Zidane right to leave Real but coach’s exit leaves Madrid in disarray

The Frenchman has made the right call for himself but his departure has merely added to Florentino Perez’s list of problems

Zinedine Zidane has walked away from Real Madrid, for a second time.

The French coach’s exit isn’t the ‘mic drop’ it was back in 2018, when he strolled into the sunset after a remarkable run of three consecutive Champions League triumphs, but he leaves the club at the right moment from his own perspective.

Madrid might have preferred to keep him, although a season without any trophies meant it wasn’t a clear-cut call, but leaving has been on Zidane’s mind for quite a while.

Without explicitly saying it, Zidane has given that vibe in his media appearances for months. Indeed, it has been an open secret in the Spanish capital.

Aside from Karim Benzema’s red herring, where the French striker told L’Equipe he thought his compatriot would stay, most have expected Zidane to depart.

However, despite the feeling this was coming, Madrid are left in disarray. The club has numerous problems and having to appoint a new coach is another to add to the list.

Raul Gonzalez, in charge of Real Madrid’s B team, is an in-house option, while Antonio Conte is a top-level candidate after he parted ways with Inter this week. Massimiliano Allegri would have been the favourite but he has rejoined Juventus.

President Florentino Perez previously wanted Mauricio Pochettino, and there are reports he is considering leaving PSG, but for a return to Tottenham.

It won’t be an easy job replacing Zidane, not just for his achievements but also because of the club’s situation, which is why he decided to go.

Madrid need an overhaul and, having backed his players to the hilt over the past few years, he doesn’t consider himself the man to do it.

Zidane has been loyal to his charges. It’s why the midfield three is still Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and Casemiro, after all this time, and the bulk of the team is as it was in his first reign. 

One of the hardest jobs in football is renovating a squad brimming with club legends. Sir Alex Ferguson did it with Manchester United several times, but Zidane does not want to face that challenge. Maybe it would weaken him as a coach, too, given so much of his quality is man-management and keeping players onside.

The Madrid job is a fatiguing one and Zidane has been uncharacteristically tetchy at times this season, displaying signs of burn-out.

He came back in to help save the club when Julen Lopetegui and Santiago Solari were sacked in the 2018-19 season, and drove them to the Spanish title the following year.

Zidane did his best to defend it this season and took the battle with Atletico Madrid down to the wire, but ultimately came up two points short. Given Madrid have suffered over 60 injuries in this intense season and his squad, at times, has been paper-thin, Zidane emerges with credit.

A blaze broke out at the Santiago Bernabeu on Wednesday and was quickly extinguished, but there are plenty of metaphorical fires raging at Madrid, beyond the coaching situation.

Zinedine Zidane Real Madrid GFX

Sergio Ramos’s contract is up in June and there is no agreement with the club, Raphael Varane may also leave with just a year left on his deal, and Madrid’s financial situation makes signing long-time transfer target Kylian Mbappe this summer an unlikely dream.

On top of that, UEFA are threatening to expel Madrid from the Champions League because of their insistence on the European Super League project.

Their record signing, Eden Hazard, is still in an injury black hole and has not been able to find form during two miserable seasons at the club. That hurt Zidane too, because the coach believed in the Belgian and his faith has never been paid back. 

Worst of all, the forward was invisible against his former side Chelsea in the Champions League semi-final, after Zidane gambled on him, and his laughter after Madrid’s elimination became the biggest talking point.

The one positive was that the fallout masked some of the stranger decisions Zidane made that night, with his tactical nous still far below that of the greatest managers.

Despite finishing this season empty-handed, Zidane’s record is still remarkable, winning a trophy every 24 games on average during his spells at Madrid. It is understandable he doesn’t want to jeopardise his legend, with Madrid in a turbulent period.

Instead Zidane departs with his head held high, confident he still belongs among the club’s best ever coaches, leaving before he can become the villain.

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