Real Madrid have demoted Santiago Solari and re-appointed Zinedine Zidane as head coach.
Zidane left Los Blancos having won three consecutive Champions League trophies in two and a half seasons in charge. He also won La Liga once during that run, completing Madrid’s first European Double for 50 years. He delivered what the Santiago Bernabeu craves most of all: European trophies, and thus his time in charge was a phenomenal success.
He then had the great sense to walk away from the job in the summer. Many were puzzled when he chose to do this, but it actually made all the sense in the world. Whilst Los Blancos were amazing in 2016/17, blitzing their way to that European Double, they fell off hard in 2017/18.
Madrid finishes La Liga 17 points behind winners Barcelona and only a lucky run to the Champions League (similar to 2015/16 and nothing like their dominance of the middle season) allowed Zidane to leave on a high. But that’s exactly what he did, smartly departing before inevitable decline set in amongst Los Blancos’ ageing squad of superstars.
The 2018/19 season has been a neverending cascade of proof that Zidane was right to step away when he did. Madrid have looked slow, lacking in ideas, impotent in attack and absurdly permeable at the back. Veteran players have come across as smug and satisfied, too content and confident in their ability to just “turn it on” at the back end of the season.
Madrid have been so bad that Julen Lopetegui lost his job just a few months after essentially throwing away a chance to win the World Cup by accepting the Real Madrid job without telling the RFEF. Then Santiago Solari took over and he is now facing the chop. Should Zidane take-charge, Solari’s reign will have lasted just over four months, highlighted by a Club World Cup win and lowlighted by crashing out of the Copa del Rey, La Liga and the Champions League within the space of a week.
All of that to say, why on earth would Zinedine Zidane go back to Real Madrid? He left at the perfect time and going back can only tarnish the incredible legacy he was able to build for himself. Well, we’ve come up with a few theories.
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1. He can’t resist a challenge
It’s very rare that an elite sportsperson goes out on top. Eric Cantona managed it, Zidane bowed out at the peak of an incredible renaissance as a player and went out on top as a manager (hmm, maybe you have to be a French playmaker?) but usually the greats stay on too long. They’ve pushed themselves so hard for so long that they find it hard to let go.
So what if that’s what happened to Zidane? Sure, he walked away in the summer but he is a ferocious competitor at heart and always has been; watching Los Blancos flounder around the pitch must have been painful for him and stirred that urge to jump in and correct things himself. There’s no way he wasn’t watching Madrid games and seeing all the things he’d do differently.
So now that Florentino Perez has offered him the chance to do just that, how could he say no? A true winner could never resist a challenge.
2. The players convinced him
Maybe Zidane has a strong resolve, however. After all the way he walked away from playing when he still had much to give, and never looked back or debased himself playing in a smaller league like so many other greats have done. But what if that resolve was tested by his players?
Zidane’s big strength was never tactics (get it wide and cross it in is truly basic stuff) but his man management. The way he spoke with players, organising them and getting them to play up to their full potential. As a result they loved him. Nearly every single Real Madrid player worshipped Zizou and they showed this on the pitch by fighting had for him.
So when someone like Marcelo, who was frozen-out under Solari, said in an interview earlier this year: “Zizou was very good to me […] and I did everything for him; I ran, I fought, I played injured.” When big personalities like this, players you’ve fought with and won with, ask you to come do so again… how can you say no?
3. Florentino Perez is ready to rebuild
Part of the reason Zinedine Zidane walked away so dramatically after such success was the fact that he knew the Real Madrid squad was in need of a serious rebuild, and got the sense that Florentino Perez wasn’t willing to undertake such a monumental task.
Well after the dumpster fire of 2018/19, what if his mind has been changed? This makes a lot of sense, because otherwise why would you go back? Second spells in charge are never as amazing as the first (he need only look at how Louis van Gaal’s second spell at Barcelona was an absolute disaster), but if Zidane has been given backing to rebuild the squad then we could be about to see some wild transfer activity.
Some of those legends who were so good for Los Blancos during Zidane’s first spell but whose ego has maybe gotten the better of them could be on the way out. Toni Kroos and Sergio Ramos, whose tweet thread a few hours before the announcement now seems a rather well-timed affirmation of his commitment and professionalism, could well be in trouble. Gareth Bale is surely on borrowed time as well.
Isco will probably be happy, as will Casemiro, Dani Carvajal and Raphael Varane. And big name players who are often agitated with their current place of employment *cough*EdenHazard*cough* will be rubbing their hands together in delight at the prospect of a Real Madrid ready to spend big, big money this summer. Lyon President Jean-Michel Aulas is probably throwing a party thinking of the money he can make selling some of his top-tier talent to the Bernabeu.
Duck and cover, sports fans, Real Madrid are hulkin’ out!