wednesday to talk about next season and the plans for reshaping the squad this summer.
But even though Zidane has always insisted that he did not know how long his tenure would last, there was no inkling that he would walk away so soon, just days after leading Real to an unprecedented Champions League treble.
Flanked by Perez, Zidane said: “I have taken the decision to not continue next year. It’s a bit strange, but I had to do it. I think this team needs to keep winning and a change was needed.
“The team need a different discourse and a different methodology. I love this club very much and I am grateful for everything. But today, a change is needed.”
Zidane revealed he had not told the players personally, but that they were aware of his decision, and that he had spoken to captain Sergio Ramos.
“It’s my decision. If I’m not seeing things as clearly as I want to, I think it’s better to change and avoid stupid things. I didn’t speak to the players personally, but they found out in a message.
“I then spoke to Sergio Ramos. We played together and we have experienced a lot of things together. He respects my decision and he wished me luck.”
Zidane walks away with nine trophies in an ultra-successful tenure: three Champions League crowns, one Liga title, two UEFA Super Cups, two Club World Cups and one Spanish Supercopa.
Madrid had hoped he would stay longer and continue to build an era-defining team over the next few seasons, but there were signs of decay in 2017-18 despite winning the Champions League.
Real’s campaign in La Liga was desperately disappointing after their title triumph the previous year. Madrid had been expected to dominate, but finished third and were way off the pace after a dreadful first half of the season.
There was also a calamitous Copa del Rey exit to Leganes, while even this latest Champions League success came in more unconvincing fashion with Los Blancos on the brink of elimination in second leg games at home to both Juventus and Bayern Munich.
Zidane has clearly seen the signs and believes it is the right time to walk away, with his head held high, while he revealed he will now take a break from coaching.
“There are difficult moments which make you wonder if you are the right person,” he said. “It makes you reflect.” And he added: I’m fine. I’m not sad, although it’s not a happy day.”
Sitting next to him, Perez looked even more sombre. It will now be his job to find a coach who can pick up the baton from Zidane as despite the poor performance of the team in La Liga this term, the Frenchman will be an extremely tough act to follow.